Berkeley Journalism announces first cohort of first-generation college student fellows

October 20, 2021

Berkeley Journalism announces the Dean’s Fellows program, a leadership development initiative that fully funds five first-generation college students as a way of removing structural barriers to entering journalism

From left to right: Sabrina Pascua, MaryJane Johnson, Alfredo Torres, Corey Rose and Kayla Henderson-Wood. Photo: Beryl Terry (’23)

More than three-quarters of newsroom employees – those who work as reporters, editors, photographers and videographers in the newspaper, broadcasting and internet publishing industries – are non-Hispanic whites, according to a 2018 report from the Pew Research Center.

A new initiative at Berkeley Journalism funded by $350,000 in private philanthropy aims to counter this disparity by providing guaranteed funding for tuition and fees for five students annually. The Deans Fellowship Program will also offer individualized coaching, mentoring and leadership development to these students.

The program reflects the School’s priorities under Dean Geeta Anand, who became the first woman–indeed first woman of color, to lead Berkeley Journalism when she accepted the deanship a year ago.

“The time has come for journalism schools to take a much more proactive leadership role in the industry to combat the exclusion,” Dean Anand said. “We passionately believe that who the storytellers are matters because we all view the world through the prism of our own lived experiences. We must use our institutional power to take the lid off who gets to be a journalist.”

The lack of diversity within the field of journalism has had devastating consequences for the future of democracy. It means we miss key stories because we don’t see them. We need to change the class and caste and race of journalism, and journalism schools need to play a key role in this movement.

“As someone who exists at the intersections of Black and LGBT+, I understand the importance of allowing people to bring their whole selves to a space,” said Corey Rose, one of the Dean’s Fellows. “This fellowship will allow me to break some of journalism’s oldest traditions and start new ones, like connecting with interview sources through a lens of radical empathy and mutual understanding.”

“As the eldest son of a family of coffee workers in the rural mountains of Costa Rica, I did not expect to even go to high school, let alone university or graduate school abroad,” said Alfredo Torres, another fellow. “In the context where I grew up, education was a luxury reserved for young people who did not need to economically support their families. I feel extremely honored to be part of the Dean’s Fellowship this year. As first generation students, we often have to deal with extra layers of uncertainty and pressure when stepping into academic spaces. To have the trust and support of a program and a group of people who believe in you and your talent makes a huge difference and I am really thankful for that.”

“Representation in journalism matters to me, especially as a biracial person,” said MaryJane Johnson, who is also a fellow. “I left Japan when I was 15 with the clothes on my back and $300 in my pocket. I’m enthusiastic about stories that examine the complicated histories of diverse communities in the U.S. because I’m part of that complexity. Receiving the Dean’s Fellowship has given me the opportunity to get my Master’s degree, a dream I couldn’t have imagined as that 15-year-old girl who came from nothing.”

“Growing up as a biracial Black child in the Bay Area, with a mother from Marin County and a father from Richmond, I have had questions of education, race, housing, and culture brewing my whole life,” said Kayla Henderson-Wood, also a fellow. “As a recipient of the Dean’s Fellowship, I am now able to ask these questions in UC Berkeley rooms filled with equally passionate journalists and educators. This fellowship continues to remind me that my presence is valued and that my impact is growing with every story I tell.”

“Journalists shine a light on untold stories of anguish and loss, of beauty and love,” said fellow Sabrina Pascua. “My career goal is to elevate stories of marginalized communities, similar to Prof. Bill Drummond’s work with the San Quentin News. Journalists must have the courage to unveil the complexity of their subjects and force audiences to reconcile preconceived notions — especially amid a movement of racial reckoning. Receiving this fellowship means I have the chance to learn from UC Berkeley faculty. With their support and guidance, I know I’ll be able to become the storyteller I hope to become.”

Being the first in one’s family to attend college, and now graduate school, is an incredible accomplishment, Dean Anand reflected, and said she could not be more grateful for the donors who stepped up and recognized the need to support these students. “We know there are many other students who identify as first generation, which is why our fundraising strategies prioritize these efforts,” she said.

The donors to the first-generation scholarships are Bill Whitaker (MJ ’78 & ’17), John Crowley, Steve Silberstein, Tad Taube of Taube Philanthropies, James (Jim) Wood and an alumna of the School who preferred to remain anonymous.

“For decades we’ve talked about the lack of diverse voices in newsrooms and how to address the problem, but we have missed a critical part of the solution,” said Whitaker, a “60 Minutes” correspondent who is an Advisory Board member of the School. He was the first donor to the scholarship program and also produced a video in support of the program.

“We now have a journalism school creating a pipeline to lead first-generation students from diverse backgrounds into careers in journalism and also leave them debt-free when they graduate. I’m proud to be part of the solution. It feels good to give students a helping hand,” he said.

“Knowing how important journalism is to a functioning democracy, it’s an honor to invest in first-generation students passionate about informing the public,” said Steve Silberstein (BA Economics/MLS), an Advisory Board member of the School. “Each of the Dean’s Fellows is frankly inspiring and full of promise. I’m very glad to be in a position to give them a strong start and help change who gets to be a journalist in this country.”

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