Personal update: I am a White House Correspondents’ Scholar!

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Hi, everyone! I am incredibly excited to announce that I have been selected as a White House Correspondents’ Scholar. I will be awarded a scholarship in addition to attending the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in the last week of April. Read more about the White House Correspondents’ Association here.

Below, I am attaching my essay for the scholars program about the relationship between democracy and the press. Thank you for your support!

I cried the first time I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

I stood in awe beneath the towering building, eyes hungrily devouring the words the basis of my career revolves on: “freedom of the press.” I’ve read those words over and over — and I even have them tattooed on my forearm alongside a newspaper — but there was something about seeing the First Amendment etched into stone in the most important city in the free world that made me tear up with pride. It seems fitting: the foreground to a picturesque backdrop of the Capitol building, where the highest elected officials in the country gather to make decisions that will influence everyone in the nation.

This prompt was one that could be easy for me to delve into a long-winded rant about the beauty of democracy and its relationship with the press. But the fact is: democracy is messy. Putting citizens in charge of governing themselves is a daunting task, especially when some officials seem to have their own agendas and motivations. It’s our job as the press to not only show shining moments in American history, but to show the side of our country that falls short.

When I interned in Asia, I read “I Am Malala.” I was shocked by the story of a teenage Pakistani girl shot in the head for publishing autobiographical works detailing the brutality of the Taliban for the United Nations. But in all actuality, the rest of the Western world might not be as progressive as we think. While studying language and media in France, I found that although the democratic system found in Europe was more allowing of free expression, there were still heavy restrictions on rights we would find in the United States. French Muslim women are not allowed to wear burkas in public. It is illegal in 16 European countries to deny the Holocaust ever happens (which as terrible as it may sound that I’m advocating for that, limiting any speech or thoughts, so long as it is not directly violent and hateful, threatens all speech).

“Freedom of speech doesn’t exist in France the way it does back home for you,” my professor, a Moroccan journalist jailed for writing pieces that disrespected the monarch, told us in class.

It’s true that our country is different. “Freedom of the press” are some of the first words our Founding Fathers penned into the documents that define the fabric of our democracy. Along with that right comes incredible responsibility and a duty to inform the public freely and honestly without external motivation and fear of government retaliation.

The press is a direct reflection of health and livelihood of a working democracy. Where journalism falls short, as does democracy and vice versa. History is chock-full of authoritarian rulers who recognize the danger of the press to their questionable or unethical leadership tactics, which is why they often defame journalists in the harshest ways. Stalin once called newspaper the “enemy of the people” — a term the current U.S. president has used on many occasions. Journalists recognize the danger that language poses: I was so proud when 350 newspapers nationwide banded together to push back on Trump’s war on the media. It takes bravery to publish the truth, even when public opinion or leaders are adamantly against us.

It takes courageous reporters like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who are willing to face public ridicule and government pressure to uncover major corruption in the most powerful office in the country. It takes emboldened editors like Ben Bradlee to make the decision to publish the tumultuous findings of the Pentagon Papers. It takes opinion writers like Nicholas Kristof to take us on a journey to far-away places to discuss humanitarian atrocities and foreign policy.

Since the existence of power dynamics, so existed the potential for corrupt leaders to manipulate, misinform and instill fear in their constituents. While power grabs seem to be a part of human nature, fortunately, so is curiosity. I’ve dedicated my life to that curiosity and craft. I proudly announce to the world that I am a reporter: someone who is willing to face public ridicule from even some of the most powerful people in our country to serve the citizen and unveil the truth.

Now more than ever, when misinformation and “fake news” clouds social media and the mouths of politicians, our work is crucial to an informed public and a working democracy. I want to be a guiding light of truth through my work with real and genuine news. I’ve studied foreign policy and language in Asia and Europe. I’ve worked in the state’s capital covering news for The Columbus Dispatch. Now I’m eager for the opportunity to go to our nation’s pulse, where the country’s most influential political reporters gather.

Thank you for your consideration.


