column by Nicholas Byrne, SIPA Student President
My experience with scholastic journalism has taught me skills and given me opportunities that no other club or organization could. The opportunity I value the most is the chance to broaden my own perspective by learning about others. Through engaging with a multitude of people, I’ve learned to not only ask questions of those who I am interviewing, but also of myself. My goal as a journalist is to report accurate information from all perspectives in order to allow the reader to fairly ask these types of questions of themselves.
In 2011 the Georgia Board of Regents enacted policy 4.1.6 which placed a ban on undocumented students. This policy blocks these students from receiving in-state tuition and scholarships to the top five highest achieving public colleges and universities in the state. Undocumented students are those without papers to prove their citizenship or “legitimacy” to be in the United States. They live and learn as any other K-12 student does in Georgia, but when it comes time to apply to college a discriminatory distinction is made.
Scholastic journalism has given me the opportunity to meet and hear the stories of many interesting people. It has taught me more than ever that everyone’s story is important; the story of undocumented students is one that is often overlooked. For some reason the importance of higher education of intelligent youth is often neglected. It is absolutely stunning and outrageously unfair.
When reporting, it is essential to be fair, accurate, and balanced. The story of these students is being represented in a way that is incredibly biased.
This is a story that I have decided to cover as I enter my last semester of high school. I plan to make a short documentary aimed to inform my community and state about how such a policy affects real people. It needs to be told with respect to all perspectives. The two years I have been involved in scholastic journalism have given me the confidence and skills to tackle such a project with the level of professionalism it deserves.
The pursuit of happiness for these students doesn’t exist like it does for me; it is hard to fathom. The reality of the situation is that established political policies are blatantly racist, and are wrapped in agendas designed to maintain control of office. The Dream Act, an initiative that would allow for undocumented students to gain citizenship, has sat in the laps of congressmen for years, but has failed to pass.
It is troubling that undocumented students are often treated like mere statistics. They are people that put on their pants and button their shirts like anyone else. I will be alongside undocumented students when I walk across the stage at the Clarke Central High School graduation. However when I’m thinking about the college that I will attend next fall, many of my peers don’t even get to consider that thought; that is why I care.
The theme of SIPA 2015 is “Free the Press.” Free from bias. Free to tell stories. Free to learn. That’s what scholastic journalism has taught me and what I have been able to apply when writing, designing and filming stories.