“Home, let me come home”

Living abroad for the past month and a half has made me think a lot about what it means to be home.

When I started college two and a half years ago I had to learn to live without my parents, the two most important people in the world to me. I had to learn to live somewhere besides a house with my brother and sister and our dog. As an 18-year-old that meant adjusting to sharing a room with a stranger and having to make all new friends for the first time in at least four years.

I think it’s easy to romanticize some of those times now, and I think everyone does it. All of the adults in my life who went to college told me that college would comprise the best years of my life.


But at first, it was really, really hard. Nobody prepares you for the loneliness you feel the first week, lying in a twin bed for the first time since childhood, not being able to sleep because you just wish you could be home with your mom and dad. I remember vividly that on one of my first nights in the College Avenue residence hall, staring out the window from my bed, the fixture outside the window the only light in the dark room, wondering what I was doing there. Being so excited and terrified and hit for the first time by the realization that I was going to have to make my own decisions if I wanted to be happy with what I was studying—if I wanted a chance at being satisfied with my future career.

After several months and finding my niche at Mizzou, and later feeling at home in Columbia, I remember being happier than I’ve ever been. I felt like I’d grown into myself, knew what kind of person I wanted to be and was figuring out how to be her. Most importantly, I was happy so much more often than I wasn’t. And this feeling of home, of taking care of an apartment and being surrounded by friends and a community, only intensified a year ago after I met Husain.

And then, seven weeks ago, I left all that.


I’d been planning big-picture aspects of this trip for over a year and I’d been preparing myself to leave for just as long. On our first date I remember telling Husain that I had both an internship lined up for the summer and that I’d be studying abroad this year, wanting to make it perfectly clear where my priorities lay. Hannah Haynes counted down the days for us, and even as it got closer, it didn’t seem real.

But, just like leaving for college, no one tells you the realities of studying abroad. In previous posts I wrote about how exhausting it was just to leave the apartment at first and interact with people who aren’t native English speakers and how exhausting it is to get lost a lot. I guess nobody wants to spoil the excitement students feel as they’re getting ready to leave the country, some for the very first time, for a whole semester.

Here’s the thing: I wish they’d told us. I wish they told us how exhausting and frustrating everything is, at least at first. I wish they’d also told us that, just like college, we’d adjust. It wouldn’t be easy, and for every high there would be some really sucky lows, but we’d adjust, and then we’d be pretty happy.


Something I felt really guilty about at the beginning of the trip was wishing so badly to see Husain. The guilt was both for a perceived betrayal of my own priorities (a career) and also because I thought wishing to go home made me ungrateful.

I’ve talked to Hannah about both of these things. Not only is she my best friend, but she’s also the only other person on this trip in a serious relationship with someone back home. Turns out we both feel a little guilty sometimes. But I wonder, as Hannah does, if anyone who studies abroad, even without the challenge of having a significant other across the ocean and a seven-hour time difference, really ever feels truly at home, like something resembling a Columbia-shaped hole isn’t missing from them.


I’ll be honest—when I daydream about where I’ll live after I graduate college, I’m always with Husain. I never thought the beginning of my post-grad life would include a guy until recently, but after a year of being together, I really can relate to that silly Edward Sharpe song he’s always whistling.

I don’t know where I’m going to end up a little over a year from now after I finish school. It’s quite possible I’ll end up following a job somewhere where Husain isn’t, where my friends aren’t, where my parents and extended family aren’t, and we’ll all just have to make the long distance work once again. But I know that if that’s the case it’s going to be very similar to now, when I wish I could just enjoy my lovely life in Brussels without missing everyone.

I don’t know how you strike that balance. I do know how grateful I am to get to have these adventures and then have so much to go home to. Maybe, more or less, that is the balance.


Why I’m abandoning objectivity (in posts on social media)

My posts over the past month have been an admittedly half-baked analysis of what I wish I’d known before reporting for the Missourian and rosy accounts of what it’s been like studying abroad so far. This one is different.

Over the past year and a half’s rocky political and social climate, and especially since the election of our current president, I’ve felt angry, devastated, scared, defiant and, most of all, frustrated. Frustrated at my inability to speak out against blatant human rights violations, in both intention and policy — all because I’m a journalism student.

This isn’t about me holding a liberal slant — I’m tired of hiding my perspective behind a thin veil of “objectivity.” It is exhausting to be told to keep quiet when the very identities of yourself and those you love are under attack — specifically female identities, LGBTQ+ identities and the identities of people of color.