You don’t live in the best country in the world: Lessons learned about nationalism in Berlin

East Side Gallery, where artists painted murals on remaining parts of the Berlin Wall

This might be a tough pill to swallow, but here it is: You don’t live in the best country in the world.

My semester abroad has taken me some exciting places, but I’ve never been more moved than my solo trip to Berlin this weekend. The city itself was incredible: it has an awesome art scene and lots of energy and young people. Looming over Berlin, however, is its dark history. Berlin chronicles the worst and most vile side of humanity: it’s where Hitler rose to power, grasped and held onto control of its citizens through terror and orchestrated the mass extermination of an entire race.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin

The Berliners are well aware that they live on the ground Hitler terrorized Germans on. Unlike the rest of the world, however, I noticed that they talk about their country’s horrifying past. They don’t try to sweep it under the rug. They want to learn from it. My biggest takeaway from my time in Berlin:

Nationalism is dangerous.

I’ve been aware of the dangers of nationalism for some time now, especially in an era where politicians seem to be thriving on riling up its people with this idea: for example, Donald Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again”, Brexit, Marine Le Pen’s campaign in France, etcetera. Never, until this weekend, have I thought much about how far it can go past mere ignorance.

Let me take a moment here to make the distinction between nationalism and patriotism. I love my country. I miss the United States dearly, and I can’t wait to return in a month. I am patriotic. Just because I love something, however, does not mean I find it without flaws. It does not mean I think it is the best country in the world. It also does not mean I think I am better than anyone else because I am an American.

This does not just apply to the United States. I took a tour of the important historic sites of Berlin, as well as a tour of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin. On both tours, the tour guides noted an important mindset of the Germans. Whereas many countries and their politicians condition its citizens to believe that they live in the best country in the world and that no other country measures up, Germans are not so overtly nationalistic. Why? Because they’ve seen the dangers of nationalism firsthand and how far it can go.

Hitler manipulated a overwhelming mass of people by exploiting the struggles of the country. World War I left Germany devastated. The Treaty of Versailles had the people feeling humiliated. Throw in the financial crisis of the 1930s and many people starving to death, and you’ve got the perfect setting for an authoritarian leader to take charge. It’s easy for someone with a strong demeanor to come to power when he’s promising to restore the country to its previous glory.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp just outside Berlin

The Nazis did a lot of terrible things. Other nations, however, are not the totally blameless saviors they often paint themselves to be. In fact, Germany modeled its anti-semitic Nuremberg laws on the United States’ racist Jim Crow laws, which were in still in place decades after the fall of the Nazis.

That’s not the only inspiration the Germans gathered from the United States. In their letters home, many German soldiers used Manifest Destiny (the westward expansion of America at any cost, often displacing and murdering Native people) as justification for conquering Eastern Europe.

A portion of the Berlin Wall standing outside the Topography of Terrors, a museum about Hitler’s rise/stronghold of power through political terror

I’m not insinuating in any way, shape or form that the United States or anyone other than the villainous Nazis are to blame for the Holocaust. I’m just pointing out how twisted our own history is. We, among many other colonizing nations, kidnapped countless Africans, displaced them from their home and forced them into slave labor for centuries. We massacred Native people because we felt like we had a right to their land. We inserted ourselves into conflicts like the Vietnam War and killed innocent women and children. We had — and still have — major institutionalized racism.

Every nation has skeletons in their closet. They each still have their own struggles, corruption and social issues. The difference, however, is that many modern nations pretend that history never happened and does not still affect the way the country is conducted and the people within the nation.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp — “Work brings freedom”

(On a quick side note, I would also like to note the difference between remembering and memorializing. Just because the Germans remember doesn’t mean they memorialize. The site above Hitler’s bunker where he committed suicide is now a simple parking lot with a small plaque noting what it was. That plaque was not even placed there by the government, and the government has long since destroyed any entrances and exits to the bunker. They did not want to attract the wrong kinds of people to the site. After the Charlottesville incident, many Americans rushed to the defense of keeping up Confederate soldier statues, saying they were “remembering” the events of the past. No. Those sites memorialize and glorify a dark era of racism and slavery.)

