Why I am an Active Voice Fellow

I don’t have a story of being personally censored. I was fortunate enough to attend a high school where my adviser trusted his students to be completely responsible for the paper and the administration did not subject us to prior review or censorship. Our student paper, the North Star, has printed stories about the legalization of marijuana, rape culture and gay marriage.

But I know I was lucky.

Research from a team at the University of Kansas reveals that female high school journalists are censored more often than their male counterparts. Censoring students in general is bad enough. How are they to learn to be responsible? Why infringe on their First Amendment rights if they are pursuing stories and reporting them truthfully? But specifically censoring women just goes to reinforce the problems we already have in society. What makes what a woman says any less important than a man? How are we to raise strong, capable women when we censor them whenever they approach “taboo” or “controversial” topics?

Thankfully, the Student Press Law Center saw this pattern and took action. They created the Active Voice project, an effort aimed at giving girls their voices back and helping them become leaders in their communities.

In an effort to be part of that movement and aid young women in the fight for equality, I plan to work directly with administrators and encourage them to give their students full First Amendment rights, meaning they will not practice prior review or censorship.

To start, I will interview administrators and advisers from schools that do not currently utilize prior review or censorship. I want to talk to them about why they trust their students, what about that system works and how it could be implemented in other schools. I will use this information to build a workshop for administrators at schools that do censor their students. I want to prove to the principals, superintendents and deans that giving student media their full rights is an important and advantageous choice. How can students grow unless they can be trusted with full responsibility that comes with the media?

My goal with this project is to create a world in which students can freely seek the truth and report it. Rather than being subject to prior review or censorship by their own administrations, I want students to cover those controversial and taboo topics and learn to defend themselves when the community challenges that coverage.

As a woman — particularly a woman of minority — I know what it feels like to be told my opinions or thoughts are not valuable. But I was raised to believe I am capable of creating social change as long as I put my mind to it. I want to empower others to believe the same thing, and that starts by allowing them to express their ideas.