By Daniella Molina & Steven Adamo
Professor Jean Stapleton has worked at East Los Angeles College’s longer than any other professor. Her career has spanned 50 years within the Los Angeles Community College District. 48 of those years with ELAC.
Stapleton is a native of Albuquerque, New-Mexico and earned a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She spent the first two years of her career as an adjunct at West Los Angeles College, first teaching a semester of English 101.
She taught journalism classes for the remainder of her time there. However, due to low enrollment rates, Stapleton was told that there were no classes available for her in the coming semester.
Administrators told Stapleton that there was an opening over at East Los Angeles College and she would be given a high recommendation if she applied. “So that’s how I got to East L.A,” Stapleton said.
ELAC has grown tremendously since the first day Stapleton set foot on ELAC campus in September of 1973. At that time, ELAC was the fourth largest College in the district. Today, ELAC is the largest college in the district.
Stapleton has witnessed all the phases of ELAC’s transformation; a campus that went from a small single-story building and shabby run-down bungalows, to the now exceptional campus with multi-story buildings.
Stapleton recalls the days when her classroom was in one of the bungalows. There was no heat, a broken, boarded up window and stairs that were barely connected to the building. Today, however, the Journalism Department and her classroom are located on the third floor of the E7 Building.
Air conditioning is still an issue. This time it makes the classroom extremely cold. However, the Vicky Chang Technology building holds up-to-date amenities for all of the students and staff.
It was not just the aesthetics of the campus that Stapleton saw change. There were also no unions that protected the rights of staff, faculty and employees of the district. “It was a real nose to the grindstone,” Stapleton said.
Some teachers were required to perform 22 hours of teaching hours per week, which resulted in putting in overtime hours that went unpaid.
It was not until the American Federation of Teachers Foundation was formed in 1977 that working environments changed for the better. The Los Angeles College Faculty Guild Local 1521, which ELAC is a part of, provides representation to full time and adjunct faculty working in the nine community colleges within the district.
“They were just forming the Union. There were two unions. One was the NEA and the other was the AFT. They were both courting all the brand-new teachers. They would tell you all the reasons why you should join this union instead of that union. One day, a person from the NEA came in and told me ‘You don’t want to join the AFT! Those are a bunch of women’s libbers!’ and I went, ‘Oh, now I know which union I want to join.’I immediately joined the AFT,” Stapleton said.
Since the beginning of Stapleton’s journalism career, she has had to learn a lot of the evolving technology necessary to create the news. This changing technology took its time to reach ELAC. It wasn’t until 1975 when ELAC Campus News received an electric typewriter.
It would be another two decades before receiving their first computer and a few years after that to obtain the software. “We were using MacWrite to layout the paper,” Stapleton said.
Though the technology has improved the ease of laying out the newspaper, Stapleton believes that it adds more pressure to the students. “All the responsibility is on the students. Yes, it’s easier, but the students also have a great deal of responsibility for laying it out,” Stapleton said.
Now that there are many advanced methods of consuming news in the digital age, Stapleton said that she is looking forward to printing the newspaper once again in Spring 2022.
“I’m going to be very happy when we go back to paper because I think students really need to publish on paper. This is like, ‘whoa, you have to actually have everything perfect before you put it out there,” Stapleton said.
However, even with protected rights, better pay standards, and new technology, Stapleton also experienced turbulent times. In 1990 she was transferred from ELAC to Pierce College, due to false accusations against her and the ELAC Campus newspaper staff. The accusations claimed that Stapleton was only stirring up trouble with the stories that were being published in the campus newspaper.
However, after a hearing, Stapleton was vindicated and cleared to return to ELAC as the adviser of the Journalism department. It was a loss to a group of faculty members, who had long plotted against Stapleton.
On February 5, 1990, Stapleton was reinstated and the administration was ordered to destroy any unsatisfactory documentation on her.
“In reality, I love East L.A College. I hated it there (Pierce College) and just wanted to come back,” Stapleton said.
Stapleton has held the positions as professor, adviser and chair of the journalism department for over four decades.
The only time she is away from her students is when she travels. A personal love of Stapleton’s, she has travelled to more than 70 countries. From China to Brazil, and right up to before the pandemic hit, she had spent time in Colombia and Bolivia.
She has also visited Japan, England and Germany several times. Russia, Mongolia and Antartica are others on the list.
Her office is like a small museum with photos and memories from the countries she has visited. She also likes to acquire newspapers from all over to read what is happening in the world. But here in the states, ELAC Campus Newspaper and LA Times are the papers she has read every week for 48 years.
Campus News staff has won several awards over the many years both for print and online editions. Stapleton strongly encourages her students to participate in journalism conferences and competitions. The most current one being at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges State Conference November 2021, where several of her students won awards.
As for her legacy at ELAC, Stapleton said, “I don’t think my legacy is ELAC. I think my legacy is my students.”