I recently had a conversation with some fellow journalism students in which we lamented not being able to take any type of serious position on anything because we could be perceived as “biased.”

Unfortunately for those who hold journalists to this un-biased standard, it’s simply not possible. Implicit biases have just as much impact on those sitting at a computer filing a story as they do on someone in uniform deciding whether or not to shoot.

Implicit biases exist within everyone. This means that I will never be fully objective, and I’m not going to pretend to want to live up to this standard of objectivity, either.

Because when I am asked to be “objective” at the expense of not standing up for the basic human rights of refugees, for legal U.S. citizens stranded in their countries of origin, for those who would be powerless without the privileged standing up for them, I lose my passion for reporting, for journalism, for claiming to be a voice for others at all.

With strict objectivity, journalism loses its teeth. Even more, it loses its mouth and voice altogether. I’m encouraged by publications like The Guardian and The New York Times that have stopped pretending Donald Trump is a mere sheep in wolves’ clothing.

It just so happens that I’m in a different country as Trump has begun dismantling much of what I hold dear about the U.S., which makes me feel extra powerless. If I can’t intelligently condemn the latest human rights atrocity carried out by the Trump administration on Facebook or Twitter without my entire body of work being called into question, I’d rather not be in this industry at all.

The idea of objectivity is outdated. Let’s go for transparency instead.

(For anyone feeling I’m on the wrong track with this one, please express your views to me or to my international reporting professor Gareth Harding, who planted the seed for this post.)

Good morning world and all who inhabit it

Yeah, yeah, yeah—I know I haven’t posted anything in a couple of weeks, which will probably knock a couple points off the ‘ole 4450 rubric, but I’m back to tell you about an experience I had this past week. I’ll take you through it, but I won’t tell you the end result — you’ll have to read the Missourian story I wrote about it. Here goes.

I practically lived at the Boone County Courthouse for three days.

Yeah, really. Being on the public safety & health beat this semester, I’ve covered several court proceedings, but never any trials before Wednesday afternoon. I was plucked from the newsroom to replace another reporter on my beat who was covering this trial and had other obligations.

So, starting at 2 p.m. this past Wednesday, I planted myself in the ceremonial courtroom, a cavernous room with turquoise walls, wooden benches and terrible acoustics. This was the middle of the first day of a trial where the charges against the defendant were first-degree rape and second-degree robbery.

That afternoon, I watched the victim testify. I will never forget what she looked like. I watched as she steeled herself to tell her version of events, then as she completely broke down during cross-examination when the public defender repeatedly accused her of lying in a pre-trial hearing. Her cries of “I must have been confused, that’s not what I meant to say,” over and over again, pleading for understanding, tore through me. I just kept thinking how this young woman could easily have been me or any of my friends.

The trial continued until 8 p.m. that night. I returned to the courtroom around 11 a.m. Thursday morning when DNA evidence that seemed to all but condemn the defendant was presented. Then I watched as the defendant, who spoke through two Arabic interpreters, spun a yarn that seemed, to me and to the assistant prosecutor, like a tale crafted specifically to explain away each of the many wounds the victim accumulated that night: she was so drunk that she fell down at least three times and scraped her knees and face repeatedly. He couldn’t explain the bruises on her neck.

At the end of his testimony came the part I knew I’d hear. I gritted my teeth and narrowed my eyes as one of his interpreters said the intoxicated 5’5″ woman forced the defendant, 6’5″, to have sex with her. He didn’t even want it, he said. It was against his morals and his culture to have sex with strange women. Also, he didn’t steal her phone, he said (this was the source of the second-degree robbery charge).

The jury, made up of eight women and four men, all white and middle-aged, began deliberations a little before 4 p.m. They continued for six hours that day, during which I sat on a wooden bench outside of the courtroom and pre-wrote the story I anticipated I could top with a verdict that evening.

But 10 p.m. came around and the jury was still unable to come to a unanimous decision on the rape charge. The judge sent them home for the night. Deliberations were to resume at 9:30 a.m. the next day, Friday.

*          *          *

Thursday night, as I tried to fall asleep, I couldn’t get the defendant’s face out of my head. I couldn’t shake the feeling that what seemed to me like such an easy conviction could end without a conviction at all.

There had been several times during the previous two days where I’d looked across the courtroom to where the defendant sat and I’d see he was staring at me. At first I’d hold steady and stare blankly into his dark eyes. I couldn’t decipher his emotions. I’d eventually break the stare, feeling uneasy. Later on in the trial I’d avoid looking in his direction at all.

