“Bittersweet” doesn’t come close to explaining how I feel about leaving Emory.
My time here had extreme highs and lows. I met lifelong friends, delved into new academic passions with Emory’s incredible faculty and staff (for free — thanks Courtesy), interned all over the city and overdosed on caffeine while managing a student coffee shop. I ran a magazine and a newspaper, fell in love all over again with Atlanta (and a boy), explored postcolonial African artwork, memorized the Constitution and chronicled Civil Rights-era murders in South Georgia.
But for me, Emory also represented times of personal distress, an enduring disappointment with the undergraduate campus culture and the realization that my values might be different than Emory’s administration’s.
Don’t get me wrong — I think Emory is a world-class university, filled with intellectual curiosity and an administration that aims to be responsive to student concerns. But I spent much of my time here pushing administrators and staff for interviews and information as a reporter and the executive editor of the Wheel. I’m sure everyone has their opinions about our student newspaper, but to me, there’s nothing that symbolizes “courageous inquiry” more than getting our (often freshmen) student reporters to persistently badger deans, provosts and even presidents for information — all with the knowledge that these administrators could control their futures at the university.
Not that anyone’s going to expel us (we hope). The Wheel has had countless productive and meaningful interactions with administrators. But sometimes we publish things that administrators don’t like, and it’s scary. At the end of the day, it’s our job to ask those questions. That’s why we spent the equivalent of a full-time job each week at the Wheel, and why this silly newspaper and the funny, intelligent, diverse and committed people who compose it became one of the most meaningful experiences of my short life so far.
But even past that, my college experience was so mixed because I’m a Journalism co-major, and my beloved program ended before I was finished falling in love with it. Many students don’t even remember this, but the “department changes” announced at the beginning of my sophomore year closed the Journalism program, the Visual Arts and Educational Studies departments and more. While I and many others were able to finish our Journalism majors with the help of amazing faculty such as Hank Klibanoff and Sheila Tefft, it was heartbreaking to see mentors leave the university and to have only a meager handful of classes offered in its final years. We missed out on experiencing a flourishing program with plenty of electives, and I’m still not sure why it had to close.
I know and understand the University’s reasons for the department changes. But overall, Emory was wrong to terminate the Journalism program, established through a $1.35 million endowment from the Cox Foundation with the help of the late New York Times legendary reporter Claude Sitton. Journalism is the most ethically-engaged, inquiry-driven and diverse academic area I can think of. In journalism, we learn and participate every day in the minutia of ethical decisions, from off-the-record conversations and anonymous sources to making sure we tell the whole story, not just one perspective. In journalism, we learn that it is our job to question everyone and everything, whether it is about asking how our community might create a rape culture or why certain information is kept secret. In journalism, we learn that it is our duty to tell stories that would otherwise be overlooked and to treat everyone with the same level of respect and compassion.
For this reason, the University needs to explicitly and enthusiastically support a presence of journalism on this campus, whether it does so through integrating journalism into the new Digital Studies department (which the committee report for the department endorsed), offering more journalism-focused classes in different departments, creating a journalism lecture series or supporting and cooperating more with the Wheel.
I’m embarking on a career in journalism because of what the faculty and students in the Journalism program have taught me, and because of what I learned from my peers and dearest friends at the Wheel. I am confident that I will find happiness and success because of what my mentors and friends have taught me about life and journalism.
Emory gave me the opportunity to find and explore an enduring passion, and Emory took it away for future students. For that, I’m eternally grateful and, well, bitter.
Sonam Vashi is from (Metro) Atlanta, Georgia. She is graduating with a B.A. in Political Science and Journalism.