Sheila Raghavendran

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Testimonial: It wasn’t until Voices that I worked with a minority-majority team

This testimonial for the Asian American Journalists Association’s VOICES program originally appeared on the AAJA VOICES blog.

I’ve lived all my 20 years in America’s Heartland. Because of that, I’ve been in several rooms – classrooms, newsrooms – where I am one of few people of color. It’s afforded me an inevitable toughness.

It wasn’t until Voices that I worked with a minority-majority team.

Over the summer, our class logged onto weekly virtual training sessions with minority professional journalists. One week, we talked with a journalist about how to combat prejudice in newsrooms. We shared challenges we faced as minorities in our newsrooms, and the minority journalist gave us sympathy and advice on how to speak up.

For me, speaking up had often been a lonely responsibility – talking with the group was a realization of solidarity. It was comforting and motivating.

That motivation only gained momentum from my group’s story. Over three months, we tackled an ambitious investigation into America’s newsroom diversity, fueling our adrenaline each time we scored another morsel of information or fiery quote. We talked to minority reporters and editors, inadvertently previewing what could be our future experiences as minority journalists.

Our Voices faculty championed us through the deadline. We posted the story at the end of a 15-hour day, with a memorable burst of excitement and relief.

My favorite moment of the program came when my class sat together and presented our stories in front of AAJA members. We finally had something profound to show for our months of deep reporting on minority issues. I smiled watching my classmates light up talking about their work. They revealed fascinating information and gracefully answered tough questions from the audience.

I was proud to sit next to these minority journalists, proud of the stories we told and proud to have been part of the Voices class of 2017.

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Risks to National Security Challenge Thorough Reporting

On May 10, President Trump exposed information about Islamic State operations to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak. Trump did not have permission to discuss this restricted information with Russia, and news organizations are now being asked to withhold reporting certain information that was shared. The journalistic mantra of whole-truth reporting is clashing with the national security commotion.

NBC News reported:

Trump told the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office that the Islamic State had used stolen airport security equipment to test a bomb that could be hidden in electronic devices and slipped undetected into an airplane cabin, the officials said. And he named the city in ISIS-held Syria in which the intelligence was gathered, the officials added.

U.S. intelligence officials have asked NBC News and other media organizations not to report the type of equipment, where it was stolen, and the name of the city where the intelligence was gathered, because doing so could harm U.S. national security, they say. But Trump told the Russians those things, the U.S. officials said, as he described intelligence that led to the new rules banning electronic devices in the cabins of certain flights.

Denying media access to problems in Washington is an issue. Jennifer Rubin wrote in The Washington Post that Trump is “impairing intelligence-sharing that is critical to our national security.” If safety in this country, safety on airplanes and alliances with other countries are in jeopardy, the people deserve to know. Not only may national security be at risk, but also free press.

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NYT’s Kids Section is the Fuel for Young Minds

I distinctly remember, at 11 years old, making a mental note that 11-year-olds were capable. Someone had just told me that they would explain something to me when I was older — unfairly, I thought. I wanted to make sure that when I became older, I would know that 11-year-olds can take it. I didn’t want to condescend to anyone, because I understood the barrier it created.

The New York Times’ special projects editor Caitlin Roper also understands that barrier. On Sunday, May 14, she unleashed the first-ever Kids’ Section. According to the Times, “For a paper that appeals to young readers, the editors were mindful not to talk down to them.” The section included an opinion page from P.S. 92 fourth graders, blurbs from professionals about how they became what they are, a center spread with tips for drawing on newspaper photos, and more.

The most crucial part of the section is the diversity it encompasses. There are pictures and drawings of people of different colors, hot international vacation spots and explanations of problems that different people face. I grew up in suburban Ohio and wasn’t exposed to this wide of a range in thought and experience. I can imagine that it’s especially insightful to kids growing up like I did.

The “How I Became…” blurbs are interspersed throughout the section. The first is from Senator Kamala Harris, who starts out by explaining school desegregation in one simple and understandable sentence: “(Making) schools more equal so kids who looked different could learn together”. Animator Kira Lehtomaki talks about her love for the movie “Sleeping Beauty” as soon as 3 years old. Wildlife Veterinarian Suzan Murray says she realized what she wanted to be when she was 5 and watching Jane Goodall on TV with her dad.

