SPLC trains hundreds of student journalists in preparation for Student Press Freedom Day

Logo saying "Unmute Yourself" with a hand holding a pen

In preparation for the fourth annual Student Press Freedom Day on Feb. 24, the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) hosted a series of skills-building workshops which gave participants tangible skills they can utilize in their work both as journalists and as advocates for press freedom.

Get involved this Student Press Freedom Day

Student journalists must be empowered to tell the stories most important to their communities, free from overt censorship, and able to withstand the pressures that lead to self-censorship. This Student Press Freedom Day (Feb. 24, 2022), ‘Unmute Yourself!’

The workshops were designed as a four-part Boot Camp and all students and advisers who participated in all four sessions received a certificate of completion and a LinkedIn badge.

The sessions featured a range of topics this year: A crash course session on Op-Ed writing, a session on how to advocate for student press freedom, a session on how to use personal storytelling as a means for free press advocacy, and a session teaching participants how to utilize social media as a tool for advocacy.

According to Danielle Dieterich, the SPLC’s digital strategist and head coordinator behind Student Press Freedom Day, each workshop provided an audience of students, advisers and administrators with specific tools they need to support press freedom that they are not getting anywhere else.

“I think that’s the real benefit: we’re handling an intersection that not many folks have the expertise to be able to address,” Dieterich said.

Dieterich said because this is the second year the SPLC has hosted events for Student Press Freedom Day in the midst of the pandemic, the SPLC has been pushing to find ways to be more creative and get a large audience involved online. One way the organization has done so is by introducing four students to serve as Student Press Freedom Day Student Co-Chairs to contribute to the planning process.

Pratika Katiyar is one of the Student Co-Chairs helping to plan this year’s Student Press Freedom Day events. Previously involved in advocating for the passing of Virginia’s New Voices legislation, Katiyar said it’s encouraging to see so many young people show up for the SPLC’s events because they are building up momentum to a day which aims to get them acquainted with such important issues.

“For the people that are showing up to these events, it’s a really great way for them to learn about the different facets of press freedom and the different ways that you can get involved,” Katiyar said. “It’s great because we are getting more people involved and we’re getting more people excited about taking part in what we’re doing.”

Hadar Harris, executive director of the SPLC, said the goal of hosting these workshops was primarily to “enable and encourage students to unmute themselves,” the theme of this year’s Student Press Freedom Day.

“We want participants to feel empowered to use their voice … on behalf of student press freedom, on behalf of New Voices, on behalf of ensuring press freedom exists at every level, and to do that in a variety of different ways,” Harris said.

Student Co-Chairs Jack Rintoul and Cadeon Spencer said these workshops are impactful because they provide student journalists with a network of support and with the skills, tools and resources they need in order to do important work within their own communities.

“It’s incredibly important for high schoolers and college students to have that ability to seek out their own stories and write, report and challenge the status quo,” Rintoul said.

Dieterich also said providing students with concrete skills and resources to advocate for press freedom has been an important theme in the SPLC’s work this year. For Student Co-Chair Sara Fajardo, this is the main point she hopes participants take away from the events back into their own lives.

“Students should always be celebrated and given the confidence to write,” Fajardo said. “In high school it’s obviously your formative years, so it really breaks my heart that they’re not being encouraged like they should. So I hope they take away from these workshops that they can fight for that encouragement and their First Amendment rights that they deserve.”

Want more stories like this? The Student Press Law Center is a legal and educational nonprofit defending the rights of student journalists. Sign up for our free weekly newsletter.