Auburn University SPJ adviser brings abundance for storytelling and grasp of history to J-students

By Ariel Cochran, SPJ Region 3 intern, SPJ Auburn student president

Dr. Joan R. Harell, Adviser, SPJ Auburn Society of Professional Journalists 

Dr. Joan R. Harrell is a writer for the people. As a journalist within the academic community, she considers herself a narrative ethicist.

“I am very concerned about how the identities of marginalized people are told through a story based on a particular time of history,” Harrell says. “[This is] my emphasis because in this mosaic of cultures, personal storylines can create a discourse that can lead to how people are treated.”

In the midst of accepting the invitation to teach at Auburn University, Harrell has taken on the challenge of becoming the new adviser for Auburn Society of Professional Journalists.

John Carvalho Auburn University
Dr. John Carvlho

“She is a very warm, welcoming and instantly putting you at ease communicator,” says Dr. John Carvalho professor and associate director for journalism at Auburn University. “She is coming in as a visitor professor, dropped in here in an uncomfortable position of teaching a full-time load with such short notice, and she handled it so comfortably that she put me at ease and I enjoyed talking to her from the get-go.”

As visiting assistant professor of Auburn University’s School of Communication and Journalism, Harrell was invited to teach a series of classes for the 2017-2018 academic school year. Harrell’s classes analyze social issues in underrepresented communities such as in the journalism major capstone “Advanced Reporting and Writing: Advocacy Journalism vs. Politics and Propaganda” and her other class, “Intersectionality of Media, Ethics and Vulnerable Populations.”

Nan Fairley Auburn University
Nan Fairley

“All the stars lined up and Auburn University had an opportunity to hire a visiting professor,” explains Nan Fairley associate professor within Auburn’s journalism department. “We’re really excited that she is here and think it will be a wonderful blessing for [Harrell to teach] all of our students.”

Along with receiving an invitation to teach at the plains, Harrell was drawn to the Lee County area to complete research.

“My project involves the nurse in the United States Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee,” Harrell says. “I’m working on the true narrative of Nurse Eunice Rivers and how she was unethically implicated for the cause of the study. The public does not know her real name because she was portrayed as Miss Evers in the movie, Miss Evers Boys, but her real name is Eunice Rivers.” – Dr. Harrell

When Harrell is not grading assignments, answering emails, attending meetings or teaching classes, she is dedicated to the writing and research of the study that was officially titled the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” that started in 1931 and ended in 1972. Harrell has worked on the study with the descendants of the study for over four years.

The Tuskegee Timeline study CDC
Dr. Harrel is dedicated to writing and research of the study that was titled, “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in Negro Male.” – CDC photo
Eunice Rivers Auburn
Eunice Rivers

“Where I am at this point, I feel that I have months to go [in research], but it is a work in progress,” Harrell says. Once completed, Harrell wishes to submit to journals and magazines in addition to creating a media to honor Eunice Rivers and to share more information about her. Harrell’s ultimate goal is to publish a book about Nurse Rivers.

Before diving into the academic portion of her career, Harrell graduated from Chicago Theological Seminary, received her master’s degree of Journalism at Columbia University Graduate School where she was an Alfred I. DuPont Fellow had the opportunity to work at the ABC News London Bureau as a David Jayne Fellow. She is also an alumnae from the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) where she received master’s of divinity. 

Her broadcast journalism career includes working in local television markets in Georgia, South Carolina and Missouri. On the television news network level, she worked at the CBS News Bureau and CSPAN in Washington, D.C and with Bill Moyers in New York City as an associate producer.

Joan R.Harrell ProfessionalGoing to Stephens College, a women’s college, Harrell received her bachelor’s degree in Communications Media and focused on radio and television that included documentaries in particular. She had the opportunity to start writing because of her undergrad classes for radio, television and the newspaper. Harrell developed her voice for broadcasting news and documentaries from receiving airtime on the community’s radio station: Pacifica Station KOPN and interning with the African-American weekly, The Augusta News-Review.

Harrell’s first job was in broadcast journalism as a reporter for WJBF-TV an ABC affiliate in Augusta, Georgia; there she had the opportunity to cover state political issues for Georgia and South Carolina, stories that covered the United States military and issues regarding nuclear waste facilities and environmental issues that went along with it. The experience pushed Harrell to think critically and to know how to understand and ask the right questions to pull more information and truth for the issues she covered.

“Journalists can be described as nomads; our work can take us places we never considered living or spending time [in]. Starting from undergrad, it’s been really exciting and adventurous in that I have had the opportunity to live in different geographic location and to learn more about the condition of humanity,” Harrell says.

As for the Society of Professional Journalists, Harrell aligns herself with the national organization’s mission.

“As the new adviser, I would like to work together with the students and other faculty members to help students learn the importance of networking and work within the context of the theme that is written on the Society of Professional Journalist’s website, to improve and protect journalism because the first amendment is under attack,” Harrell says.

Ariel Cochran mug
Ariel Cochran

Ariel Cochran is a senior at Auburn University. Her majors are magazine journalism and Spanish. Cochran is president of the Society of Professional Journalists SPJ student chapter at Auburn University. Cochran is the fall 2017 intern for SPJ Region 3 and will be writing for Read more about Cochran

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