Translate page with Google

Pulitzer Center Update November 5, 2018

2018 Student Fellows: Day Two of Washington Weekend

Media: Authors:
Student Fellow team, Thea Piltzecker and Liz Scherffius (Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism) listening to Divya Mishra (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) during the Q&A for The Refugee Experience Panel at 2018 Washington Weekend. Image by Jin Ding. United States, 2018.
Student fellows Thea Piltzecker and Liz Scherffius (a team from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism) listen to Divya Mishra (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health) during the Q&A for The Refugee Experience Panel at the 2018 Washington Weekend. Image by Jin Ding. United States, 2018.

The Pulitzer Center hosted its fifth annual Campus Consortium Student Fellows Washington Weekend on Friday, October 26, and Saturday, October 27, 2018.

On day two of Washington Weekend, Pulitzer Center staff, university professors, and Pulitzer Center board members traveled to the offices of Bloomberg News to hear Pulitzer Center student fellows present their global reporting projects.

In 2018, 42 student fellows traveled across the globe to shed light on some of the world’s most overlooked—and important—issues. And on day two the presentations focused: “Human Rights,” “The Refugee Experience,” “Cultural Identity,” and “Migrants Across the Globe.” Subjects ranged from domestic violence in Nigeria to Eritrean refugees in Israel; from migrant farmers in Connecticut to political turmoil in Slovenia.

Human Rights

Nicole Brigstock from the University of Pennsylvania reported on anti-sex trafficking activists in Nepal. “There is a real misunderstanding of people in Nepal who exit sex trafficking,” said Brigstock. “Treating them like they committed a crime and weren’t themselves victims of a crime.” Brigstock witnessed sex trafficking survivors reclaim their independence with the help of activists who push for more preventative measures and justice for survivors.

Kiran Misra from the University of Chicago traveled to India to report on the informal housing settlements in New Delhi and how residents are often not given a legal right to their homes if they are constructed on public lands. Many live in temporary housing with partitions made of sheets or linens. “One thing I really want to do with my stories is just to show how people live. People are living really hard lives and being treated unfairly by a powerful government, but in between that they have their kids ... and have normal lives and that also matters among these big picture problems,” Misra said.

Arianne Henry, a graduate student from Boston University School of Public Health, will travel to Ethiopia to report on the experiences of women who lived abroad in the Middle East but returned to Ethiopia. They “experience stigma, gender violence, and domestic violence,” said Henry. “Many families are hiding their female relatives indoors as a means of protection.” 

Argentina Maria-Vanderhorst from Guttman Community College discussed her reporting on the impact of the shift from a one- to two-child policy in China. She reported on the stigma that surrounds unmarried women in their late 20s. Many women in China have now become empowered to prioritize their career over starting a family. “Women in China want to take advantage of the second-child policy, but only after they have a stable job,” said Vanderhorst.

In December, Joy Ikekhua from Spelman College will be traveling to Nigeria, where she was born and raised, to report on sexual assault and domestic violence in Nigeria. As part of her pre-travel reporting, Ikekhua has found that women in abusive relationships have become more comfortable speaking out on the issue than previously.  

Northwestern University Medill student fellow Adam Yates reported from South Africa on inequality in rural education systems. Yates spoke of 5-year-old Michael Komape who fell into a pit toilet at his school and drowned. His body wasn’t discovered until the end of the day when his mother came to get him. Yates discussed how the low-quality infrastructure in rural South African schools was rooted in the legacy of apartheid. “It’s horrific that children are dying in environments that are supposed to be safe,” said Yates.

The Refugee Experience


Divya Mishra from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health traveled to Greece to report on unaccompanied minors’ transition out of child protection programs. “The two largest groups of unaccompanied minors in Greece are from Pakistan and Afghanistan not from Syria as is commonly believed,” said Mishra. Migrants are transferred from one shelter to another—and what the young men experience while in child protective programs contributes to their trauma.

Ani Gururaj from Washington University in St. Louis traveled to Central Massachusetts to report on the Bhutanese refugee crisis, focusing his project on resettlement in Shrewsbury and Worcester, 40 miles outside of Boston. The stories in his projects are from refugees, social workers, and academics. Among his findings, he noticed a language barrier issue. He spoke to a woman who was prescribed the wrong course of medications because her translator and doctor didn't have time to help her. He hopes his project will create awareness and insights to strengthen refugee resettlement programs. 

Caron Creighton from the University of California Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism reported on the Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel. Of the approximately 35,000 asylum seekers in Israel, many live in south Tel Aviv working low-wage jobs. Creighton reported on Israel’s deposit law which holds 20 percent of asylum seekers’ salary until they leave the country. “Since they can’t technically deport them, this is the government’s way of coercing them to leave,” said Creighton.

