Everything becomes more vivid when you’re about to say goodbye. And now that I’ve written that, it sounds goofy. But it’s true.
In the past three weeks, I’ve felt that The Daily Tar Heel office has simultaneously been a lot louder and a lot quieter. Quieter because faces I started with at the paper have left or graduated. And louder because the memories I’ve shared with friends and coworkers in the space repeatedly greet me at very high octaves.
Ironically, though, during my first year at UNC, I was dedicated to never joining The Daily Tar Heel. Several upperclassmen, Black upperclassmen, told me that the paper’s overwhelming whiteness was virtually a biohazard for journalism students of color.
“If you must: get your clips and get out,” one of them warned me.
For about a year, I listened. And then my stubbornness and hardheadedness got the best of me, and I joined the University desk where I briefly became a senior writer. I appreciated being able to apply the skills I was learning in my Hussman classes as a reporter, but I also could tell that my mentors were telling the truth about the newsroom’s whiteness (not that I didn’t believe them — you know who you are).
So, when the opportunity arose, I applied to become the diversity, equity and inclusion chairperson at the paper. I didn’t seek the position assuming I could rewrite the DTH’s legacy in one to two years. (After all, it is the campus paper of a University built by slaves.) Instead, I sought the position because I felt like I would at least be honest with the newsroom about its issues, if nothing else. No one else had said it. And some of the mistakes made, though irreparably damaging, were simply foolish. (Yes, I’m looking at the boba as a cultural trend article… and the “We’re Sorry” column.)
And in my weeks of creating audits, hosting workshops and editing articles alongside Maydha Devarajan, Sonia Rao and Tania Tobaccowala: I realized that sometimes even being honest isn’t enough.
Because, think about it, how can a paper successfully rooted in whiteness create an effective DEI department? It can’t.
And this isn’t to say that I wasn’t able to accomplish great work, but that some things have to be torn down from the root-up. They didn’t pay me enough to be that much of a bulldozer.
However, no lesson is a wasted lesson, and especially not when the lesson is accompanied by moments of joy and indelible news-making. Had I not walked into the newsroom and began running my mouth, I never would have become friends with Olivia Rojas; made Popeyes runs with Allie Kelly and Guillermo Molero; learned that Leni Schenkel, Hannah Collett and I equally find the phrase “gummy candy” funny and discovered the wonder of Caitlyn Yaede’s black tea lemonade and Starbucks grilled cheese order. Or been able to give two-syllable nicknames to Sophia Alem (SoSo), Collin Pruitt (CoCo), Carson Elm-Picard (CorCor) and Courtney Mitchell (Diet CoCo).
So, hello to the beginning of remembering lessons that could be described with 1,001 different words.
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