Column: Stepping through the Chronicle doors led to the world of journalism for this young reporter

By Yasmeen Sheikah, Podcast Producer

I’ll never forget walking through the second floor hallway of 33 Ida B. Wells Dr. for the first time.

I was 19-years-old and touring the communications department with my mom and other potential students. The excitement that ran through me as I caught sight of the orange carpets and silver panels on the walls with student-written articles beside Illinois College Press Association awards all around was indescribable.

I could almost feel the greatness of those who walked the same paths, who are now working to write history and unveil the truth, radiating in the air. The tour guide brought my mother and I to the doors of an office, and that’s when I knew Columbia was the school for me.

My mother still tells me today that when I stepped through the doors of the Chronicle, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. I had so many questions for the management team at the time.

“We are the No. 1 non-daily college newspaper in the state of Illinois,” is a phrase I don’t think I could ever get tired of hearing. The determination in the faces of the reporters at work not only had me certain it was exactly where I wanted to complete my bachelor’s degree in journalism, but that I was determined to work for the highly-competitive newspaper.

I took multiple copies of the Chronicle home with me that day and, as my sister tells me, I am a dork for reading it front to back. I kept those copies in a box to keep forever.

Fast forward to an acceptance letter from Columbia, one semester and a job interview later, I was a staff reporter at The Columbia Chronicle—exactly where I wanted to be.

Honestly, I am not sure I would have stayed at Columbia had I never worked at the Chronicle.

It is no secret that the journalism industry lacks diversity. I was the only Muslim woman on staff and my first story pertained to the Muslim community. Journalism, to me, is another form of activism. Being a minority in the journalism program at Columbia, I had a different perception of events in the world. I stick out like a sore thumb on campus and have had multiple experiences with unintentional ignorance bestowed upon me.

I see things differently than others and, in a way, I sometimes don’t feel welcomed in certain conversations. I can’t be “too Muslim” in front of the wrong person, but every time I walked through the doors of the Chronicle I would work on a story that would reverse what I was hearing and seeing about the Muslim or Arab communities.

I felt like I had a platform to now work and represent my community in a way that could not be written by others on staff. The Chronicle gave me the confidence to speak up. I was surrounded by such talented and smart reporters who were equally as driven to report on topics that mattered most to them.

I learned from the staff of the Chronicle, as I am sure they learned from me as well. I hope that the staff continues to increase in diversity, and that stories continue to be told from the silenced perspective of marginalized communities.

It is one thing to learn how to be a journalist in your classes, but another to actually have your stories published. Each article I wrote made my writing better and my reporting continued to get stronger each time.

It is thrilling to know I will look back at my college experience one day and say I worked for the Chronicle. As sad as I am to say goodbye, I am confident in the new beginnings at hand and look forward to seeing what is to come from the future staff.

I thank General Manager Travis Truitt, Faculty Adviser Curtis Lawrence and the rest of the staff members for simply entering my life and giving me memories I will never forget. As I wipe tears writing this goodbye, I leave knowing that my life has been forever changed.

But I’ll always have that box in my room filled with saved copies of every edition of the Chronicle that has been published during my time on staff. I hope to one day show my children that this is the place where it all began for me, and that I almost didn’t pursue journalism until I walked through those doors, eyes popping out of my head, for the very first time.