Thea Piltzecker and Liz Scherffius from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism produced a documentary film titled, “A Table for All,” that focuses on a culinary training program for political asylees at Emma’s Torch, a Brooklyn restaurant. Piltzecker and Scherffius focus on the resettlement and assimilation side of the immigration story.

Cultural Identity

Olivia Watson from Kent State University traveled to Slovenia to report on the political climate and role of the media in the 2018 Slovenian elections. “Slovenia has no more moderate or pragmatic political parties,” said Watson. Watson looked at the radicalization of political parties and the prevalence of biased media in Slovenia.

Jonathan Custodio from LaGuardia Community College will travel to Mexico to report on the meaning of the Afro-Mexican identity. In 2015, for the first time in Mexico’s history, the country added a label for “Afro” ethnicity on the census. Custodio plans to focus on the Mexican and Latino diaspora and those unfamiliar with black representation outside of the United States and Africa.

Abigail Bekele from Guilford College reported from Ethiopia on the foreign adoption ban that was instituted in January 2018. Bekele, whose family is from Ethiopia, said that one of her main challenges in her reporting was remaining objective. “I wanted to report on all the good in Ethiopia,” but that wasn’t always what she found.


Holly Piepenburg from Southern Illinois University Carbondale reported on the Lakota-Sioux in Mission, South Dakota, and their challenges in education including educating their children about cultural identity. Mission has its own university with 1,000 students and is a model for other Native American universities. However, according to Piepenburg, only 55 percent of students in the school district graduate. “If students don’t want to learn now, they are not going to want to learn about treaty rights, voting rights, and they’re going to keep losing the land they live on,” an educator told Piepenburg. Piepenburg reported with Brian Munoz—who could not attend the Washington Weekend. 

Ayilah Chaudhary, Isabella Palma-Lopez, and Amna Al-Baker from Northwestern University in Qatar discussed the persecution of the Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan. According to Chaudhary, there are roughly half a million Ahmadis in Pakistan, a persecuted minority who are singled out in their passports and in the Pakistani constitution as “non-Muslims.” Many Ahmadiyya seek refuge in the city of Rabwah, and the NUQ team traveled there. They found that even in Rabwah the Ahmadiyya are not safe.

Migrants Across the Globe

Kristian Hernandez, a graduate student from American University, will be traveling to Guatemala to report on the repatriation of migrants who died trying to cross the US-Mexico border. Hernandez worked for The Monitor newspaper in Texas in 2014 during the unaccompanied minors crisis. He quickly realized there was no reporter covering immigration—the AP didn’t have a reporter based there, and many journalists were parachuting in. So he took it upon himself to learn more about immigration and border laws. According to Hernandez, the continued militarization of the border has made the trek for migrants even deadlier.

Monica Long, a graduate student from Clark Atlanta University, reported on Jamaica’s Windrush generation. The Windrush generation were Caribbean nationals invited to the United Kingdom after World War II to help rebuild the country. The name “Windrush” comes from the ship that brought migrants to the UK from the Caribbean. Long’s project investigates the effects of deportation on the Windrush Generation. Long thanked her adviser, Pulitzer Center grantee Melissa Noel who has reported on “barrel children” in Jamaica, children who are left behind while their parents find work in other countries.

Samira Tella from George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health focuses on the migration of Ngabe-Bugle in Costa Rica who travel from Panama to Costa Rica to work on coffee farms in the Brunca region. Tella’s reporting documents the working conditions and livelihoods of the migrant workers and their families.

Svanika Balasubramanian from the University of Pennsylvania reported on Indian migrant workers in Oman. While growing up in Oman, Balasubramanian became aware of the abuse of migrants and was inspired to report on the systematic oppression of darker-skinned migrants. "I didn't know about the issues faced by the blue-collar [immigrants]. ... I focused on the women from the Indian subcontinent who work as domestic workers," explains Balasubramanian. Balasubramanian reported on how this happened and what were the possible solutions, which is to elevate the stories of as many domestic workers as possible.

Ingrid Holmquist and Sana Malik from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism produced a documentary on migrant farmers in Connecticut called “Guanajuato Norte.” They profiled Winny Contreras, a farmer who travels between Connecticut and his home in Mexico where his family lives. "I want to pursue stories in the future, that have nuance and context ... and the biggest thing I learned was that there are people, like Winny, who want to go on the journey with you," Holmquist said when asked what she learned from this experience. Malik realized the same issues are raised in journalism and in her background in social science research and public health. "How do you eliminate the distance between [yourself] and the people you are working with?" asked Malik. "I think strong storytelling has taught me that you can [eliminate this barrier] ... but I think it's about having humility and talking to people with that humility and letting go of assumptions and seeing some of those barriers dissipate." 

Click the links below to view blogs and videos from Washington Weekend:

Washington Weekend Highlights:

Day One:

Journalist Panels: