The Society for Professional Journalists awards the Mark of Excellence Award to student journalists throughout the country and this year, a Texas State student was honored as a national finalist for general column writing.
Tafari Robertson graduated with a public relations degree, but not before leaving his mark. Robertson won The SPJ 2017 Mark of Excellence Award for General Column Writing as KTSW’s multimedia director in 2016 before moving to the University Star his senior year. However, he didn’t consider his writing to be worth national notice.
“I was just writing for myself,” Robertson said. “I never really thought of my writing competitively or how good it was compared to others on a national level. I was just thinking about it being for the paper; (my writing was) kind of good but never thought of as award winning.”
Robertson wrote about topics affecting the Texas State and San Marcos communities. Three of those stories were selected to be presented to SPJ: “A Campus With No Greek Life,”; “Texas State Lacks the Cultural Infrastructure Necessary for Student Success,”; and “Underachieving Football Programs Should Be Cut Like Public Schools.”
Carrington Tatum, University Star Editor-in-Chief, worked with Robertson. Tatum credits Robertson for helping him find clarity in his writing.
“He helped me recognize there is no compromise in right versus wrong,” Tatum said. “This means when writing opinions, you have to be very direct with your language. Say exactly who did what to whom or else you’re hedging on the people you claim to represent.”
Robertson talked about his process for writing and how much work went into some columns.
“I do a lot of research,” Robertson said. “I spend a good chunk of time researching and reading a lot about an issue before even starting (to write).”
It was during this process that Robertson says Tatum was instrumental in narrowing his focus by giving him the constructive criticism he needed.
“It’s pretty rare to get solid feedback on your writing in school,” Robertson said. “In our meetings we would have a lot of back-and-forth about topics and pitches.”
When Robertson began writing “A Campus With No Greek Life,” he had no knowledge of Greek life, nor did he care about it. However, because of the events surrounding the Texas State community, Robertson decided to dive into unknown territory and learn about Greek life’s effect on students.
“The Horrors of Day-to-Day Student Suffering” is about how student hardships are seen as a rite of passage by society. This was considered one of Robertson’s more personal columns.
“I was pretty much at a low point and describing my life at the time,” Robertson said.
Robertson has moved on from Texas State, but is still remaining active in the community. He is currently working as the site coordinator for Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Austin, a program helping kids from low income families combat learning loss over summer break.
While at Texas State, Robertson founded the Pan-African Action Committee (PAAC). April Anderson, vice president of PAAC, said Robertson’s impact on the community is being seen.
“If it weren’t for him, Texas State wouldn’t have gotten the ball rolling for a black studies minor,” Anderson said. “The sit-in would have never been initiated, and students would not have the fervor they do now to make Texas State a better university for all.”
Robertson never considered writing as a career, but a way to get his ideas publicized. There were always two factors driving him to write his columns: getting people to see a different opinion that may change their beliefs and sending a message to Texas State and the administration alike to look for ways to improve the school.
“I wanted to galvanize students,” Robertson said. “Texas State can and should do better because the students are great and deserve better.”