2016 Topical Reporting, Medium Newsroom finalist

Student Voices in a Tumultuous Year

About the Project

Mizzou. Ithaca. Yale. The University of Illinois.

In 2015-16, huge student protests at these campuses and scores more added up to perhaps the largest year in student activism since the 1960s. As students have made their voices heard on campus, we’ve worked to reflect their concerns to our readers. We made an editorial choice this year to ensure their perspectives were included—in the form of powerful videos and personal stories, as well as data-driven interactives and on-the-ground reporting to look into the reasons behind their protests.

Testimonials from students themselves form the core of this work. The powerful “Ask Me” video explored the voices of students at a Campus Pride event last July, where they expressed just how their professors could help make them feel safe on campus. Its release had an impact—through our platform we reached tens of thousands, and it was amplified by the many bloggers who took the time to share it further with their own audiences. A student who was featured in the video told his campus newspaper that after the video was widely released: “… we realized how much of an impact we were really making with these statements.”

“I’m Gonna Rise Above What I Was Doing” is a first-person photo essay by Tavaris Sanders, a young man from the South Side of Chicago who documented the challenges and surprises he faced in his first year at Trinity College in Connecticut. In “Man Up on Racism,” we asked student activists from Mizzou what the mostly white faculty and staff there could do, post crisis, to make the university a more welcoming place to learn.

To address and explore their concerns, we looked to data and presented it ways that allowed our readers to carefully evaluate where exactly their universities were in comparison to others around the country. We found particularly at large state universities that the professoriate was whiter than the student body and the state universities tend to be much whiter than outside world. In another interactive, we examined the faculty ranks at different types of institutions and those results are telling.

As another class of students enters college and these activists graduate it remains to be seen whether the campus climate will continue at such a pitch. But these students’ voices were central to driving change on campus this year, so we deployed our best resources to tell their stories.