When I was in kindergarten, I had to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up. I came home in tears of frustration. I didn’t want to be an engineer like my dad, or a fashion designer like my mom or a teacher like my teacher — and since those were the 3 main adults in my life, I was stumped. It’s cool of the New York Times to introduce kid readers to careers that they otherwise might not know about in a way that’s understandable but not demeaning.

The section’s center spread encourages kids to pick up a marker and doodle on the newspaper’s pictures. It’s really genius — not only can kids practice on the pictures in the kids’ section, but they can explore the rest of the paper, and slowly expose themselves to more news.

There are also several “How To” articles, such as “How to Win an Argument Against Your Parents” and “How to Speak Your Mind”. Both encourage kids to say what they think and take action. Throughout the section, there are messages to kids to start topic-specific groups at school, call local legislators and write opinion pieces for local papers. I think it would be empowering for kids to see adults believe in them, and for kids to believe in themselves. As Hilde Kate Lysiak, a 10-year-old who created a newspaper in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania says in the article “How to Read (and Write) the News”, “If kids take themselves seriously, then adults will take them seriously, too.”

As a young journalist, I’m inspired to see a large, established newspaper experiment with new ideas. I’m a fan of breaking templates, reaching unreached audiences and going big — which is exactly what the Times did with this section. Although Roper, the Times’ special projects editor, said the section wasn’t trying to create a calculated influence, which I think makes it even better. She said, “I would love to say that it was part of some bigger strategy, but truly the idea was just to do something really fun.”

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Asma Khalid

The first time I read Asma Khalid’s reporter’s notebook from the 2016 election, I was struck by the authenticity. My sister had sent it to me over Facebook the day it was published. My sister and I, like Khalid, are brown girls from the Midwest. Khalid, a Muslim, wrote candidly — in the first paragraph, she says that she cried multiple times during the campaign season because of the derogatory comments she received.

I felt for Khalid while reading her essay, and came away from it with a new perception of journalism. We’re often taught objectivity — separating our personal identity from our reporter identity. But rarely is it mentioned that identities cannot be separated; they can, however, enhance each other. We can’t ignore inherent biases — but we can keep them in check in order to tell fair stories. Khalid exemplified this on the campaign trail. She used her Indiana upbringing to relate to small-town, working-class, white voters who looked at her, and her hijab, and struggled to trust.

I was curious to know more about the relationship between person and journalist that every reporter has to balance. I had the honor and pleasure of meeting Khalid a few weeks ago, and I asked her about it. Listen to our conversation below:



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Meeting “Serial” creators Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder

Sarah Koenig and Julie Snyder are podcast geniuses, and a couple days ago they looked me in the eye.

They have both worked at WBEZ’s This American Life for over a decade and created Serial a few years ago. It was revolutionary — it broke download records and introduced millions of people to audio storytelling.

Koenig and Snyder visited IU on Friday to give a talk about how Serial was created and meet with some podcast junkies (like me!). They told us that Serial was created on accident, after a weaker idea fell through. Koenig had already been reporting on the case of Adnan Syed, which is the story explained in Serial‘s season one. She said she felt drawn to the story, characters and setting, and wanted to keep exploring. She advised the people in the room to “do what you like.” Snyder added that “a good idea can be easy because it’s obvious. The most work can go into saving a weak idea.” These women were inspiring and insightful.

A bunch of podcast lovers with Sarah Koenig (middle).

I am drawn to audio stories because they are more conversational and personal. When listening, I can envision myself in the room with the narrator, experiencing the story as they guide me through it. I’ve wondered if the creativity and innovation in audio storytelling distanced it from journalism or serious reporting — an invalidation. Snyder answered that question: “Artistry is OK in reporting as long as you can stick to the truth.”

I’m so glad to have soaked up some of their wisdom. Listen to Serial and S-Town!


“We the People”

Today I hosted American Student Radio’s first show of the semester, “We the People”.

I brooded over the theme for a long while, and finally chose “We the People” to tie in with Friday’s presidential inauguration. I wanted to create an outlet to talk about what is next for the people of this country. We crafted the show around the uncertainty that comes with a change of power.

It was a great opportunity to talk about newsworthy topics at a relevant time. I am proud of the show and thankful to my dear friends who produced pieces and worked on the episode. It came together so well thanks to their dedication!

I produced a piece on campus activism in the 1960s and the parallels and differences of today’s youth. Finding the relevance and purpose of the piece was a challenge — I knew that young people were affected, but at times felt that it was too early to tell the story. I soon realized that the story was exactly that: Young people, and all people, don’t know what is next, but things are happening to affect them.