I’m not trying to be completely doom and gloom. Every nation also has its positives. Think of any profession or field, and there’s a famous German that contributed to its growth. Science? Einstein. Music? Beethoven. In every history of journalism class I’ve ever taken, my professors contributed the birth of the modern newspaper to Gutenberg’s printing press. Every nation has so much to be proud of, but one country’s accomplishments or downfalls does not make the people who live there any better or worse than another country.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

It’s important to not wear blinders. Be educated. Read books. Watch documentaries. For the sake of my journalism-driven heart, read the news. Know what has happened in the world and what is still happening. Don’t get wrapped up in thinking you’re any better than other people just because of your address.

I will end on this note. I spent a significant amount of time walking around and reflecting at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It is composed of 2,711 concrete slabs of various heights. Whenever architect Peter Eisenman is asked about what it means, he always replies that it is up to the viewer’s interpretation. My interpretation is that if you look at all the slabs, they are all slightly different, but are fundamentally similar. To me, that represents that even though we are all different and come from different backgrounds, we are all fundamentally the same: we are all humans.

As we conduct our day-to-day lives, keep that in mind. We are all fundamentally the same.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin

WashPo was handed a false sexual assault case — and they didn’t bite

Photo via Huffington Post

Out of 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free.

Why? The glaringly obvious reason reported by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is that only 310 out of those 1,000 will report it. The reason is fear. Fear of what might happen to them, what people will think and most importantly, if they’ll be believed.

That’s why when something like this happens, I’m enraged. It delegitimizes the stories of men and women who have actually suffered a traumatic experience and will be told that they’re lying or exaggerating because of what happens only 2 to 8 percent of the time (which — in and of itself is a misleading statistic).

We’ve seen report after report of men with power in Hollywood and D.C. being  unveiled for the horrific monsters they are. It has been appalling but refreshing for all women watching from the sidelines.

Finallywe are cheering. This isn’t a new thing. Sexual harassment, assault and rape is are taboo topics women have been dealing with since the dawn of humanity, but oftentimes, men are so quick to turn a blind eye, stating that it rarely happens or it’s just “boys being boys.” Now no one can’t ignore  it.

Rule of thumb: if someone comes and reports a case of sexual assault to you, you believe them. The difference is, once your career and other people’s lives depend on that story, it needs to be validated. It’s a matter of ethics.

As a journalist and a feminist, I struggle. I want to believe every woman, but every case needs to be substantiated when being presented to the general public, especially considering someone’s career and life could be destroyed.

Journalists have fallen short in this arena before. I’m sure many remember the Rolling Stone article exposing rape on college campuses where a student completely fabricated an entire story of being sexually assaulted. The slip up cost Rolling Stone tons in legal fees, $1.65 million to the fraternity in question and most importantly, their credibility to readers.

So in comes a woman with a dramatic story alleging Republican congressional candidate Roy Moore of impregnating her as a teenager. It’s without a doubt tantalizing story for The Washington Post, but also incredibly dangerous. The reporter spent two weeks conducting a series of interviews about the alleged assault that caused her to get an abortion at age 15.

Fortunately, The Post did not publish an article with the unsubstantiated story. The reporter confronted the woman about her inconsistencies and questioned her motives once reporters saw her entering Project Veritas, a New York based organization that targets mainstream media and left-leaning groups. The organization’s goal is to conduct “stings” by using false stories to expose what the group calls “media bias.”

Leaders of Project Veritas have declined to comment on the woman, but the evidence leads The Post to believe they were being deceived. Although The Post has a policy stating they will not publish off-the-record comments entered in good faith, reporters did so anyway under the argument that Project Veritas wouldn’t exposed the conversations anyway, had The Post fallen for the trap, Executive Editor Martin Baron said.

I applaud The Washington Post for their impeccable and thorough (as usual) reporting. Having read through their expansive ethics policy, I am assured of the integrity of their reporters. The Post has proven that fair, unbiased news organizations exist, despite constant criticism from skeptics of good journalism.

