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Discovering the Change Agent in Me
During my first year in Wofford College’s Bonner Scholars program—a scholarship program for undergraduates involving a four-year commitment to community service—I thought I had it all together. I declared my English and Humanities majors and African American Studies minor early, and I planned to start a career in journalism and activism after graduating. I had an end goal and was determined to reach it. But in reality, I didn’t have it all together: I hadn’t figured out what, exactly, I was passionate about.
It wasn’t until the spring semester of my first year, when I took my first collegiate-level sociology class, Social Problems, that I realized why I needed to be a change agent. I was drawn to the class by the course description, which promised engagement with the inner Spartanburg community near Wofford. The course exposed me to some of the issues affecting society, including racism, poverty, mental illness, and educational inequality. For our final class project, students organized a panel of homeless individuals who shared with the campus community their experiences living in poverty right outside the campus gates. I never could have known that this class would be the start of an ongoing exploration of social justice issues that would extend through my time in college.
Throughout my undergraduate experience, I worked with the Urban League of the Upstate, a nonprofit devoted to equal opportunity in education, housing, employment, and economic development for all citizens, regardless of race or socioeconomic status. This experience allowed me to explore my interests in racial justice and education by connecting with students and residents in the community while gaining a better understanding of best practices for social justice work.
By my senior year, my passion for advocating for African Americans and my interest in educational equality, informed by my own experience as a black student at a predominately white institution, led me to concentrate my senior honors thesis for my African American Studies minor on “The Understanding of a Single Story: Identities Amongst Black Students at Predominately White Institutions.” Through this thesis, I examined the structure of identities among black students enrolled at predominately white institutions, the racism experienced by these students, and how these identities and experiences have implications for social identity across the student body. Realizing the difficulties that my classmates were experiencing on a daily basis while learning about the scholarship on this topic, I soon became interested in pursuing investigative journalism with a specific focus on racial and social justice.
Because investigative journalism addresses issues of serious concern and draws attention to economic, social, political, and cultural trends affecting society, investigative journalists must be thorough, committed to quality, and critically minded. I honed these qualities as a senior writer for Wofford College’s student-run newspaper, The Old Gold & Black, when I wrote an investigative piece titled “Can we talk about race?” In this article, I explored the racial dynamics of our campus community, pursuing my knowledge of and curiosity about this topic while establishing a platform for students of color to express their experiences. My work on the article coincided with my creation of a scholarly digital media project for my New Media Theory class, for which I asked students to speak about their experiences being black at a predominately white institution. My article, senior honors thesis, and digital media project all had a huge impact on our campus community, raising awareness of the reality experienced by many students whose voices had not been heard previously. As a result of these projects, many faculty and staff members began to question their curricula for the next semester and to explore how they could integrate race and ethnicity into their classes.
Investigative journalism is best at detecting changes that need to be made for the sake of humanity—which is what I am passionate about doing, one story at a time. My aspiration is to become a journalist focusing on issues of racial justice, producing stories, articles, and other media to educate readers about why race is so important and how citizens in a society can go about addressing problems like racism and discrimination. The skills that I gained through the Bonner program, and the experiences I encountered outside of my courses, allowed me to practice social justice by producing stories that achieve impact through critical and ethical content.
Jonathan Franklin is a 2016 graduate of Wofford College.