A University of Nebraska–Lincoln student project that reported on the Black experience in Nebraska’s capital city took home the College Journalism Award at the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Book and Journalism Awards on May 24.
The depth-reporting project, “Being Black in Lincoln,” was developed by 12 students through a College of Journalism and Mass Communications course.
The award recognizes outstanding achievement in collegiate journalism that is focused on social injustices and human rights. This is the second time in five years that a depth-reporting project from the college has received a Kennedy award.
In 2017, a Husker reporting team won the College Journalism Award and the grand prize for “The Wounds of Whiteclay: Nebraska’s Shameful Legacy.” The project explored the issues and impact of alcohol sales in the small community of Whiteclay. It was the first time in the event’s 49-year history that the top prize went to a college group.
Joe Starita, professor emeritus of journalism, was the editor for “Wounds of White Clay” and for this year’s award-winning project.
Starita and Jennifer Sheppard, assistant professor of practice in journalism, created “Being Black in Lincoln” to shed light on the reality that the Black community experiences in Nebraska’s capital city.
Students applied to be in the class by submitting a 500-word essay explaining why they should be chosen. Starita and Sheppard sifted through the applications and picked 12 students to write a dozen profiles on Black residents of Lincoln.
“The bar was set pretty high on those essays,” Starita said. “They had to convince us that we should take them (into the class), and we were flabbergasted by the energy, the insight, the smarts and how clean the writing was in the essays among those we ultimately selected.”
The class launched during the spring 2021 semester, and the stories were published in the Lincoln Journal Star last summer.
With Lincoln being predominantly white, the students knew they wanted to highlight the Black community’s experience since most residents have not experienced the isolation that can come from being a person of color.
Sheppard said the success of the project doesn’t stop at winning this award; it lies in the community’s response and greater understanding of varied experiences.
Following is a list of students who were part of the project, listed by hometown, with their year in school and major(s).
- Jaqueline Martinez, May graduate, advertising and public relations
- Nick McConnell, senior, journalism
- Zach Wendling, senior, journalism and political science
- Erika Jensen, junior, child, youth and family studies
- Evelyn Mejia, junior, broadcasting and Spanish
- Dillon Galloway, junior, advertising and public relations, and journalism
- Jason Han, senior, journalism and English
- Nia Johnson, junior, broadcasting
- Victoria Baker, senior, journalism
Elsewhere in the U.S.:
San Diego, California:
- Trinity Saez, junior, marketing
- Drake Keeler, May graduate, journalism
- Lauren Penington, senior, journalism and political science