By Abeer Khan and Stephanie Davoli
Students and colleagues at the School of Journalism are mourning the loss of longtime journalism instructor Stephen Trumper.
Trumper passed away on Jan. 4, at the age of 69.
Trumper had a decades-long career at Toronto Metropolitan University and is remembered as “a brilliant teacher and communicator” who shared his passion for journalism with countless students.
Trumper notably taught magazine editing and feature writing at the School of Journalism, alongside working with students at the Review of Journalism—one of the school’s student publications.
Sonya Fatah, an assistant professor at the School of Journalism who worked closely with Trumper since 2017 on the Review, said the impact he had on his students was his biggest strength. “His capacity to give time and care to students was something that students quickly understood.”
Ben Waldman, an arts and life reporter at The Winnipeg Free Press who took both the Magazine Workshop course and the Review with the late instructor, fondly remembers his time in Trumper’s classrooms.
“Steve gave me his kindness, which opened up a whole world for me and many other students,” said Waldman. “In such a small amount of time, he had such a huge impact on me as a person.”
Fatah said while post-secondary institutions are now focusing more on nurturing students by providing more access to needed extensions and accommodations, this was something Trumper always knew. “He had a lot of compassion for students’ needs,” she said. “He was very quick to be able to give students extra time and extra care when they needed it.”
Trumper centered disability advocacy in his courses and lectures, leaving some students feeling personally inspired.
Sahara Mehdi, a fourth-year journalism student who took Trumper’s Magazine Workshop class last year, said Trumper’s teaching method and advocacy had a great impact on her.
Mehdi took the class with Trumper about a year after she’d been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune and chronic disability.
Throughout the semester, Mehdi remembers seeing Trumper not only as an instructor but also as a personal role model.
“A lot of the times when you have a disability, it can feel like the rest of your life kind of has to go on hold,” said Mehdi.
“Witnessing how Stephen was not only an amazing journalist, teacher and person, but also how open he was to talking about disability and how he used his life experience to change people’s perspectives, it never felt like he was boxed in to just being a disability writer,” she said. “He had such a breadth of things that he covered in his writing.”
Fatah said a part of Trumper’s legacy at the school will be his disability advocacy and inclusion. “I recognize that we have, at the School of Journalism, a real lack of inclusivity when it comes to disability,” said Fatah. “For me, I was really conscious of that, because I worked so closely with Steve. But I think institutionally, we have a long way to go.”
A part of that legacy will be looking at how the school can do better, Fatah added. “How can we center disability more in our equity conversations and efforts that we make to strengthen our school structure, philosophy and approach to care?” she questioned.
Asmaa Malik, an associate professor and the associate chair of the School of Journalism, said Trumper had a unique way of thinking about new methods of storytelling.
“He brought a real awareness to abilities and thinking about whose perspectives are included and whose perspectives aren’t,” said Malik. “For that alone, he’s had a significant impact in how journalism is produced.”
Many of Trumper’s former colleagues also viewed him as an inspiration, both for his advocacy as well as for his writing and editing abilities.
Lynn Cunningham, a retired associate professor at the School of Journalism and journalist, who hired Trumper for an editor position at Toronto Life in 1977 and later worked with him at the Review, recalled countless memories of working alongside him.
She specifically remembers Trumper’s extraordinary display writing skills, which she would ask him to teach to her Review students before he was a part-time instructor at the school.
“When we worked together, he would always blow me out of the water with his display skills,” said Cunningham. “He was also always nurturing of people, plus he had a great chuckle.”
Trumper worked at many notable publications throughout his career, including Toronto Life, Harrowsmith Country Life and National Post Business. He has contributed to magazines like Saturday Night, Chatelaine, Elm and The Walrus, according to his National Magazine Awards biography. He also penned a column in Abilities magazine exploring experiences in life with a disability.
His work and guidance for writers helped produce more than 60 awards and nominations from the National Magazine Awards and other industry associations.
Richard Johnson, a writer, editor, facilitator and consultant who worked to organize judges for the National Magazine Awards for ten years, fondly remembers Trumper’s consistent kindness and humility.
“Stephen would call me every year to say; ‘I’m happy to be a judge again, put me wherever you need me and I’ll do my best.’ What he was too humble to say was that he was qualified to judge ANY awards category because he’d done it ALL,” said Johnson on Twitter.
“Steve’s principal goals in his career as an editor, a teacher and an advocate for people with disabilities: to make media and journalism better and to make them accessible to all Canadians,” his biography states.
While Trumper was not a full-time faculty member at the School of Journalism, Fatah said he felt like one because of his roles on student publications and commitment to his students over such a long period of time.
“He’s very much part of the institution, even if he wasn’t on the books,” said Fatah.
Ravindra Mohabeer, the chair of the School of Journalism, told The Eyeopener in an email that the school is planning a memorial service for Trumper for which the details were not yet available.
“We would encourage anyone who knew Mr. Trumper to reach out and share a memory with a colleague who either also knew him, or, even if they did not, to share their experience of his impact on their education and life,” said Mohabeer.
The school said students who are grieving and need formal support can reach out to Campus Health and Wellness Counselling Services.