Berkeley Journalism is proud to announce that it has hired two talented journalists and educators, both women of color, onto its prestigious faculty after a nationwide search.
The hiring of Lisa Armstrong and Shereen Marisol Meraji reflect the School’s goal of taking the limits off who gets to be a journalist by impacting who trains and mentors them.
Both women will teach courses exploring the history of reporting on race as well as core classes in the School’s foundational reporting and writing curriculum. They will also develop publishing projects with students, building on the School’s focus on creating opportunities for students to get their work published during their time at Berkeley Journalism.
Lisa Armstrong, an award-winning multimedia journalist and editor with credits in The Intercept, The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, HuffPost, and CBS News, will join the faculty July 1. She has collaborated with musicians, dancers and spoken word poets to bring journalism to live audiences.
Meraji, the co-host and senior producer of the pre-eminent podcast about race and identity in America, NPR’s “Code Switch,” will join Berkeley in July of 2022, after completing a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.
The hires represent Dean Geeta Anand’s first faculty recruitments since being appointed to the position last fall and reflect key steps in her ambitious plans for the School.
Armstrong comes to Berkeley after teaching journalism for more than a decade, most recently as an associate professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. After playing a key role in diversifying the Newmark Journalism School’s curriculum and leading efforts to create a more robust diversity, equity and inclusion plan, she will help make Berkeley Journalism’s curriculum and classes more inclusive.
“The duration and content of Armstrong’s teaching experience have prepared her to be a key player–and eventually the anchor–for our School’s core curriculum,” Anand said.
Armstrong’s work resonated strongly with both students and faculty at the School, Anand said, because, “it shows empathy, a focus on accuracy and fairness in reporting and a huge reservoir of persistence in following stories that require trust-building among disenfranchised people and communities.”
Armstrong’s interviews with Robert Taylor, who is serving a life without parole sentence for a crime committed when he was just 16, were set to music and dance in the Just and the Blind, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in March 2019 and has also been performed at SFJAZZ and The Kennedy Center.
Armstrong said she was moved to apply to join Berkeley’s faculty when she read Dean Anand’s first message upon her appointment as dean, “in which she wrote about the struggles she’s faced in this industry as a woman of color, and how that experience has in part fueled her desire to transform the school and journalism as a whole. As a Black woman reporting mainly on incarceration, and before that reporting internationally—beats that are generally covered by white men–I’ve experienced a lot of what Geeta described.”
“I’m excited to join a school that has made such a clear and public commitment to diversify not just the institution, but the industry, and that has taken concrete steps to do so,” she said.
As a professor, Armstrong said, she has seen how challenging it is for students from historically marginalized groups to make it through journalism schools and succeed in newsrooms where they are often not adequately paid, appreciated or supported.
“I was drawn to UC Berkeley because the School’s commitment to better support these students—through a detailed plan to address systemic racism and efforts to make the school tuition free–is very much in line with what I’ve tried to do in my 13 years as a professor,” she said.
“The time to transform journalism education is now. It’s something that is long overdue.”
Shereen Marisol Meraji’s program “Code Switch” was trail-blazing in its intent and its success in exploring questions around race and identity. Apple ranked it the best podcast in 2020.
Meraji will create new publishing opportunities in podcasting for students, working with them to produce episodes on race and identity, as well as investigate other topics. She will be the School’s first female tenure track faculty member specializing in audio journalism.
“Shereen Meraji is a professional powerhouse in the field of audio journalism, working as a reporter, podcast host, producer and editor,” said Dean Anand. “She comes to us with nearly two decades of experience and her extensive training and mentoring of an array of up-and-coming audio producers bode extremely well for her prospective work in the classroom and in mentoring settings at the School.”
Meraji said she was looking forward to working intensively with students in the classroom and collaborating with them on innovative podcasts.
“What I’m most excited about is all the potential there is to create groundbreaking journalism with the brilliant students and faculty that I’ll be working alongside,” Meraji said. “We are about to take the podcasting world by storm.”
Meraji said she will bring the same fire and dedication to Berkeley Journalism that made the “Code Switch” podcast such a success. “‘Code Switch’ is going to benefit greatly from the stories and ideas that come from my students. It will continue to be a home for my journalism, and now, theirs, too,” she said.
A graduate of San Francisco State with a BA in Raza Studies, Meraji is a native Californian with family roots in Puerto Rico and Iran. She said she was looking forward to returning to a region where she “came of age.”
“My studies as an undergraduate at San Francisco State University laid a strong foundation for my understanding of race and identity. It’s a dream come true to come full circle, from a Gator to a Bear, and share what I’ve learned with the students at Berkeley Journalism.”
Prof. Bill Drummond, who headed the search committee, said he’s proud of playing a key role in recruiting the two women to Berkeley.
“During her interviews with the committee, Lisa Armstrong spoke of her own upbringing, as a Black American during 12 years growing up in East Africa, and how her daily encounters shaped her worldview and her own understanding of ‘belonging,’” he said. Armstrong is a first-generation American whose parents are from Trinidad & Tobago.
“As an academic, she brings those insights to bear in the classroom, teaching students and opening their eyes and hearts to understanding and empathizing with marginalized communities. She also has an abiding interest in incarceration and will work with me in that area.”
Drummond’s groundbreaking pro bono work with inmate reporters at the San Quentin News has kept the School at the forefront of the national discussion about incarceration policy since 2012.
Drummond said Meraji, too, brought a deep understanding of race and identity from her work and her life to the School.
“As a practicing journalist, Shereen Meraji has confronted racism where it matters most, in the real world,” Drummond said. “She has lived her life code-switching, based on her own background, and she applies the lens of the Caribbean and the Caspian to all facets of the decisions she makes about her program, from hiring decisions, to “expert” voices featured on the program, to the geographic mix of the stories and topics that are chosen.”
In addition to Drummond, the search committee was comprised of former Dean Neil Henry, Professors Jeremy Rue, David Barstow, Jennifer Redfearn and Andrés Cediel, as well as second year student Bashirah Mack.
November 23, 2020
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