But, Thursday night, I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. Lying there in the darkness, anxiety welled in the pit of my stomach. Either this man, a transient Sudanese refugee in his early forties, was innocent and had become caught up in the events of a terrible night, or he was a liar and a predator. Both terrified me.

*          *          *

I went back to the courthouse Friday morning, a bitterly cold November day that followed several days of 70+ degree weather. Jury deliberations continued until 1 p.m. Then, it was over. The victim returned to the courtroom with her many supporters, many of which had been there every day of the trial. They gathered around her as the jury was called in… (Read my story for more.)


This past Friday, October 14, was one of my general assignment shifts for the Missourian. I arrived at 8 a.m. and tinkered around with some in-progress stories until daily stories were assigned. I began writing the Life Story (the Missourian’s term for our deeper-dive version of a family’s obituary) of Clara Anne Tomlin, a Columbia woman who died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 93, and had recently celebrated 56 years of marriage with her third husband. I’d begun writing the preliminary details in a document when I was suddenly asked to work on a breaking story from the night before.

Liz Loutfi, an advanced reporting student on my beat and someone I’d worked with previously at The Maneater, where she was editor-in-chief, filled me in. I’d read the story by the Columbia Tribune earlier that morning, so I knew many of the details: Delta Upsilon, lately Mizzou’s most troubled fraternity, was facing 18 sanctions since August 2015. Not to be outdone by the Trib, we launched into a deep dive of the more than 80 documents that detailed these sanctions. They included MUPD reports, letters from the Office of Student Conduct and, most troubling, a letter from Title IX Administrator Ellen Eardley, informing the fraternity of “disturbing allegations” against them that had been formerly reported to the Office for Civil Rights & Title IX.

Liz and Katie Pohlman, another advanced reporting student and former Maneater editor-in-chief, took the lead in writing the story, and with some contributions I got a shared byline with the two of them, which I consider an honor. Ruth Serven and Taylor Blatchford contributed as well, most notably a fantastic timeline of the sanctions against Delta Upsilon. I was the only non-advanced reporting student to work on the story, which meant I got an education in reporting on breaking news. I can’t say I did everything with ease, but I greatly enjoyed myself. It was even a little thrilling watching that story come together through the talent and skill of the four women I had the privilege of reporting an important story with on Friday.

Read and view our work here.

2150: Some words on this past week at Mizzou

(This is my tenth blog entry for my fall semester J2150 class.)

One of my biggest frustrations with the mess that surrounded the protests, resignations and viral videos that came out of Mizzou this week is the lack of context provided in many news accounts. No, this blog is not about multimedia this week, but I’m going to assume that’s okay. Below, I hope to create a little bit more of an understanding about what has taken place on this campus recently.

It seems that one of the biggest misunderstandings of people who aren’t quite as informed as they’d like to think is that these protests began last week because a bunch of black people started whining about nonexistent oppression. Sorry, no. The protests began several weeks ago because of the (actually pretty widespread) belief of people on campus that the administration was incompetent when it came to responding to acts of hate on campus. And though racism has become one of the main themes that has stemmed from recent events, these acts of hate were not solely against black people. This did not begin as a black and white issue, but it seems to have become one, which should prove to us as a society that when students talk about these hate crimes that happen on campus, they’re not just making a big deal about nothing. Now that we’ve seen plenty of examples, let’s all finally accept that racism still exists. So does sexism, homophobia, etc. So does systematic oppression, which occurs when a system is set up to overwhelmingly favor the majority (in other words, pretty much every system in the U.S., and yeah, that includes our university systems).

Another vital aspect to understanding why the protests started was because of our administration’s incompetence in dealing with things like grad student healthcare, which was cancelled with very little notice to grad students and with our chancellor saying he had no knowledge that the cancellation was going to take place. Yet another aspect was the university’s cancellation of contracts with Planned Parenthood, which, regardless of your stance on abortion, provides a wealth of healthcare resources to women and families. This happened solely due to recent criticism of PP, presumably because the university didn’t want to look bad.

The fact is that so many incidents and frustrations culminated to create the kind of unrest that has engulfed Mizzou since last Monday, when graduate student Jonathan Butler began his hunger strike. It was his belief that only extreme tactics would get the university’s attention at that point, which I believe to be true. You definitely do not have to agree with his tactics, but I don’t believe it is my place or any of our places to decide what is a “respectable tactic” for protest. I am white and I recognize that I will never have the experiences of a person of color on this campus or anywhere, nor can I claim to be able to understand their experiences. In the same way, people who are not marginalized cannot determine how much or how little the people who have protested are allowed to be frustrated or angry.

