Professor will continue teaching intercultural awareness, media responsibility
John Caputo's belief in the power of stories of everyday people, in fostering intercultural and international awareness, and in the need for media responsibility has permeated his teaching undergraduate and graduate students for careers in media and communication.
As a professor in Gonzaga University's master's program in Communication and Leadership Studies and summer programs for communications students in Florence and Cagli, Italy, and in Derry, Northern Ireland, he has introduced students to the skills of journalism, photography and digital, interpersonal and intercultural communication.
John has helped students understand peace is possible despite ways media may exacerbate divisions, covering political leaders rather than citizens.
Although retiring as professor at Gonzaga in May, he will continue his 50-year passion for teaching by fostering Cagli-Spokane Sister City ties with high school summer exchanges, promoting media responsibility and writing articles.
From 2012 to 2016, he took student groups for 17 days to Derry, Ireland, where they met former combatants who now see how they were programmed and understand that their divisions were not Protestant vs. Catholic as media had people believe.
Through the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media (NW-ARM), he has helped people raise questions about images of women and men in media, promoted teen health and media consumption, explored ways media can create a culture of peace, and taught teens and adults about media literacy and digital citizenship.
He said media is one of the most powerful influences shaping attitudes, values, beliefs and behaviors of children, families and communities.
John, who has taught since he was 22, will have emeritus status.
"It's a calling," he said. "I teach communication because of its centrality in people's lives.
"In recent years, communication has revolved around a radically altered society," John said. "What communications technologies will keep us informed? If a print newspaper has a form with a cultural value, what happens to it online?"
John said media studies are now less about practical skills of journalism and more theoretical, about interpersonal and intercultural communication.
"What are multi-media ways we tell stories?" John asked. "As digitalization increases, what are the stories that can be told? Human community is about storytelling—oral to written to image."
Being of Italian heritage and in Spokane's Italian American Club, and from having traveled in Italy in the 1970s, John wanted to teach in the GU program in Florence when he started teaching at Gonzaga in 1990, coming as chair of the undergraduate communication arts department.
In 1998, eight years after John came, the Florence program director invited him to teach for a spring semester.
Since then, he has taken graduate students to the Florence program and supervised their travel in Italy for 17 years.
Through a colleague in the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, he was invited to visit Cagli, an ancient town of 15,000 in the Apennine Mountains in Central Italy, out of the tourist zone.
For 17 summers, he took 30 master's students to Cagli, visiting Florence on the way. John said Cagli offers an opportunity to explore authentic Italian life. Students gained practical language skills, learned about culture by living in homes and developed dialogue skills.
Since 2010, students have done multimedia storytelling projects, interviewing everyday people about their lives, and using photography, writing and layout skills to produce "Faces of Cagli" books.
Four years ago, Spokane's sister city grew out of those relationships. This year, 10 high school students from Spokane go to Cagli June 30 to July 15 and 10 from Cagli come to Spokane July 20 to Aug. 5 and stay in homes. He is currently seeking volunteers as homestay families in Spokane.
"It's citizen diplomacy, welcoming strangers and learning about people," said John. "Classrooms are never big enough to hold students' dreams."
For four years John also led graduate student Peacebuilding Trips to Derry, Northern Ireland. Students learned about dialogue, communication and sharing stories of the people they met.
Like many, John had thought from media reports that the fight in Northern Ireland was between Catholics and Protestants. Students met with former combatants who said the fight was about civil rights and having a piece of the pie, not about religion.
The Peace Initiative, which was developed by leaders, is fragile because it did not involve dialogue among grassroots people, he said.
"We start with a dialogue of storytelling, so we can see ourselves in their stories," John said. "If we can bring everyday people into discussions, they can break down false assumptions. Then we find similarities. It takes foresight to develop skills of empathy."
John said conflict arose as communication broke down. In 2011, a Peace Bridge was built in Derry across the River Foyle, connecting former strongholds of the sides of political divisions. The symbolic nature of the Peace Bridge is connecting through dialogue and building empathy for others, John said.
Peace has been a theme through John's life. His family moved from Ohio to California, where he graduated from high school. He graduated from college in 1964 from California State at Long Beach at the height of the Vietnam period.
Although the youngest of seven in a working class family, he was able to afford college because tuition for a semester at Long Beach State was $49.
He was deferred from the draft while teaching high school in a low-income, racially diverse neighborhood. When he began graduate studies in communication and culture, he applied as a conscientious objector. Turned down because he was Catholic, he became involved in the peace movement.
"I wanted to teach to influence society," he said. "People need to be informed about diversity, culture, poverty and racism. Northern Ireland had similar questions and had turned to Martin Luther King, Jr., and other U.S. civil rights activists.
In 1971, he started teaching communication at California State in San Bernadino, while in graduate studies. In 1976, he earned a master's and in 1977, a doctoral degree from Claremont Graduate School. He helped develop the field of intercultural communication while teaching 15 years at Claremont.
Media studies is a meeting place for teaching peace, intercultural communication and diversity, he said.
John came to Gonzaga looking for a faith-based liberal arts school and a place less expensive to live than the Bay Area, where he taught as a visiting professor at St. Mary's College.
As the field of media literacy began to grow, he began to teach it. Some wondered how it would affect students entering media.
"I said it created thoughtful people in mass media," John said.
With Don Higgins, director of the West Central Community Center (WCCC), he helped with a series on the influence of TV on families as part of looking at causes of poverty and social problems in that neighborhood.
"We realized people were getting messages from media more than from churches or schools," he said.
From that, they developed the Spokane Academy of Family TV, which grew into the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media in partnership with the University of Washington and the Spokane Regional Health Department. It found a home at Gonzaga University.
Its role is to monitor the influence of media on society, to educate the community on that influence and to influence media to act responsibly to create a healthy society.
One member, Bill Niggemeyer, a retired junior high teacher active in peace education, called for "taking back the culture." He and Fig Tree editor Mary Stamp helped guide the alliance to invite media to create a culture of peace.
Through forums, films and a Media Fest for high school students at KSPS, NW-ARM invited people to understand the impact of media messages and images.
John's commitment to make a difference in students' lives through media literacy and experiential learning overseas has been influenced by his faith as a Catholic.
Owning property in Cagli, he expects to spend several weeks a year there. He started Mercurio, LLC, named after the Greek God of communication, and will do a summer school on media for 12 to 20 American students in Rome and Cagli with Sapienza University in Rome.
For information, call 220-5582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2019