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EXCLUSIVE: Secretary of Interior inspires journalists at national conference held on Columbia’s campus

Secretary of interior Deb Haaland speaks at the Journalism and Women Symposium on Sunday Oct. 15, 2023. (K’Von Jackson)

Journalists should “wear who they are with pride,” the US Secretary of Interior said at the Journalism & Women Symposium national conference held on Columbia’s campus this weekend.

Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland encouraged more than 100 journalists in attendance for her speech on Sunday, Oct. 15 to leave the ladder down for other journalists who share their lived experience.

“Look to the department and me as your ally in telling those stories regardless of what you cover,” she said. “Don’t be polite and don’t apologize. Be fierce and proud of what you brought here today. Your lived experience is your superpower. It’s what tells and informs stories, sheds light on injustice and ultimately, makes our world a more inclusive and understanding place.”

A former US representative from New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, Haaland is the first Native American to serve as a cabinet secretary. She was confirmed in March 2021.

When asked about Columbia’s land acknowledgement — a statement that acknowledges the college occupies indigenous land — Haaland said such acknowledgments are appreciated.

“Representation matters,” she said. “In a college setting when you have an opening for a professor or a graduate student or a teacher’s aide or any position, are you working hard to make sure that you’re hiring a diverse workforce? I know it’s not easy all the time but it has to be a top priority for all of us to make sure that we have the diversity on our faculty and staff because that absolutely entices more indigenous students to come and learn from those people.”

The Journalism & Women Symposium, or JAWS, brings together working journalists, journalism educators and researchers from across the country to share resources, support, training and information about issues that affect people who identify as women.

Nearly 200 people registered for the three-day conference, held at the 1104 S. Wabash building from Oct. 13 to Oct. 15. The event featured panel discussions on barriers to inclusive stories on the Black experience in America, engaging audience in elections and reframing community narratives. On Saturday, Oct. 14, a keynote panel featured members of the founding families of the Chicago Defender and WVON radio — both Black media legends — and the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells, Michelle Duster.

Jennifer Kho, the executive editor of the Chicago Sun-Times and immediate past president of JAWS, also addressed the group of journalists.

JAWS was hosted by the Communication Department.

It is a long-standing custom to invite newsmakers who are not journalists to the conference, said Glenda Holste, a retired journalist and former president of JAWS. She said Haaland was a natural fit for the 2023 conference.

Holste said Haaland’s visit was organized by the Legacy Fund of JAWS.

Haaland also talked about the Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Moseley National Monument, which includes Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ in Chicago. The temple, in the Bronzeville neighborhood, is where Till’s funeral was held.

The monument includes two more communities, Sumner and Glendora Mississippi, locations that surround where Till was cruelly and viciously murdered and tossed into a local river. The people affected should have an opportunity to give input to how their story is told and what the murder means to them, she said.

The Till national monument is managed by the National Park Service, one of many bureaus that fall under her purview.

“My excitement about having the Secretary of the Interior here is two-fold,” said Sheila R. Solomon, the strategic alliance manager for Rivet360 and a JAWS member. “One, she is an indigenous woman. Two, she is coming to Chicago. Chicago was founded by an African-American man married to an Indigenous woman, and there are three indigenous communities in this area.”

As a congresswoman, Haaland led the effort to pass the Not Invisible Act and Savanna’s Act that addressed the gap in information sharing and data collection to address missing and murdered indigenous women and that the Secretary will put into action in her current role, she said.

“I share these examples not just because they are what drive me, but to share your lived experiences should drive you,” Haaland said. “What burns inside us; what fires us up. That’s what inspires our passions. Harnessing lived experiences isn’t just a nice idea. It’s the crux of what informs our work from addressing the climate crisis to advancing environmental justice to protecting the institutions that we all value.”

Angela Greiling-Keane, JAWS president and news director at Bloomberg Government, said she was excited to have Haaland as one of the keynote speakers.

“Haaland did a really good job of connecting her themes of lived experiences which she exemplifies in her career with what we’ve been talking about at JAWS this weekend with the intersections of all of the people,” Greiling-Keane said.

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About the Contributors
Robin Sluzas
Robin Sluzas, Former Senior Reporter
rsluzas@columbiachronicle.com   Robin Sluzas is a senior journalism major, primarily covering the School of Media Arts. She has also covered politics, and arts and culture stories. She worked for the Chronicle from August 2021 through December 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Ill.
K’Von Jackson
K’Von Jackson, Former Senior Photojournalist
kjackson@columbiachronicle.com   K'Von Jackson is a senior photography major. Some of his work includes campus crime writing, social justice and changes within Columbia. He worked for the Chronicle from August 2020 through December 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Ill.