Student journalism pathway announced at Tatarian school renaming ceremony

Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval speaks at the ceremony.

The Fresno Unified School District officially changed the name of Forkner Elementary School to H. Roger Tatarian Elementary School in a ceremony on Sept. 7. As the thermometer found a third digit late in the morning, dignitaries spoke at the podium illuminated by the full intensity of the late summer sun. 

“As a student of history, this is a moment that is both impressive to me, but it’s been a long time coming as well,” said Fresno State President Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval. “I want to thank the trustees of the Fresno Unified School Board for their courage to name this school after an Armenian American who was a journalist, a graduate of Fresno State, a Bulldog who graduated with a political science degree and went after that to work in the field of journalism with a pencil in his hand.”

Flanked by a banner featuring the new pencil-toting Tatarian Hawks logo, Jiménez-Sandoval announced the establishment of a partnership between the Hawks and the Bulldogs. The logo was designed by Fresno State alumnus Scott Severance, under the art direction of Suzanne Bertz-Rosa.

“I am really proud that we are establishing this partnership with Tatarian Elementary Schools and the Media, Communications and Journalism Department at Fresno State to give Tatarian students a clear pathway and the tools necessary to know, what does it take to become a journalist and what is a journalist in today’s world?”

Jim Boren, executive director for the Institute for Media and Public Trust at Fresno State, said the details of the pathway are still being finalized.

“We want them to get them enthused about journalism, make them multimedia journalists and bring them to Fresno State. We want the Tatarian Hawks to be Fresno State Bulldogs.”

The sun that parched attendees of the ceremony is the same star that provides energy to the fertile Central Valley soil. The life that sprouted gave promise to the throngs of Armenian immigrants fleeing oppression. But as they planted their farms and businesses and purchased homes, they faced discrimination.

According to media reports, the Fresno Unified School Board began looking into changing the school’s name after it came to light in historical legal documents that Jessie Clayton Forkner, the developer for the Fig Garden area, forbade the sale or occupancy of property to minoritized people, including Armenians.

Mark Arax, an author and Fresno State alumnus, proposed the name change at a board meeting in June. James Tatarian, Roger’s grandson, requested his grandfather’s name be withdrawn from consideration for a new building, calling it “a consolation prize that is not suitable for a man of his accomplishments and stature.”

“A change like this is never easy,” Arax said. “Forkner School was named in the 1980s, so you’re talking about 40 years. People don’t want a part of that, but I think we did it the right way. We did the research and presented the case and, ultimately, the case was compelling enough that the school district decided that this is right, this is just.”

The Fresno Unified School Board voted in October 2021 to change the name in honor of the award-winning journalist, Fresno State alumnus and faculty member.

“Roger Tatarian’s career as a journalist and professor demonstrates the transformative power of a Fresno State education,” said Dr. Honora Chapman, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at Fresno State. “By returning to his alma mater to educate a new generation, he changed his students’ lives, and now a Fresno school in his name will inspire countless children to pursue their dreams.”

“The Armenian community is pleased that the Fresno Unified School District has chosen to recognize Roger Tatarian by naming a school after him,” said Professor Barlow Der Mugrdechian, Berberian Coordinator of the Armenian Studies Program at Fresno State. “This recognition, with the naming of the first school in the district for an Armenian, is long overdue. This is a fitting honor for Tatarian.”

Tatarian was a Fresno State Media, Communications and Journalism faculty member for 15 years. The Roger Tatarian Journalism Grant, the Roger Tatarian Endowed Chair in Journalism and the Roger Tatarian Symposium were established in his honor.

Also an alumnus, Tatarian graduated from Fresno State in 1938 with a degree in political science. He began his career at United Press International, then a worldwide news reporting wire service. During World War II, he was a correspondent and continued to work for United Press International for the next 34 years.

He had a successful career, serving as the general news manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. He was bureau chief in London and Rome, served as news editor in Washington D.C. and eventually became editor in chief.

Tatarian received many awards and honors, including the Elijah Parrish Lovejoy Award, a special citation by Ohio University and an honorary doctorate in law from Colby College in Maine in 1980. He was named a fellow of the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi in 1972 and was among the first group inducted into the New York Society’s Hall of Fame. He also served as a Pulitzer Prize nomination juror in 1960, 1961 and 1985.

After his retirement, Tatarian returned to Fresno and joined the faculty at Fresno State. During that time, he served as a consultant to newspapers and wrote a regular column for The Fresno Bee. He also wrote a collection of essays, “Day of Mourning, Day of Shame,” published by Word Dancer Press in 1996. That book was provided to attendees at the renaming ceremony courtesy of the Fresno State Media, Communications and Journalism Department and The Fresno Bee. Tatarian passed away in 1995 at the age of 78.

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Fresno State College of Arts and Humanities Communication Specialist

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