What leaves me reeling is how this one instance of fabrication affects the narrative of sexual assault victims. The lying tipster approached The Post almost immediately following an article published about Roy Moore’s sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl when he was 32. Some people immediately rushed to his defense, even though the story had been backed with pretty significant evidence. If people didn’t believe her — among countless other women  — before, what about now? The baffling part is how this woman could be so against her own agenda as a woman. Females everywhere have experienced some form of harassment or assault, and bringing these true and numerous cases to light is important step in breaking down the system and restructuring it in an equal and fair way.

The conclusion I keep coming to is there will always be evil people with cruel intentions, whether than is a twisted adult assaulting an underage girl, a man in power abusing his position for his own sexual gain or a woman lying about something so horrid for her political or personal agenda (although some of those instances far outweigh the others in frequency)

The best we can do as individuals is hold the men in our lives accountable, educate others who we justify as “always having been that way” or are “ill-informed,” and believe women who have the bravery to come forward about their horrible experience, removing all judgement and stigmas attached.

As journalists, we must be thorough in our investigations, accurate in our facts and unbiased in our reporting. Publications like The Washington Post make me proud to do what I do.

“…it’s because he likes you.”

If you’re a girl, chances are you were chased around the playground by an obnoxious little boy or had your pigtails yanked on or been made fun of for your “ugly” face or outfit. And chances are, you went home sobbing to have your parents tell you, “He’s doing it because he likes you.”

This is one of the most dangerous phrases you can tell a young girl. After suffering incessant sexual harassment this summer in Mumbai, I made a resolution to no longer accept this commonality, along with other B.S. excuses such as, “Boys will be boys,” and I vowed to never fill my future daughter’s head with that justification for harassment.

I was lucky. I had wonderful parents who treated me the same as my brother and who recognized the fundamental basis of equality that feminism is built upon. But that didn’t stop me from experiencing complacency from my superiors. Elementary teacher used this justification to let little boys continue to be horrible little creatures and to fill little girls’ heads with the twisted ideology that if a boy treats you poorly, it means he cares.

I know to some this argument may seem trivial in the context of children, but socialization and child rearing is critical to how children grow up and assume gender roles. We wonder why so often nice girls (either you or a friend) choose guys who treat them poorly. I believe part of that comes from the lie told to us at an early age that the worse a boy treats you, the more he loves you. Then it becomes an incessant need to please him.

Now think about college campuses. Think about all the times you’ve walked down the street and had some dude screaming something vulgar to you and high-fiving his friends, as if complimenting your “nice ass” will woo you over and make you want to marry him and bear his children. Think  about how one in 5 women will experience sexual assault during her time in college.

Although I have never been assaulted or raped, I certainly know what being sexually harassed is like. This summer, I interned with an NGO in Mumbai, India. I was doing so many incredible things, but I could hardly enjoy my experience because every two seconds I was being verbally harassed by a man. In India, I stuck out like a sore thumb with my extremely pale skin and red hair. Similarly to how American women tan, women in India bleach their skin to achieve a more desirable pale complexion (which is a separate problem with how race/color is socialized and perceived). Because I was considered the ideal beauty standard there, and I was alone, I would get harassed all the time.

Everywhere I went, I would be asked to take pictures with people as if I were some sort of celebrity, and when I would refuse, oftentimes men would follow me for several minutes and try to snag a selfie anyway without my consent. From research, I discovered men would like to post those photos and brag to their friends about their latest “sexual conquest.”

One day in particular stands out to me: I was reading on the beach with headphones in when a group of about 12 teenage boys approached me, asking me to take a photo. I kept saying no and tried to ignore them and they bent down and started screaming in my face, calling me all sorts of names. They finally left, but circled around about 10 minutes later with a resolve to get me to acknowledge their horrible behavior. I was trying to get up as they kicked sand all over me, and thankfully a nearby woman started screaming at them. Since she was a female, they didn’t respect her until the husband got involved and got a police officer’s attention. I was extremely grateful to the couple, until the husband said, “You really shouldn’t be coming here alone. You’re just asking for this to happen.”

Are you serious?

I could spend hours unpacking the horrors of victim blaming and the common argument of “she was asking for it because of the way she was dressed or because she was drinking or blah blah blah,” but I won’t. I think you get my point.

