From students at the Draper prison to Latinx muralists, a new journalism project focuses on amplifying voices across Salt Lake Community College in local media.
Amplify Utah, in collaboration with The Salt Lake Tribune, published the first five of these student-produced articles earlier this month. Amplify Utah also launched a companion social media campaign to support the promotion of these stories.
SLCC students find connections within their communities by listening to others tell their stories and reporting on them. Assistant Professor Marcie Young Cancio founded the nonprofit last summer and launched the project with the college’s introductory Journalism and Media Writing course.
The nonprofit aims to engage younger readers and support student journalists at SLCC through stories on Utah’s diverse communities discovered across the campuses. Students also have the opportunity to engage with guest speakers currently working in the field.
The first run of the project started in the spring 2021 semester with only a few additions to the course, and the nonprofit has already benefited both journalism and non-journalism majoring students.
A story written by Cristian Martinez, a journalism major and first-year student, about SLCC’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center’s new women’s coordinator was the first piece published by The Tribune. The story highlights inclusivity and its importance to the SLCC community.
Martinez attributes inspiration coming from guest speakers Charlotte Fife-Jepperson, managing editor of West View Media, and Cristina Flores, a longtime reporter at KUTV.
“Hearing their experiences was very enlightening because these people have years of experience in the field,” he said. “I wasn’t actively pursuing journalism. But after taking this class, I really, really, really enjoy it, and the guest speakers have a lot to do with that. The role journalism can have and how journalism, if done right, can be really beneficial to the people that the subjects are either being spoken about and the people that it’s representing.”
Sharing stories about the diverse population in Utah has its own meaning of importance to James Seo, communications major who grew up in Sandy, a predominantly white and upper-class community.
“The whole concept of Amplify Utah is really cool, especially when its target is younger readers, because I went through that and putting more light on diverse communities could be helpful for younger people who might need to hear what other people are going through,” said Seo, who is Korean American. “For me as a kid, I felt alone almost. So, I think stories about these diverse communities could be helpful for a lot of younger kids who might be going through that or even for those who aren’t a minority, they could be more educated.”
Andrew Christiansen, who wrote about SLCC’s prison education program for the project, said the class showed him the importance of seeking stories that better represent the community.
“I have a very privileged life. I’m a straight, white man, cis-gendered, middle-class,” he said, noting the class has forced him to examine how his own experience shaped the way he reports and approaches stories. “Not only has it made me a better writer, but I go into stories more open-minded.”
SLCC, the most demographically diverse institution of higher education in the state of Utah, reports 31% of students identify as minorities.
For Shane Schmidt, taking the class convinced him to major in journalism.
“This class has been very eye-opening and, honestly, it has felt the most professional of any of my classes,” Schmidt said. “I wanted engagement. I wanted feedback and ideas. It was a complete 180 in regard to how I looked at communication and journalism.”
Amplified Voices Project
Martinez said whether people agree or disagree with his article, he knows the importance of bringing more awareness to the conversations held surrounding the less talked about LGBTQ+ community.
“Even if people disagree or agree with what the center is doing, the fact that I can share their story and get people talking about the topic, having those conversations, that’s what’s really important about this story,” stated Martinez. “These stories are present in our communities and because they are present in our communities, it’s important that they are told.”
Martinez, the first student published through Amplify Utah in The Salt Lake Tribune, expanded the conversation of SLCC’s women’s coordinator and the importance of the Gender and Sexuality Student Resource Center. Anticipation grew for Martinez as he went through the process of editing with Executive Editor Lauren Gustus.
“The process might take a while, but I think the payoff will be worth it,” Martinez explained.
His advice for future journalism students interested in submitting their work is simple: Although the process might take time, it’s worth the wait.
“Seeing your work up there is cool not just for yourself but for the story and the people that you’re sharing,” Martinez said. “Just remember, if the process takes a while, it’s bound to do some good for the community.”
Future of journalism
Students began the course in January, during the uncertainty of a global pandemic and after a summer of protests and riots, a reckoning around race and a contentious political season. The environment, according to student Lauren Wilcox, highlighted the importance of journalism.
“In today’s world, it’s so easy to see everyone on every outlet we have, the same story told a hundred different ways,” said Wilcox, a military wife and journalism major who currently works as a news producer at KSL TV. “If we can take journalism back to that simpler time where you see the story [and] tell the story, we’d all be a lot happier.”
The first semester of the Amplified Voices project at SLCC is complete, but the project will continue benefiting students and community members in the fall. For more information, visit amplifyutah.org.