At U.S. colleges, future journalists learn about freedom of the press in the classroom but also on their school newspapers, where student editors learn hands-on what to do when college presidents, coaches or fellow students don’t like what the paper is reporting.
Their experiences at those newspapers also reveal journalism’s power to encourage change.
Few newspaper stories prompted change more swiftly than “The Final Barrier, ” a 2,000-word exposé published by the University of Alabama’s student newspaper The Crimson White. The 2013 article revealed how sorority alumnae were blocking the social organizations from admitting black students.
The governor of Alabama decried the discrimination the next day, and university president Judy Bonner ordered the sororities to reopen their bidding process, saying the university would “not tolerate discrimination of any kind.” Within a week, seven previously all-white sororities had their first black members.
Mazie Bryant, editor of The Crimson White and herself a sorority member, said the daily newspaper had reported before on discrimination within sororities, but this was the first time it got the inside story. “People were finally willing to speak to us,” she said, “and break the culture of silence on campus.” The story quoted students who were upset when alumnae blocked them from accepting African-American candidates.
“It really shows you the power of students and the power of journalism to hold people accountable for their actions and see the truth come to light,” Bryant said.
This article was excerpted from an article written for EJ|USA by freelance writer Christopher Connell.