Reckoning with Racial Justice

Student journalists tell the stories of racism and the fight for racial justice in their schools, but student journalists of color also have to cope with racism aimed at them. In spring of 2020, student journalists were among the first to highlight how racist reactions to the COVID outbreak affected Asian students. Some wrote about their own experiences, like high schooler Katherine Oung, whose op-ed “Coronavirus Racism Infected My High School” ran in The New York Times.

Later that summer, student journalists covered major racial justice protests in their communities, despite being out of school, and at the risk of unprecedented violent targeting of media by police. Pablo Unzueta, a college photojournalist, was covering one of these protests in LA when he was arrested, held by police for six hours and had his equipment seized. He had to take legal action to get his camera back.

In the fall, Haskell Indian Nations University, a tribal university in Kansas issued unconstitutional directives to the editor in chief of the student paper, to prevent him from doing basic newsgathering. The student fought back by working with the Student Press Law Center, the Native American Journalists Association and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

These stories are important, they shed light on the inequity in our schools and uplift the voices of students of color who have too often been silenced or ignored. But student journalists of color face structural barriers impeding them in this important work:

  • Stories about racism are often censored because they “make the school look bad”
  • Student journalists of color face harassment and microagressions inside the newsroom and out. 
  • Schools with a majority of Black or brown students are less likely than schools with mostly white students to have funding and support for a robust journalism program, or to have one at all. 

Even under these conditions, students of color are bravely highlighting the racism they see and experience.

Racism in student journalism is not a short-term issue and will require intensive, ongoing work. We must all do our part, and we can not afford to waste any time. Underinvesting in and chilling the speech of student journalists of color sets them up for a lifetime of believing that their voices don’t matter and that their role as journalists is not important. They do and it is. 

Excellent Student Stories About Reckoning with Racial Justice

Missouri high schoolers make a 1619 project of their own

The Kirkwood Call published a series of stories and op-eds about racism in their community and school, and the legacy of slavery in their town, tackling complex topics like redlining and redistricting.

Washington Square News covers how Black students at NYU encounter racial trauma in the classroom

This feature article dives into how Black students experience the emotional and mental health effects of being exposed to racially traumatic content in classrooms. The piece also has powerful emotive illustrations and calls for professors at predominantly white institutions like NYU to teach with active care and consideration.

McCallum High Shield braved rubber bullets, tear gas to cover George Floyd protests

High school reporters from the Shield in Austin, Texas captured impressive photographs of moments of tension in a major protest over police brutality and the killing of George Floyd. They also spoke about their own experience being hit with tear gas during this coverage.

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