All of the pieces in this episode have to do with that motif. It resulted in an interesting array of stories about people in a state of limbo, just waiting to see what will come next.

Link to the show: 

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NYT Mag’s ‘The Lives They Lived’ & Feeling Good in 2016

2016 has somehow become notorious for “the bad stuff”. International tensions, political uproar, tragic, violent deaths.

It’s some of these deaths that The New York Times Magazine has taken a spin on. In its “The Lives They Lived” issue each year, writers highlight the influence of prominent deceased people, often with unique anecdotes. In 2016’s issue, published December 25, the story that caught my attention particularly was that of Gwen Ifill.

Gwen Ifill. Photograph from The New York Times.

Gwen Ifill. Photograph from The New York Times.

Role models often appear with a thunderclap, a bright flash on a dark horizon, but can feel remote and evaporate just as quickly. Gwen Ifill was different.

In this piece, writer Sara Mosle tells Ifill’s story through her profound impact on two of Mosle’s former journalism students, Sophie Sabin and Isabel Evans. These girls’ journalistic aspirations quickly became tangible thanks in part to Ifill’s strong encouragement.

Sophie had the chance to interview Ifill via Skype in 2014, and she asked Ifill why “this important person, who had this really busy schedule” was taking the time to talk to her. Ifill answered, “Well, Sophie, it’s because I was you.”

Isabel had learned that race, ethnicity and gender were hurdles she had to jump. Her admiration of Ifill began when she noticed that Ifill, despite her own race, ethnicity and gender, had “never been held back”.

Sophie’s and Isabel’s mindsets remind me of my own — starting out timid, but quickly becoming imbued with a drive to ask the hard-hitting questions and tell the important stories, and facing the challenges of being a young, female person of color. Even though I never had a relationship with Ifill akin to those of Sophie and Isabel, I can find my role model in her through the lives she touched.

The editor of the annual “The Lives They Lived” issues, Ilena Silverman, talked on the podcast Still Processing, another product of The Times, about the purpose of the issue: finding humanity.

“Everyone is sort of looking for the deep humanity in their people,” Silverman said, referring to the writers’ goals. On the general audience for this issue, people who are moved and upset about these deaths, she said, “I feel like at its best you’re reading these stories and you’re going deep into people’s lives and deep into particular eras and that you just actually feel good.”

And in a year end that dramatized and dwelled upon the bad, I think it’s valuable to search for that humanity and cause for celebration, and just actually feel good.

MacDonald Scholars

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MacDonald Scholarship connects students with community for long-lasting success

Originally posted on IU Communications’ Student Experience blog.

Photo the MacDonalds Scholars dinner, taken on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016.

Alumnus Scott MacDonald meets with the inaugural MacDonald Scholars during a recent ceremony. Photo by Eric Rudd.

In 1970, IU Bloomington was very different from IU Bloomington today – its population was only 30,368, the building of Assembly Hall wasn’t yet completed and SPEA had yet to be established. But there is one aspect that has remained for some students and families: struggling to pay for college. Continue reading

Bicentennial intern

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Bicentennial intern projects showcase IU history

Originally posted on IU Communications’ Student Experience blog.

One hundred ninety-six.

That’s how many years since IU was founded in 1820, and today’s campus is greatly transformed from that first version. In anticipation of the 200-year anniversary of the university’s founding, interns for the Office of the Bicentennial have been researching IU’s history for projects that will be featured on the IU Bicentennial website. Their projects will be featured at an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9, in the Indiana Memorial Union Dogwood Room.

scott jauch

IU Senior Scott Jauch works on his project in the common lounge at the new Media School. Photo by Eric Rudd.

According to Kelly Kish, Director of the Office of the Bicentennial, 2020 will be not only a celebratory year for IU but a moment for reflection.

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Science Fest

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Third annual Science Fest exposes community to science and technology

Originally posted on IU Communications’ blog Science at Work.

On Saturday, Oct. 22, IU was overrun with robots.

These robots — machines such as PARO, the therapeutic robotic seal — were on site for holding and petting as part of the School of Informatics and Computing’s activities at the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ third annual Science Fest. Continue reading


Breaking point

Stress is a mess.

Immense stress that results in an intense emotional moment, coined the “breakdown” or “meltdown”, is not uncommon for high school students.

According to The Franklin Institute, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and overstimulation result in overactive stress hormones that damage and kill brain cells. School psychologist Jeff Schlaeger said that this imbalance in the brain triggers a breakdown.