I felt the need to share this in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein debacle. I’m horrified to see Hollywood stars actually standing up for his behavior, or criticizing the media for “over exaggerating.” It’s happening more and more. I’m sick to my stomach because some people legitimately believe this is an abnormality. Trust me, as a woman on a college campus, I can assure you it’s not.

It’s time to make a change. We need stricter policies so rapists and assailants don’t get away with this anymore (remember how Brock Turner violated a female behind a dumpster and ruined her life and only went to jail for three months? Yeah. Me too. He’s living in my state now.)

I know whoever is reading this is likely not a policymaker, but you can call your representatives. More importantly, you can treat women with respect. Male or female, you can raise a daughter who knows she can achieve anything and not have the omnipresent danger of testosterone threatening her physiological or psychological safety.

Catching a crab: balancing practicality and fun in Ghodivali

As part of my communications internship with Magic Bus, I’ve gone into various communities to learn more about how the NGO aids and educates the children in impoverished areas. One of those communities was the tribal village, Ghodivali, in rural Maharashtra.

Despite being just two hours outside of Mumbai, the children in this village were disconnected from the outside world: in fact, I was the first white person they had seen in their lives.

The way these people live could be viewed as depressing and in many ways, it’s certainly not ideal: some live in makeshift shanties with little access to water or electricity with frequent power outages. Mothers tend to be housewives while fathers work in agriculture or serve as day laborers. Once the children finish fourth grade, they have to walk several kilometers to the nearest school.

Yet despite all the challenges and obstacles, these children were the happiest kids I’ve ever met. We began our journey planting trees at the school to provide shade and teach the children the importance of protecting the environment (which is definitely not a priority here, where people defecate in the streets and throw their trash anywhere they want). The children were in absolute awe when they saw a foreigner. They were not used to people coming in and showing interest in them.

We took a walk up a small hillside and sat by a waterfall. I was pleased to see some of the schoolchildren had changed out of their uniforms and followed us. They raced up the hill and across the rocks with expertise — and barefoot. They beamed with all their teeth, but were timid around me since they could not speak English and I did not speak Hindi. I observed them for a while and noticed them scanning the water and grasping into the river.

“They’re catching crabs,” a Magic Bus mentor, Nachiket, told me.

I was shocked. If I saw a crab, my last instinct was to reach in and grab it. I continued to watch and heard their jubilant and carefree laughter. I stood up and approached a little girl who was clasping several small crabs in her hand. I pointed.

“Can I see?”

She cracked open her hands so I could peek in. Before I knew it, she grabbed my arm and put all five in my hand. They scurried up my arms and I yelped, dropping them into the water. All the children laughed at me relentlessly and I feel a huge smile creep upon my face. I quickly bent down to collect her crabs from the river and returned them to her. They kids were thrilled and one little boy began pulling the crab’s legs from its body. Again, I was horrified. Nachiket started laughing, and then he explained that the children not only make a game out of catching the crabs, but they take them home to cook them and have them as a snack.

I was amazed. It was the perfect blend of practicality and fun. They created a fun game to entertain themselves and pass the time in a place where not much otherwise happened, but also used the environment around them for nourishment.

I went back to the house I was staying in and sat near the balcony, gazing out at the beauty of the mountains just beyond the village, when I heard laughter. Across the street, a small cluster of children gathered and were waving at me. I went outside and approached them. Several of the girls grasped my hand and arms and tried to say something. I had to express nonverbally that I could not speak Hindi, and then we realized we didn’t need to speak to have fun.

We began to play familiar games such as freeze tag, but they also taught me many other games they loved to play in the village. As the minutes turned to hours, other kids began to join. I waved to some of the children watching from the other side of town watching from afar, and they were excited to be invited to play. A little boy saw my phone and asked me to take a photo of him, and before I knew it, every kid was piling on top of each other for their chance to be in the camera.

