Embracing empathy

senior column

March 4, 2020 was a relatively normal print production day. I walked from my evening game theory class in LSRC to Flowers 301 ready to fact-check stories and checklist the layout of the print paper. Tea from Vondy in hand, I thought I was ready for the late night ahead. But, as the cliché goes in most folks’ memories of the early days of the pandemic, it was unfathomable that that would have been my last print night as news editor. 

From that moment forward, my college and student journalist experience has been largely online. We transitioned the news department fully online for spring break in 2020. And I didn’t expect that shift to remote production would last until the day I would write my senior column. At the same time, I’ve also been so proud of what The Chronicle has achieved during two of the most difficult volumes we’ve encountered.

Even in precedented times, editors constantly monitored their emails and tweets for any breaking news. And, starting in March 2020, we and the rest of the student body also watched our semester and summer plans crumble away. We struggled with our loved ones to cope with the losses of the pandemic. 

I started to recognize how much empathy was a guiding force for myself, and I have aimed to do the same in my reporting this past year. When I checked in on news reporters to see how they were doing over Spring Break, I was stunned at how many of them asked me if there was anything they could do to help. As we globally dispersed during the pandemic, the news department published more daily content once we shifted online. I will forever be so grateful for our writers’ care for others and dedication to cover the personal stories of members of the Duke community.

But, I still ache for The Chronicle’s in-person community, production nights, events and meetings. I nostalgically remember bringing Matthew food from McDonald’s with Nathan during a DSG budget meeting, visiting a cat café in Chapel Hill with Isabelle and recognizing Leah from a production night and talking with her in line at Sanford’s Saladelia. I treasured the opportunity to get to know our new reporters in the news department by having coffee, sharing a meal or just chatting in Flowers 301 office. 

Some of my favorite memories with folks in The Chronicle have been outside of the Flowers building, like walking with Isabelle and Lexi from George Washington University to the Supreme Court to watch the sunset over the Capitol and adopting my cat Em(-Dash) with Preetha. A year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined the tear-jerking thrill of being vaccinated, no less accompanied by my Chronicle mentee Katie and I taking a selfie with Nugget in the background while leaving the vaccination center. 

These in-person moments mark times when I felt that I was able to understand the stories of folks in The Chronicle and in the Duke community. At the beginning of this volume, I worried how we would be able to emulate that experience by looking at each other via a screen. However, I realized that being able to empathize with someone doesn’t depend on sitting across from them. It’s about listening to their voices, observing what they emphasize and acknowledging the importance of their perspective.

During the chaos of the pandemic, reporters at The Chronicle were motivated to tell the stories of the community and ask those in positions of authority tough questions. We’ve reported more stories focusing on accountability and transparency, like those on Title IX and dining workers, and re-evaluated past Chronicle coverage of police killings by focusing on the stories of Danny Lee Winstead and Aaron Lorenzo Dorsey. We added questions to The Chronicle's first-year survey on the pandemic and the 2020 election and published stories on the disproportionate impacts COVID-19 has had on Black, Latinx, rural and low-income first-years and the political beliefs and voting patterns of first-years. We’ve also featured the stories of students advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, demanding greater support for the AAPI community amid rising anti-Asian violence, creating the Disability Cultural Center, organizing through the Duke Black Coalition Against Policing and distributing funds to the community through Duke Mutual Aid. As Matthew said in our last V. 116 section head meeting, our reporters were committed to covering Duke beyond the Allen Building.

Empathy is an incredibly important value to me personally, and I’ve aspired to let empathy guide my reporting and roles in the news and investigations departments. Highlighting student and worker voices in our reporting has been a priority this volume, and I’m so excited to watch future volumes continue this work. It has been an honor to be a  member of The Chronicle’s team and to be part of a community that cares so deeply about pursuing the truth and serving the public good.

Stefanie Pousoulides was the investigations editor of V. 116 and news editor of V. 115. She’d like to thank Chrissy, Shagun, Isabelle, Leah, Lexi, Bre, Ben, Nathan, Jake, Mona, Preetha, Nadia, Rose, Hannah, Anna, Katie and Matthew for their humor, brilliance, selflessness and compassion. Please enjoy these Spongebob videos in her last act as meme editor.

Stefanie Pousoulides profile
Stefanie Pousoulides | Investigations Editor

Stefanie Pousoulides is The Chronicle's Investigations Editor. A senior from Akron, Ohio, Stefanie is double majoring in political science and international comparative studies and serves as a Senior Editor of The Muse Magazine, Duke's feminist magazine. She is also a former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Muse Magazine and a former reporting intern at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C.


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