“Find your voice. Own your voice. Don’t be afraid”
Five college journalists drawn from campuses from coast-to-coast got a two-day crash course in movement-building from experts in the legal, nonprofit and public-relations fields. The Aug. 18-19 workshop marked the kickoff of the inaugural round of Active Voice fellowships, awarded to college students with inventive ideas about improving the press-freedom climate in high schools.
Nashwa Bawab (University of Texas-Austin), Darlene Aderoju (Howard University), Sunshine Cho (University of California-San Diego), Sindhu Ravuri (University of California-Berkeley) and Sophie Gordon (Ball State University) make up the first annual class of Active Voice fellows, who’ll work to create locally based service projects addressing the barriers that inhibit young women from making their voices heard.
The Active Voice project is so important because women’s concerns are often dismissed because of society’s perception of women as ’emotional’ and ‘weak’ compared to their male counterparts. In a world where women make up more than half of the population, it is inappropriate that men dominate the conversation when women have just as much to contribute. I hope that this project teaches girls the importance of making their voices heard and encourages everyone to take what women have to say more seriously. Sophie Gordon, Active Voice Fellow
The two-day training session was hosted by Edelman and by the McCormick Foundation, a longtime benefactor of the Student Press Law Center, which organized Active Voice. Active Voice was founded in 2015 in response to growing evidence, supported by University of Kansas research, that teen girls suffer the brunt of school censorship, and are much more likely than teen boys to comply with an illicit censorship directive and to censor themselves in anticipation of adverse reaction from authority.
Active Voice fellows heard from Edelman’s Global Chief of Staff Stacey Zolt Hara, a former Washington correspondent and Senate aide (and college newspaper editor), for tips about building awareness campaigns around issues — and about succeeding in a male-dominated workplace: “Don’t self-censor, don’t put ceilings on yourself.”
Tiana Epps-Johnson, founder and chief executive of the Chicago-based non-profit Center for Technology and Civic Life, introduced the fellows to the growing “civic data” movement, making information about government more accessible so the public can have well-informed input.
(Her organization is a partner in the Reflective Democracy Campaign, which works to make the public sector more representative of the nation’s diversity. Among its initiatives is Justice For All, which used publicly available data to spotlight the significant underrepresentation of minorities and women in elected district-attorney positions nationwide.)
Though she’s a proponent of technology, Epps-Johnson cautioned that even the best-intended data tools will quickly be orphaned if they’re not perceived as fulfilling a real public need: “People have lives. You can’t expect that folks drop everything to take action.” (She pointed to the “build with, not for” philosophy of Laurenellen McCann and other design thinkers.)
Attorney Tina Salvato, who represents media companies at Chicago’s Mandell Menkes LLC, shared insights about careers in the law and emerging media-law issues presented by technology, including privacy concerns intensified by the casual publishing of embarrassing or misleading photos on social-media platforms.
After an immersive two days, the fellows are back at their campuses, where they’ll work on building a stronger support system to help high school journalists encountering barriers to press freedom. Among the projects on the drawing board are initiatives to support young women trying to break into science and technology writing, magazine-writing workshops for students in underserved schools without online student media, and a toolkit for working diplomatically with school administrators to upgrade student rights.
I walked off the subway on our last day feeling so inspired by the women we met, the four other incredible fellows, and the people who have dedicated themselves to make such a program possible. We spent our days listening to the advice of professional working women who have each struggled with gender biases but overcame them with confidence and bold leadership. Each pursued their passion, be it technology for civic duty or marketing communications. And each served as great examples to us, the fellows, that it’s possible to be leaders in whichever fields we choose to pursue. I’m so excited to relay that exact message to the high school girls we’ll be serving this coming school year. I want more than anything to help them develop their confidence, knowledge of their rights, and most importantly, their voice to advocate for themselves and other women. Sunshine Cho, Active Voice Fellow
Follow www.theactivevoice.org and the campaign’s Twitter feed (twitter.com/activespeech) and Facebook group (www.facebook.com/useyouractivevoice/) to see what inventive breakthroughs these inspiring young women create. And contact the SPLC if your company or organization is interested in sponsoring, or partnering with, an Active Voice fellow.