Recipient of the First Amendment Award Plans to Retire After Scholastic Year Ends

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First Amendment Award Winner Tyra Benoit enjoys dinner with husband Bob Benoit April 13 in Sacramento.

William Rohrs, News Editor

Dean of Arts and Humanities Tyra Benoit was recognized for her unflinching support of the Santa Rosa Junior College journalism program when she received the First Amendment Award at the Journalism Association of Community College state conference April 13.

“She was hired in 2007, and brought her robust, unwavering and student-centered support. She’s been our loudest cheerleader, our strongest defender and behind-the-scenes negotiator who fought for everything,” said SRJC journalism professor Anne Belden, who personally introduced Benoit to representatives from more than 40 California community colleges in Sacramento. “She’s immensely deserving of this First Amendment Award.”

Benoit took her place on the podium to a standing ovation. Hundreds of journalism students from colleges across the state came together to welcome the dean who worked tirelessly to protect the First Amendment rights of her college and its students.

“I have to tell you that I am moved every day by the acts of courage that journalists, not just student journalists, but the way in which the First Amendment is exercised in this college,” Benoit said. “To me, [the First Amendment] is the most important amendment.”

Benoit said that in her 30 years as a history professor she would drill her students on the First Amendment until they memorized the rights it guarantees: freedom of press, speech, religion, assembly and petition. Benoit added that a shockingly low percentage of Americans knew freedom of press is guaranteed, with fewer still knowing all five.

In her six years as dean, Benoit never wavered in her support for the journalism program at SRJC, including the student-run Oak Leaf newspaper. Benoit pushed for room relocations, equipment acquisitions and helped cultivate the newly created multimedia journalism program, taught by Professor Brian Antonson.

Under Benoit’s leadership, the Oak Leaf received the equipment it needed to operate as a fully-staffed professional newspaper.

“We started with staff members and a broken point and shoot camera,” Belden said. “Now we have a staff of over 30 students and brand-new equipment.” Various grants written by Belden and Benoit gave funding for DSLR cameras, video editing equipment and a shoulder-mounted video camera.

Benoit plans to retire at the end of the school year. Nancy Persons from the Doyle Library will be an interim dean until the Board of Trustees announces a successor.

Benoit’s award signifies a lifetime of protection and advocacy in service to SRJC’s journalism program.

After the award ceremony, Belden said, “I just had someone come up to me and say, ‘She is the person this award was made for, because not only is she supportive of the program, but she’s also been supportive of our First Amendment rights.’ It’s not just our right to publish controversial stories, but our right to make mistakes. And she defends those rights, even when we make a mistake.”