Black on Campus was always operating on two levels: At one level, it was a journalism program focused on reporting the stories of contemporary African-American students on college campuses. At the same time, it was always an experiment in training college journalists.
Think of a college class. You probably imagine a male professor standing in front of a classroom delivering an erudite lecture on an obscure topic to a large crowd of students in rows of stadium seats. Maybe younger learners have dispatched with this model, replacing it with new visions of swift, smart, shareable informative videos—delivered by male professors using engaging graphics as they make obscure topics more decipherable. College learning is distant and sterile compared to our imaginations of, say, a kindergarten class. Blocks! Circle time! Stories! Sandboxes! Teachers who know your name! All while learning important skills with people who are not just your peers or classmates—but your friends.
For nearly two decades I have been trying to inject a bit more of the ethics of kindergarten learning into college classrooms by carving out programs where students can develop key scholarly and professional skills in the context of genuine relationships with faculty and mutual—often complicated—bonds of cohort learning. Dr. Sherri Williams, assistant professor of communication at American University, has been my co-conspirator and partner in this work, where she has taught me to adapt cohort learning to train emerging story tellers.
Black on Campus used technology, travel, text messaging, and the sheer force of will to build community as we learned to meet deadlines. Black on Campus became and remains something more than a class. Many of the young reporters are now in their first professional roles. They are working in major cities for print and broadcast outlets. They share each others work, amplify one another’s voices, offer professional advice—and make jokes.
As we encourage Nation readers to revisit the valuable original reporting of the Black on Campus cohort, I decided it was a good time to assess how some of the young reporters thought about their Black on Campus experiences. I sat down with Savannah West. West is now finishing her final semester at Clark Atlanta University. She is a journalism major from Chicago. Though she was active in the program, Savannah also had a tough spring semester and did not complete an independent byline in the first round of reporting. Still, she was a touchstone for the group. I wanted to learn more about her journey through college and the Black on Campus experience as a way of revealing broader truths for students like her.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Of all the Black on Campus students, none had more pure school pride than you. Why do you think that is?