The incident that happened on Monday afternoon in which supporters of protestors decided to push a reporter is unfortunate, in large part because it has gained so much media attention and has distracted from the original message the protestors were trying to get across: we need better leadership in this university that will do more than just recognize when things are broken within the system, i.e. “The university recognizes that racism lives on this campus.” Of course it does. Whether or not you agree that the university system did enough to address all of the incidents that occurred on campus in recent months, one of the most frequently targeted groups didn’t believe it had. It is well within their rights to protest it.

The most important part of the entire discussion is that a group of people who are already marginalized in this country as a whole felt that their university, where they came to learn and feel at home and where they pay tuition, was pushing them aside. Who are we to discredit their frustrations when this is not a new problem? When it’s been proven to us time and time again over the past few days that racism is still rampant?

I don’t claim to know everything about what has been going on at MU lately; not in the slightest. But as a member of student media and someone who has been practically obsessed with trying to stay well-informed and understand everything going on, I feel like there is too much misinformation going around that has led to dangerous circumstances. Please do not reduce these issues to black vs. white. IT IS SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. To put it broadly, it’s about systemic failure. It is a multi-faceted issue with many layers that have built up to get us to where we are now. We should treat it as such.

2150: Jonathan Butler and the effects of raw footage

(This is my ninth blog entry for my fall semester J2150 class.)

As I’ve learned over the past month or so, editing video is one of the keys to making a creative and effective multimedia piece. That being said, there are some events that need not be edited in order to be extremely powerful and impactful.

You’d have to be living under a rock in Columbia to not have heard about Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike that began this past Monday. The MU graduate student, who is well known on campus for his regular participation in social justice activism is protesting ‘a slew of racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., incidents’ that have taken place at Mizzou recently and what he says is an inadequate response from UM System President Tim Wolfe. As of Wednesday Butler had signed a ‘do not resuscitate’ order and says that he will continue with the strike until Wolfe steps down from office or until he dies of starvation.

The student activist group Concerned Student 1950 has been protesting the same issues alongside Butler and has held numerous marches and rallies in recent weeks. One held on Thursday had students marching across campus and eventually ending up on Carnahan Quad near a group of tents set up and currently occupied by Concerned Student 1950 protestors who are supporting Butler during his strike. This raw footage was captured at that location by an MUTV reporter following this particular protest: https://twitter.com/Dannykons/status/662682619641921536

This video did not need to be edited because its purpose was to show extremely powerful and real emotion that could not have been improved upon had it been cut in any way. In the same way, adding music would have made it seem insincere or contrived. In this case, raw footage is all that was needed to get the point across: students are suffering and changes need to be made, from top administration down, to make MU a more welcoming and safe place for every member.

A Tip of Her Hat

So far this summer has been a weird sort of limbo for me. With my college stuff completely unpacked for a few weeks now and a summer job hunted down, I’m basically killing time until my training starts and I have a minimal amount of minimum wage-paying shifts. One advantage of this is getting to catch a lot of Royals games in the evenings. I’ve been watching pretty frequently, recently watching the team sweep the Minnesota Twins while still (frustratingly) continuing to struggle offensively.

If you’ve been watching the Royals this season (or probably any baseball at all), there’s a really, really, really good chance you’ve seen that AT&T U-Verse commercial. The now ever-present ad opens on a baseball player named Cortez standing on the pitcher’s mound, back to the camera, the announcer saying, “This is history in the making.” A batter (who weirdly looks about 60 years old) steps up to the plate. Both dugouts are shown, then some fans. The announcer’s voice, again: “23 years old, first woman in the majors.” At the same time, the pitcher lowers her glove from the front of her face and is revealed to be a young, dark-skinned woman with short black hair, eyes focused ahead. The commercial jumps to a full shot of the mound, the pitcher winding up and then releasing. As we hear a voiceover of the home plate umpire yelling “Striiiiike!” a white screen asks us, “Where will you be?” A baseball team made up of, noticeably, both boys and girls is watching the moment unfold on some kind of tablet (while they’re at practice? a game?). The pitcher tips her hat and the kids nod approvingly. Then AT&T ties it all together by saying its U-Verse has more on-the-go channels than cable, which explains the tablet that is apparently broadcasting a live MLB game to a Little League baseball diamond somewhere. (You can watch the commercial here.)

