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Pulitzer Center Update October 30, 2017

2017 Student Fellows Present: Day Two of the Washington Weekend

Media: Authors:
Student fellows at Bloomberg News. Image by Jin Ding. Washington, DC, 2017.
Student fellows at Bloomberg News. Image by Jin Ding. Washington, DC, 2017.

On day two of the Washington Weekend, Pulitzer Center student fellows traveled to Bloomberg News offices to discuss their projects. The fellows shared their work and fielded questions during group panels. Their presentations focused on several global issues: marginalized communities; human, economic, and animal rights; climate change; and mental health. 


Marginalized Communities

Rubab Anwar from the City Colleges of Chicago delivered an eye-opening presentation on the discrepancies between the political, religious, and social status of Pakistani’s transgender and intersex Khawaja Sara population. Khawaja Saras have traditionally occupied important cultural positions, performing during wedding rituals or the birth of a child. They’ve also made strides towards governmental recognition and are now included on the Pakistani census. However, Khawaja Saras live a dual existence. They are socially ridiculed, abused in the home, and often forced to beg on the side of the street, causing them to feel rejected from society at large. Anwar writes, “an ambiguous identity can lead to a life of uncertainty.”

Siyona Ravi, a recent University of Pennsylvania gradudate, also tackled the treatment of transgender people, following the day-to-day life of Indian transgender activist Sintu Bagui. While officially recognized by the Indian government, transgender people still face social stigmatization in many areas. Bagui, who was able to celebrate her identity among friends during a pop-up event, was also forced to endure the uncomfortable stares of passer-bys on urban streets. “Everything is defined by the spaces we’re in,” says Ravi, who noticed a stark difference between the way Bagui was treated in public and private settings. “All individuals have a fundamental right to privacy… [but] many poor, queer individuals in India do not have access to private spaces.”

Aman Madan from Davidson College found that Syrian refugees in Jordan dealt not only with public mistrust, but also state-sanctioned hate speech. As an entire generation of Syrians are born in Jordan, they find themselves excluded from the Jordanian national identity—even though many have no intention of returning to Syria. This rejection has resulted in tangible consequences, including a lack of access to higher education.

Esohe Osabuohien, a University of Michigan graduate who will begin reporting from Cuba in December, aims to explore how social and governmental pressures shape the self-identification of LGBTQ populations and Afro-Cubans. While LGBTQ people have access to some institutional support—including gender confirmation therapy—they still face widespread homophobia and transphobia. Afro-Cubans, on the other hand, often feel as though they have to abandon their African identity in response to public opinion. Osabuohien will examine how these groups intersect and how their social status shapes the way they organize in online and offline spaces.

Human, Economic, and Animal Rights

Erin McGoff, a recent American University graduate, presented a short trailer for her upcoming documentary on unexploded ordnance (UXOs) in Laos. The piece aims to explore how American clandestine involvement in Laos during the Vietnam War left the country with 80 million UXOs. While their situation is certainly fraught with danger, McGoff wants to stress that Laotians do not consider themselves victims: “[They] are kind, welcoming, and incredibly optimistic. … The collective resilience of the Lao people is inspiring.”

Anna Clausen from University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism focused on a more inward-looking dilemma: If someone could tell you, accurately, that you had a higher probability of getting very sick—would you want to know? The question is the cause of a heated debate in Iceland, where a company has figured out how to identify every carrier of the cancer-related BRCA gene mutation in the country. At first glance, it seems as though this discovery would be hailed as a universal good. However, Iceland’s constitution specifically includes a “right-not-to-know” clause in its constitution, allowing citizens to ignore the information, regardless of how helpful it may be.

Patrick Reilly, University of  Chicago graduate and former Pulitzer Center intern shifted our attention to Mexico, where efforts to reform the public transit system are running into a host of economic problems. While SITT, the government-backed bus program promised by President Enrique Peña Nieto, boasts a clean, WiFi-enabled way to get around, ridership remains startlingly low. Reilly explains that existing bus companies have refused to join the SITT initiative, citing worries that they’ll lose power over their businesses. Thus, many routes are uncovered by the new initiative. There are also distinct advantages of the older system: privately-owned buses and cars have cheaper fare, and provide drivers with the means to live a “more dignified life.” Reilly shows that while the older system is not perfect, it too has a human face.

