Reflections from New Voices student leaders: Nicole Lupo

Nicole Lupo (right) working on layout with her staff. PHOTO COURTESY: NICOLE LUPO.

This past summer, 32 student leaders from 13 states, participated in the Student Press Law Center’s annual New Voices Student Leaders Institute – a free online program for high school students to improve their leadership and organizing skills, develop their role as leaders within the New Voices movement, and identify a strategy that could be instrumental in their state’s New Voices efforts.

After spending two weeks learning from SPLC team members, special guest speakers and one another, the New Voices student leaders are prepared and ready to put their newfound leadership skills into action in their states.

Photo of Nicole Lupo

Nicole Lupo is one of these students. Lupo is a senior at State College Area High School in Pennsylvania where she serves as Editor-in-Chief for her school’s yearbook, The Little Lion, and a member of her school’s broadcast club, WSCH. She shared her experiences at the Institute and what comes next in her advocacy work. 

I applied to the New Voices Student Leader Institute at first because I was curious about advocacy, lobbying and enjoy my own journalistic community at school. Two free weeks of summer provided a perfect opportunity, and I gained such a deep insight into the intricacies of lobbying, the injustice done to student journalists, and solutions to issues within my school community. 

Censorship was not a dilemma I specifically faced as a yearbook editor in a progressive school district, unlike many other Institute participants who dealt with it routinely. I struggled to see where I would fit into the greater fight. But the Institute provided interactions with highly-engaged students from my state, exposure to the leaders of the movement and opportunities for self reflection that impressed upon me the powerful way in which student censorship affects everyone. 

Student censorship is not just some controlling person who happens to be a school administrator taking down articles. It is the product of fear, and it will poison our community. Censorship is being afraid that what you publish might face pushback, so why even try? Censorship is an adviser caught between threats to their job security and the students they care about. Censorship exists in the fear school administrators carry from the heavy burden they have to appease everyone. 

I realized through this Institute that while my school is better than some, we still have a long way to go. I can see this fear festering in my school community and I believe New Voices can help fix it.

– Nicole Lupo

One such example was in the tragic loss of another student to suicide last year. Our journalism program descended into chaos when an unethical article was published and our administration subsequently decided to reevaluate the process that had allowed the approval in the first place. The complete lack of school district policies regarding student journalism added to the confusion. For students, a student media policy modeled after New Voices would have provided a clearer understanding of the journalists’ rights. For the community, the effect would have created ethical journalism and a sense of closure and memorial that helped the crisis within our school. 

Just a week after the Institute ended, I sat down with my advisers to begin our fight for a press policy within our district.

I would participate in the New Voices Institute again if given the chance; my own personal growth skyrocketed, I realized the importance of perspective, and I have more courage now than ever before to speak up about the issues that matter to me. 

I cannot wait to put what I have learned, the communication abilities I’ve developed, the critical thinking skills I’ve practiced, and the allies I have found across the country to work. Student leaders such as those in the New Voices Institute are vital to establish press freedom and ensure the future integrity of journalism. 

Learn more about how you can take action to restore and protect student press freedom in your state.