It’s obviously an advertisement, and a very clever one at that: using a significant and mildly controversial hypothetical to catch attention, undoubtedly gaining even more publicity through media who will tell its story and link the video of the commercial at the top. However, being fully aware of this didn’t stop me from getting chills every time I saw it for a few days. Advertisement or not, it’s kind of powerful. I found myself especially touched by the kids watching the pitcher, whose characters must have been thinking in their fictional brains, “I can do this, too.” I was so happy for them, having such a strong (female! Person of color!) role model in their sport of choice, breaking gender barriers like a reincarnated Jackie Robinson.

This is where, if you’re a self-destructive comment-reader like myself, you probably snap out of your AT&T-induced fantasy of women in major league baseball (because she’s obviously got enough athletic talent to have made it that far, duh) and start to imagine what the comments under that video are like. I’ll save you some time/heartache and report that the majority of them are men just dropping in to say that there is no way this will ever happen, as women are highly incapable of pitching at speeds anywhere comparable to men in the majors today. Some comments are as innocuous as that description, while others are tinged with such misogynistic language and clichés that my blood boiled as I read them.

Maybe we won’t see a woman pitching in the majors for a long time. Maybe it’ll take several years of encouraging girls to play Little League, of reinforcing the idea to girls that they can do everything boys can do, of fighting for and eventually allowing girls and boys to play baseball together through high school to foster the development of similar athletic skills. Maybe it won’t ever happen. But it’s good to know somebody’s thinking about it, even if it’s whoever does AT&T’s advertising. When people, especially kids, see something in the media, they believe that it can be real. Someday the right little kid could see an image of someone who looks like them doing what they aspire to do and grow up believing they will be like that person, and because they will work for it their whole life, they will succeed. Maybe they become that first woman in the majors.

As an aspiring journalist, I often find myself flipping or scrolling back to the beginning of a particularly well-written or obviously well-researched article to see if it was written by a woman. Seeing that the author is a man has no effect on my enjoyment or judgement of the piece whatsoever; I only check out of curiosity. Even so, when the author happens to have been a woman, I feel a little swell of pride for another tiny drop of water in the bucket of female achievement and contribution to society. Each time, another tiny voice in the back of my head says, “I can do this, too.” Her byline is a tip of the hat to me, and I nod approvingly.

To Help or To Report?

Occurring from August 23, 2005, to August 31, 2005, Hurricane Katrina was by far the deadliest and most destructive Atlantic tropical storm of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. It is the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States. At least 1,833 people died in the hurricane and in the floods that followed, making it the deadliest U.S. hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee hurricane. Total property damage was estimated at $108 billion.

As with any natural disaster, the goal of reporting about this storm and its victims was to deal with it as gently as possible. Nevertheless, several ethical controversies arose. One dealt with the fact that victims of the storm were being photographed in very compromising positions by journalists. For example, some people whose houses had flooded took refuge on the roofs of their houses until they could be rescued. Iconic photographs were taken of these people, often from helicopters, by journalists, which raised the question – should the journalists that spotted them be helping these unfortunate people, or should they simply be reporting the story?

The journalistic purpose of these photographs was obviously to document what was happening to people in New Orleans at the time and show the public just how bad the damage was and how it was truly affecting the citizens – to report on what was happening. What the photographers did in this case is exactly what journalists are meant to do; that is, to seek truth and report it. The ethical controversy in this case is not about what the journalists who took the photos did, but what they didn’t do. The actual publication of the photos did not have a negative affect on the stakeholders, who are, in this case, the people photographed. You could even argue that the publication of the photos had a positive affect.

The problem with the photos taken was this: if the journalists could fly over the flooded streets and snap pictures of helpless victims standing on their rooftops waving for help, couldn’t they also rescue the victims?

This is not an uncommon dilemma in disasters. Journalists, who are there to see the story happen, are often blamed by the public after they report on terrible things that happen but do not intervene to improve the situation. In my opinion, though it is on a very situation-to-situation basis, the general rule should be that journalists do not involve themselves in their stories. The main reason I have for this is that, although I would want to help someone if I saw them struggling, a journalist cannot always be sure that what they do will minimize harm. This is one of the core ethical rules of journalism. I believe this especially if what they are tempted to involve themselves in will directly affect the story they are covering.

Victims of Hurricane Katrina take refuge on a rooftop. (BBC)