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Journalism Program Explores Black Students’ Experiences

By Tiffany Pennamon

The Nation recently launched a student journalism program that provides training and mentoring opportunities for black student journalists while giving them a platform to document the lived experiences of black students on campus.

Under the direction of Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry of the Anna Julia Cooper (AJC) Center at Wake Forest University and Dr. Sherri Williams at American University, 10 “Black On Campus” student participants will attend workshops and conferences that enhance their journalistic capabilities in pitching stories, developing sources and producing long-term projects, among other skills.

“This project is giving these students an opportunity to tell these stories without having to fight with editors, without having to prove the newsworthiness of Black people and our experiences,” said Williams, co-director of the program and assistant professor in race, media and communication at American University. “I hope that the stories these students produce really show people that there is a layered, nuanced and complex experience that black students are having on college campuses today, and there’s not one singular or homogenous experience that they’re having.”

Williams said the program is particularly important because the “default” narrative of the college experience is often that of a middle-class white college student.

To fully show the “multiplicity of [the black] experience,” students in the program come from places such as Arizona, Atlanta, Louisiana, Washington, D.C. and New York City.

Undergraduate and graduate participants were chosen in January and virtually meet with Harris-Perry and Williams every Sunday. They discuss their reporting projects for The Nation and learn how the editing process works.

Students are learning how to pitch a story idea and how to write a solid lede and nut graf – a story’s beginning – “so that when they do get out into the field and it is time for them to compete, they do have more skills,” Williams said.

Additional trainings for the students revolve around how to develop an idea, turn it into a full story, interview various individuals, develop sources, identify key questions for interviews and mine data that will help tell their stories in unique and complex ways to bring attention to issues on their campuses that have not gotten much attention from national media, Williams said.

The students will have additional travel opportunities to Washington, D.C. and New York City to attend The Nation’s Student Journalism Conference at The New School. They recently attended the “Know Her Truths” conference hosted by Harris-Perry’s AJC Center in March.

While there, the student journalists served as social media correspondents, interviewing conference attendees and writing about the event, which focused on how women of color are changing oppressive and suppressive systems through their activism and scholarship.

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at tiffany@diverseeducation.com. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.