As my time as an Active Voice Fellow draws to an end, I’m excited by the work that’s been done.

Not only have I put together a toolkit to help advisers start free press programs in their own schools, but the other fellows have created projects that empower high school girls and teach them how to use their voices. From podcasts to print stories to understanding their rights as students, these projects have paved the way for the next class of fellows who will hopefully build upon our ideas and make this program even greater.

When I first applied for the fellowship, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. The project description was broad, which was intimidating. How could I come up with an idea different from the other fellows? But I am so glad I applied because this past year has been one of immense growth. Being an Active Voice Fellow challenged me to get creative and find ways to reach out to high schoolers, advisers and administrators.

By working for the BSU Journalism Workshops office, I attended the National High School Journalism Conferences in Indianapolis and Seattle and was able to present with SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte to more than 100 students in each of those sessions. I was also lucky enough to present at a journalism conference in Chicago and one at Ball State. Speaking with students and being able to hear their stories reminded me how important it was for everyone to have their voice heard, and I am glad I was able to do so much traveling during my time as a fellow.

That’s not to say there wasn’t hardships. My original idea was to create a workshop that educated administrators on the benefits of allow their student press organizations to operate without prior review or censorship and present in schools, but I was later advised by an outside journalism educator against doing so. This sucked the motivation out of me and made me question whether I was on the right path. Maybe I just had bad ideas?

But the Active Voice Project provided me with a wonderful mentor, Stephanie, who was there every time I needed her. Whether it was checking in to make sure I was keeping on top of project things while also balancing school work or giving a pep talk when everything seemed to pile up, she was just a phone call or a text away. The mentorship part of this program is definitely part of its success, and Stephanie kept me encouraged and motivated even when the balance between courses and my fellowship seemed impossible. (This is also partially my fault for trying to take 24 credit hours my spring semester. Don’t do that, kids!)

My talks with Stephanie always left me feeling rejuvenated, and I ended up focusing on interviewing advisers and administrators who were doing the right thing by allowing students to practice as a free press. I used this information to create a toolkit for advisers who want to build a relationship with their administration that would allow for a free press. I was able to go into Columbus North High School in Indiana and get on-camera interviews with the principal, students and advisers and put a face to the successful stories, proving that protecting students’ rights works and benefits the school. I also was able to put together audio clips of advisers and principals giving advice to others about how to build a trusting relationship and effective student media organization. The project may not have been my original idea, but I believe this toolkit can truly help others.

In the end, I am proud of what I accomplished, with the toolkit I was able to create and the presentations I was able to give. The past year has allowed me to meet so many inspiring students and continue to follow my passion of advocating for students’ rights. I am thankful for my opportunity to work with the Active Voice Project, and I look forward to seeing the projects the next class of fellows develops.

Sophie Gordon was a fellow of the inaugural class of Active Voice. Over the year, she spoke with journalism advisers, students, and experts to gather best practices for students to approach their administrations. As part of a free tool kit, Sophie also included interviews with students, administrators, and advisers about how a free press works in their schools in an effort to give real advice from environments where a free press is welcomed. Access the tool kit here.

Posted by Sophie Gordon

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