International Student Reporters Tackle Big Issues for OU Daily
During this uncertain year, the University of Oklahoma’s student-run newspaper OU Daily has played a crucial role on campus, shining a spotlight on important issues and amplifying voices that might otherwise go unheard. In particular, the Daily has highlighted issues facing international students, who have been hit hard by the pandemic, as well as new restrictive immigration and visa policies from the Trump administration.
Fittingly, some of the journalists instrumental in telling these stories are international students themselves. Since joining the Daily just this year, sophomore reporters Marien López-Medina from Managua, Nicaragua, and Gabriela Tumani, from São Paulo, Brazil, have written and published a multitude of stories sharing the perspectives, challenges and achievements of international students at OU. This summer, López-Medina covered the effect of pandemic travel restrictions on international students, sudden ICE policy changes and international student involvement with Black Lives Matter protests. Both she and Tumani have published in-depth features on the international community this fall: López-Medina’s September feature “OU International students discuss daily lives, what they left behind” and Tumani’s recent article on Brazilian students who have been critical of the university’s handling of the COVID-19 travel ban on their home country.
“Being an international student alone already comes with challenges,” explains Tumani. “However, I believe this year and everything that has been going on — COVID, ICE’s policies, and travel restrictions — have left us in a state of anxiety, uncertainty and powerlessness that made us realize how hard it is to be an international student in the US.”
López-Medina agrees that the past year has been a time of stress for international students, and working at the Daily has presented an opportunity to support the community and bridge the gap between US students and international students. “Both groups might have many misconceptions, critiques and impressions of each other, but learning both about what we go through can help us to find neutral ground,” she says. “I focus on encapsulating the daily experience of different international students on campus.”
A Passion for Journalism
Both Tumani and López-Medina were initially attracted to OU due to its strong journalism program and its international community. “I felt extremely welcomed here as an international student,” says Tumani, who long had a dream of studying in the US, and López-Medina, who attended high school in Canada through the United World College, notes that she felt a connection before she even arrived due to outreach from the Latinx community and the UWC admissions and International Student Services teams.
Though they had a passion for journalism (both are journalism majors with minors in international studies), neither joined the OU Daily right away. For Tumani, it was a matter of learning to juggle her responsibilities as a student before she eventually joined the news desk this fall. López-Medina was initially concerned that she would not be accepted or up to the task. “The Daily had applications open for new positions during winter 2019, but I was too scared to send mine,” she says, noting she was “terrified about the thought of not fitting in as an international student, as a Latina and as a Spanish speaker who learned English two years ago.” But after encouragement from a friend, she applied and was hired this summer, beginning as an intern and graduating to news reporter.
Judging by their contributions so far, both students made the right decision. “I am learning so much about journalistic writing and reporting, and also getting out of my comfort zone by interviewing people and talking about matters that I never thought I would talk about,” Tumani says.
“I feel supported working at the Daily,” López-Medina adds, noting that the newsroom adviser and news managing editors push her to improve as well as “make sure I have a safe space to write, especially when the article I’m working on could have an emotional impact.”
Spotlight on International Students
While López-Medina and Tumani spent much of their time reporting on general college news of all sorts — everything from upcoming events to faculty and student news to COVID-19 updates — their commitment to international student stories is certainly close to their hearts, and meaningful to all of us in the College of International Studies. López-Medina wants to make it clear that international students are not a monolithic community or just another piece of OU’s diversity, but that each student has a personal story worth hearing. “That’s the reason why my work is focused on students from conflict zones or students who have experienced racism themselves on campus,” she says. “It’s like giving the chance to others to actually know the feelings of the international students.”
As a reporter, Tumani adds, “I feel like I can represent international students who are not able to speak for themselves and bring awareness to important matters related to the international community, which a lot of people don’t even know about.” Her recent piece on the experience of Brazilian students was especially important to her, she says, as many in the community are not aware of their unique situation. “Our country is on the US travel ban list and students were not considered essential travel,” she explains. “I, along with other Brazilians, had to quarantine in a third country to get here — which is completely out of the ordinary — and others could not afford to do that and had to stay in Brazil.”
Making an Impact
Tumani and López-Medina look forward to continuing their work at the Daily throughout their college careers. Tumani’s post-graduation goal is to remain in the United States and work at a newspaper as an international affairs reporter. López-Medina aims to study abroad in Brazil and eventually become an independent journalist focused on political and civil rights education in Latin America and specifically her home country, Nicaragua. “Right now, Nicaragua doesn’t count on free press due to the authoritarian regime of Ortega-Murillo, so my dream is more like a challenge,” she says.
Wherever these two young reporters go in the future, they’re already having an impact here at OU — in the international community and the university at large. “Every article goes beyond the celebration of diversity at OU; they represent the challenges, the excitement and the fears of being so far away from home,” López-Medina says. “My task doesn’t only stay with me. Perhaps my articles have inspired other writers or reporters to cover more on the OU international community stories regardless of where they come from, just as I am willing to take the chance to write about US student stories.”