Kelsey Emery of the Texas Christian University Bob Schieffer College of Communication touched on some of the same economic factors driving problematic institutions in her presentation on rhino conservation efforts in South Africa. “[When] apartheid was fully established, land that was home to wildlife was taken away from local communities,” she writes in one article, “African citizens experienced double exclusion, being both cut off from visiting national parks and working for them.” In order to improve conservation efforts—and save the rhinos—lingering institutional structures from apartheid-era South Africa must be dismantled.

Ryan Michalesko, a photojournalist and student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, will depart later this year for Puerto Rico, where he will report on how Hurricane Maria has devastated the island. Michalesko pointed out that news coverage of the disaster has been riddled with uncertainty—for instance, there is no clear death count due to the challenges of defining what constitutes a ‘hurricane-related death.’ Michalesko plans to explore how the hurricane affected veterans who rely on public infrastructure to support their health needs.

Effects of Climate Change

Elham Shabahat, a graduate student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, reported on the intertwined fate of humans and gorillas as climate change affects natural areas in Rwanda. Her project shows how, as human behavior shifts due to climate change, gorillas are being put at risk. For instance, as increasingly long dry seasons cause water shortages near Volcanoes National Park, local residents have begun to rely on its streams in order to carry out their day-to-day tasks. But by putting humans and gorillas closer together, the risk of disease transmission significantly increases. Additionally, soil degradation in surrounding areas has caused people to set their gaze on the relatively fertile soil of the park, threatening gorilla habitats. Her work highlight thse interconnectedness of humans and their natural surroundings.

Neeta Satam, who studies at the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, showed us that human degradation of natural environments can be a deliberate choice. She reported on Loktak Lake in Manipur, India, a beautiful area where floating green biomass once dotted the surface of the water. The lake was also home to a thousand indigenous families, who fished from its waters. However, after the government commissioned a hydroelectric project that converted the lake into a reservoir—a net economic loss, as it turns out—Loktak Lake began to lose its signature floating islands, and its residents were evicted to make way for tourist initiatives.

Taylor Lord from High Point University found examples of human innovation in the face of climate change as she explored the evolution of Chilean viticulture. Like so many other areas, Chile has experienced higher temperatures and longer dry seasons, resulting in reduced soil quality. However, instead of closing their doors, Chilean vineyards are employing new techniques to keep their businesses afloat. Many have switched from using pesticides to growing their vines organically—and they use local animals and plants to keep soil healthy, rather than chemicals.

Mental Health Challenges and Opportunities

Madeline Bishop and Campbell Rawlins from Boston University investigated the vicious cycle of domestic abuse and suicide in Guyana. They report that a long history of violence within families has left a quarter of Guyanese people with PTSD. Bishop and Rawlins wanted to avoid sensationalizing an already traumatic topic, focusing on two subjects that show resilience in spite of their own troubling experiences.

Morgan Timms, a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale, traveled to western Australia to examine the cultural and historical factors causing the  high suicide rates of young First Nations people. These groups struggle with economic and societal woes, which are “manifestations of an intergenerational transmission of mass trauma—including massacres, removal from traditional lands, forced assimilation, policy resulting in abduction of indigenous children (Stolen Generations), social inequality and institutionalized racism.” Morgan’s mission was to report on issues that First Nations people have listed as important to their own communities.

Sawsan Morrar, a student at University of California Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism reports on the trauma experienced by Syrian refugees in Jordan. While three quarters of refugees are in need of mental health support and treatment, there are less than 100 psychiatrists available in Jordan—even then, many Syrians feel as though these health professionals cannot adequately address their needs. Morrar documents the chronic lack of care, but also follows the stories of people and groups trying to positively impact the refugee community.

Ambar Castillo of LaGuardia Community College discussed the role of arts and the humanities in Indian healthcare. She found that community-based programs provided locals with a comfortable place to receive care and education. These programs took on many forms, including dance groups, puppet shows—and even board games.

Pat Nabong, who studies at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, went to the Philippines to report on the psychological toll of President Duterte’s war on drugs. Families who lose their loved ones quickly and violently suffer from trauma, and mental health resources are often inaccessible. Nabong spoke with these families, visually documenting their pain and fear.