“You have portions of your brain that are geared to respond to stress or danger or overstimulation or work, and that balance is knocked off or skewed [during a breakdown],” Schlaeger said. “There [are]…not enough of the healthy things for your brain–like appropriate sleep, exercise…so then the system…gets unbalanced and is hard to get balanced again. So then you have this vicious cycle, where you’re already unbalanced, you’re staying up until 2:00 am for…a tough AP class, and you’re adding more coffee and Monsters and sleeping less and less, and not exercising…that’s not the solution.”

For junior Jenna McCabe, her breakdown moment involved the two-time damaging of her self-portrait project. The first accident was because of spilled hair dye. The second was thanks to McCabe’s dogs playing on top of the project.

“[My dogs] got on top of it and they were just scratching it and I yelled at them and told them to get off,” McCabe said. “I looked over and I just sat down on my bed and I was like, ‘Mom, I give up.’…I just bawled. I felt so pathetic.”

McCabe’s stress was soon alleviated with help from drawing teacher Beth Eline, who helped cover up the marks.

Not every breakdown, however, is resolved similarly. According to junior Corie Lawhorn, breakdowns are attributed to many demanding responsibilities piling on a person. For Lawhorn, a dance team member, long practices and schoolwork are a difficult combination.

“Recently [in] AP Bio…there was a point where she updated grades and I was really frustrated about it,” Lawhorn said. “And there was stuff going on at dance and it just gets super stressful when there’s a lot happening altogether. I just kind of broke down.”

Parental pressure is also a driving force of overwhelming stress, according to Lawhorn.

“I think there’s a lot of pressure now as you get older because you have college looming over your head, and with [pressure from] parents,” Lawhorn said. “My parents push me really, really hard. So that causes it too.”

Schlaeger said that expectations imposed by parents, teachers and counselors lead students to stress and eventual breakdown. The key to overcoming outside pressure is to prioritize responsibilities and [to be] aware of personal breaking points, he said.

“Everyone has their limits of what they can handle, from personality and cognitively and just attention span,” Schlaeger said. “…Prevent- ing [a breakdown] is just knowing your limits.”

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Players come face to face with football’s violent reality


Football games aren’t supposed to end this way. Competitors are supposed to shake hands and go their separate ways, but instead Dwire Field was hushed last Friday night at the sight of two Oak Hills players laying motionless on the soaked turf while emergency medical personnel prepared to load them into ambulances. With a little over a minute to play in the Highlanders’ win over the Comets, Oak Hills senior defensive backs Cary Jones and Khiren Beamon collided head on during a play reminding everyone of the violence of football.

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Students reflect on equality advancements

This post was originally published in Today’s Pulse of Warren County.

President Barack Obama’s inauguration ceremony and Martin Luther King Jr. Day fell on the same day this year, a coincidence that has occurred only once before.

President Obama’s reelection manifests America truly is a melting pot, Mason High School junior Clement Coleman said. The country has embraced diversity and does not depend on one predominant race, he said.

And Mason is making social advancements along with the nation, Coleman said.

“This area of Mason is becoming more diverse each and every year,” Coleman said. “I believe that Mason is moving forward with the country and is willing to adapt to new change.”

The inauguration and Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrate civil rights activists, according to MHS history teacher Steve Prescott.

“Although it’s a celebration of great men, it’s also a celebration, and not to be forgotten about, of all those that fought for civil rights,” Prescott said. “And, if you will, those who fought for President Obama’s election.”

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s advocation of equality spread to more than just racial segregation, Mason High School junior Mohamed Elzarka said.

“Martin Luther King Jr. wasn’t talking about just the white-black issue,” Elzarka said. “He was talking about every single American, every single person in the world having the equality they deserved and that every single person was eligible to the same rights that every other person had.”

Elzarka said Obama’s reelection is proving King’s dream.

“Just by continuing his term he’s making history again,” Elzarka said. “That kind of idealizes Dr. King’s dream in the fact that people are becoming more equal and showing that it’s not just that he was elected into office because he is African-American, but he is actually making a difference.”

Elzarka said that while America is taking significant steps towards racial equality, there is still more progress to be made.

“It shows that we’re moving towards the right direction, but we can’t just take it at face value and stop trying to move forward after this moment,” Elzarka said.

According to Prescott, change can only be made through support.

“I think it’s important to realize what you have in terms of support whether it’s family, or teachers, or whoever to support you before you try to make change,” Prescott said. “I think part of the change you have to realize who’s with you.”