ER&M Students’ Summer Reflections (Part 4)

As the pandemic, racial unrest, and protests against police brutality crisscrossed the country this past summer, many ER&M students did not watch in idle. Some embarked on meaningful summer opportunities such as interning at non-profit social justice organizations, or finding new ways to connect with and advocate for underrepresented and underserved communities in New Haven, their hometowns, and beyond. This series of posts highlights the summer activities that our inspiring students undertook and features the students’ reflections on their work. This week, Isabella Zhou ER&M’22 shares with the ER&M community her internship experience at CT Mirror, a non-profit digital news site that covers current events in Connecticut.

What was the internship that you did this summer? 

This summer, I was a reporting intern at CT Mirror, a nonprofit statewide news site! My focus was on issues of race and disparity, and I wrote in-depth pieces on a variety of topics, such as this one on anti-racist education activism and action across the state (featuring Professor HoSang!). I also wrote this one about faith leaders and congregations’ role in the movement for racial justice, this one about a hyperlocal grassroots group in North Hartford that cares for its predominantly Black neighborhood through everything from community self-policing to mentoring youth, and this one about challenges to conducting COVID contact tracing in communities of color.

Why did you pursue this opportunity? How did your ER&M courses prepare you for your work?

This internship was just a perfect opportunity to act on my ER&M intellectual and emotional commitments through my love for reporting. ER&M courses equipped me with theoretical frameworks to structure and write pieces with nuance—which felt even more important after the murder of George Floyd and the media’s sudden interest in racial justice issues. I wrote the piece about anti-racist curriculum development at a point when the word “anti-racism” had slipped into mainstream usage and, in many cases, started to lose its coherence. ER&M gave me the ability to distinguish between a diversity and inclusion framework and an anti-racist framework, which argues that racism is baked into not only what we teach but also how we teach it, who teaches it, etc. and it needs to be addressed on many fronts. In the piece about the North Hartford community stewardship group, it felt like it would have been very easy to present them just as evidence of rugged individualism at work, celebrating people successfully taking their own poor neighborhood conditions into their own hands. Instead, my instincts from ER&M led me to grapple with the give and take between systems and individuals and try to communicate that complexity through the piece.

Did you face any challenges during your internship? What were they and how did you overcome them?

It was really, really hard to do all my reporting sitting at my childhood bedroom desk in Austin, TX. Usually, as a reporter, you get to go places and take them in and hear sounds and walk down streets and notice random signs. You get to meet people and see them in action and notice what’s on their desk and what their faces say between sentences. On my phone in my bedroom, I was constantly trying to make up for all the physical information my body was missing through, instead, concerted mental effort. Instead of walking around in North Hartford and talking with people, I had to really press in my interviews to get painstakingly detailed descriptions of the community, then sit there and spend energy imagining the physical and human dimensions of the place. When I was having hour-long, personal conversations with people, I was trying to imagine their personhood beyond the voice crackling through my iPhone. I have infinite respect for real journalists who have been crafting and sharing incredible, vital stories remotely all throughout COVID, despite how exhausting it is to continually, effortfully use imagination.

What were some of the important lessons that you learned?

I learned, more than ever, the importance of the journalism maxim to “be there.” Nothing can replace physical bodily presence in the material world! Sigh. But through this weird, disembodied experience of remote reporting, I gained a closer sense of the power and limitations of words to convey a material reality. The point of journalism is to be a proxy for readers who can’t physically “be there” to feel, and learn, like they were. Absent of “being there” myself as a reporter, all the information I received was through words—which I then had to weave together and communicate to readers through words. I was acutely aware of how much was lost in translation, and came away with a new commitment to this really difficult and beautiful task of being a word telescope. Also, multimedia journalism is cool.

How might this internship prepare you for your remainder trajectory as an ER&M student more specifically and beyond Yale more broadly?

This internship showed me what I’d suspected before—that my area of journalism and the kind of ER&M-type graduate and academic work I’m interested in are similar kinds of things, just the first is on a much shorter time scale, has a much shorter lifespan of relevance, is more sociological and reaches a more public audience than the latter, and applies theory rather than intervening in it. It’s comforting to me because I feel like as I continue my time in ER&M, my intellectual and reporting interests build off rather than oppose each other, and I plan on continuing to lean into that in the next few years.

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