Soon, a heavy downpour started (as it often does during monsoon season here in India), and I went inside to eat and reflect on my day in my journal. I asked myself when was the last time I went outside and just played for fun and honestly couldn’t answer. I couldn’t remember a time in recent history when I laughed out of pure, innocent fun. It was the greatest day of my life, and it was all because of these kids.

Didn’t I come to teach them something? To educate them? Instead, they were the ones teaching me. I have always struggled with severe anxiety and high stress. I had difficulty enjoying the small things, as I was always worrying about the future. In one short day, these kids demonstrated what I’ve struggled to achieve in 19 years of life.

I am so grateful I had this experience and think about the kids in Ghodivali every day. I hope one day I can have just a fraction of the joy they have.

Real-life ‘Spotlight’ editor Marty Baron at Ohio University

Marty Baron spoke to the public today at 7:30 in the Schoonover Center at Ohio University.

Marty Baron, the executive editor of the Washington Post, paid a special visit to my freshman Journalism 1010 class today. Despite his impressive resume of the Miami HeraldLos Angeles Times, the New York Times, the public knows him best as the former editor of the Boston Globe during the 2002 Spotlight investigation of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Photo from The Hollywood Reporter

The Pulitzer-prize winning story was so high-profile and important, it inspired an Academy-award winning movie “Spotlight”, starring celebrities such as Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Michael Keaton. Baron was played by Liev Schreiber.

Baron speaking to my freshman class was a huge deal (and that would be an understatement). The executive editor of a major newspaper took time out of his schedule to speak to a classroom of potential journalists, which shows how important the future of media is to him. Following his speech, I shook his hand and thanked him for coming. He was extremely welcoming and kind.

Marty Baron gave an introduction to a free screening of “Spotlight” at the Athena Cinema.

Later that night, the Athena Cinema in Uptown Athens screened “Spotlight” for free, where Marty Baron again made a guest appearance to introduce the movie. Surprisingly, the theater wasn’t very full so he spent a few minutes chatting with two of my friends and me (I was pretty starstruck by such a big journalism superpower, but I think I held it together pretty well).

Photo from Screenplay Explorer

Baron then spoke about the production of the movie. His colleagues, as well as himself, had little faith in the project initially. The movie took years to script, with thorough fact-checking and research, and quite a bit of time for a studio to pick it up. Actor Mark Ruffalo invested heavily in the movie, setting aside all other higher-paying gigs because he believed in the project. Still, expectations for actually getting the movie made were low among journalists, especially once Pope Francis–a pretty popular Pope at that–was appointed.

Yet, against all odds, a journalistic-driven movie that had no gushy love story, no flashy graphics, and no fast-paced action scenes not only entered theaters, but won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 2016.

After an emotional viewing of “Spotlight” for a second time, I headed back to Schoonover to listen to Baron speak again, this time to the public. After his speech, the director of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Robert Stewart presented him with the Carr Van Anda Award. Baron is the 75th recipient of this award.

Robert Stewart presented Marty Baron with the Carr Van Anda Award.

Baron talked about the 2002 Spotlight case, but also focused a lot on media in the current era moving forward.

The Washington Post has dealt with some pretty heavy issues this election season. Republican nominee Donald Trump revoked The Washington Post’s press credentials for months, which have recently been reinstated. Trump has called journalists “disgusting”, “scum”, “low-life”, “the lowest form of humanity”, then even “the lowest form of life”. Baron joked that he couldn’t really call us anything worse at this point.

This is a very difficult time for journalists. On one hand, Baron said, we have a Democratic candidate who has dodged hard-hitting questions for quite some time, then on the other, we have a Republican candidate who openly despises media.

I am only a first-year journalism major. Whoever is elected will be in charge for the duration of my academic career and potentially for the first few years of my professional career. It is terrifying to me that there could be a president who blatantly discredits my profession.

“The first amendment is at the very heart of what makes this country great,” Marty Baron said tonight.

Truth, above all, is what is important to good journalism. I am entering this field because of my passion for the work. There are important issues to uncover and expose in this world. “Spotlight” is just one example of the hard-hitting journalism that is vital to society.

Thanks to Marty Baron for visiting Ohio University and sharing his wisdom with us.