Meeting the moment

farewell column

My life at Duke, in many ways, didn’t start until I walked into The Chronicle’s office. My first time in 301 Flowers was also my first time in a campus building that wasn’t a dorm, classroom or dining hall amid a national lockdown, my first Cookout strawberry milkshake, my first glimpse into 119 years of Duke’s history documented in yellowing print headlines pinned to the walls.

At the time, I had no idea how deeply The Chronicle would shape my next four years, how intimately our work would underscore what it means to love a place as contradictory as Duke in a time as fraught as now.

I learned to report campus news in a year that, in hindsight, none of us were prepared for. Some of my first stories were about Duke’s ever-changing COVID policies and their dystopian effects on our lives. Others were our necessary reckoning with institutional racism during my first real election year.

I fell in love with student journalism along the way for teaching me how to find a sense of place when everything is in flux and how to document a historical juncture as we live through it.

As lockdown eased, I was new to Duke all over again, learning to navigate a social scene that was trying its hardest to return to normal. I started spending hours in 301 Flowers every week, getting to know the people behind the bylines over rolling chairs, piles of empty starburst wrappers and ambient noise filtering in from the sports hall.

I learned how to report on community, on the convergences and gatherings that are the lifeblood of campus. Along the way, I realized that community includes our neighbors in Durham, and took on the task of explaining to readers how national discourse and local reform impact our daily lives.

I grew to love The Chronicle even more for teaching me how to be there as a friend in the newsroom, a listening ear on campus and a reliable member of a larger ecosystem.

At the start of my tenure as a senior editor, I was comfortable, for once, with Duke and my role within it. I finally felt secure enough to lose myself in the details of the work. With each piece of advice I gave a nervous new writer, each story we butchered and rebuilt through edits, each time I clicked “Schedule Tweet” on a controversial headline, I settled into my role.

Through it all, our newsroom committed to holding our university accountable through detailed and thoughtful reporting. By this time, my relationship with my work embodied the love of an old married couple, time-tested and world-weary, but committed nonetheless.

In my final year with The Chronicle, this love has been put to the test. When I started my current role as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion co-coordinator, I was excited to focus my energy on improving our newsroom from within. I hoped that we’d build on previous conversations we had about becoming a community-centered paper, committed to uplifting marginalized voices through our journalism.

I knew it would be an uphill battle. We faced apathy and distrust from community members, a diversifying but not yet representative newsroom, and most pressingly, a vision that was too transformative to be accomplished over one year.

We also had to contend with a shifting political climate — which has historically shaped the work of student newspapers, but rarely to this extent. The action-reaction, demand-backlash cycles of America’s culture wars have rarely moved this quickly and rarely centered so acutely on the university campus.

In four short years, I witnessed Duke’s admissions team change their tune from saying “Black Lives Matter” to ending a full-ride merit scholarship for Black students. I witnessed Duke finally respond to longstanding student demands by hiring more diverse faculty, only to ignore the statements of Palestinian solidarity made by many of the same faculty members.

Initially, I believed that nobody was better equipped to reckon with this shift than The Chronicle. After all, journalism has the power to go beyond narrowly framed narratives that vilify dissent and hamper transformative dialogue. We have the responsibility to write unflinchingly about the confrontations we see at Duke, and the ability to contextualize these confrontations with efforts like interfaith reconciliation on campus and grassroots organizing in Durham.

However, I find myself unable to say with confidence that The Chronicle handled the powder keg of this year’s news cycle with the nuance and care that we should have. For this, I must take responsibility. At the end of my tenure, I do not have any conviction that our reporting strengthened our relationships with marginalized communities on campus.

It was not just our paper that I saw fall short this year. Our legacy media organizations have been unwilling or unable to meet basic journalistic standards in their coverage of the war in Gaza. Journalists repeatedly shielded Israel from facing accountability by relying on passive voice and “both sides” rhetoric, by spreading unverified information in their refusal to challenge state narratives.

Amid the deadliest war on record for journalists, I started to fall out of love with the work that has given me purpose. As I felt this happening, I climbed three flights to our office. When I got there, I went to look at the faded pages of the print volumes that welcomed me to Duke a small lifetime ago. On our walls, within those pages, I found stories of people speaking truth to power.

I remembered, then, that to love an institution is not only to be immersed in it but also to take responsibility for it, to hold it accountable for its flaws and demand better of it. Over four years, our newsroom taught me how to love the complicated institution that is Duke. Now, I’m tasked with using these lessons to love the complicated institution that is The Chronicle.

I take responsibility for every perspective we could have but did not share. I hold us accountable for damaging the trust of the communities that we cover. And I demand that we do better at uplifting each other’s voices, especially those that challenge our power structures.

I address this farewell to a version of The Chronicle that has never yet existed, to a vision of community, to student journalism at its bravest and to the organization I hope we can become.

Anisha Reddy is a senior and served as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion coordinator for The Chronicle’s 119th volume. She has no idea where to even start in thanking Milla Surjadi for being the most disarmingly thoughtful co-coordinator, editor, journalist and friend she could ask for. She would also like to thank Kathryn Thomas and Katie Tan for their easy conversation and steadfast reliability over the years, transforming editing shifts into cherished memories. She would be remiss not to thank Pilar Kelly for all of the late-night couch conversations that turned into story ideas and life lessons.

She would like to thank Ayra Charania for all of the energy she spent making our newsroom a more welcoming place for new writers and Preetha Ramachandran for laying crucial groundwork toward a more critical understanding of student journalism. She would especially like to thank everyone she has met in person, over Zoom or through email to be interviewed for stories over the years. If this includes you, please know that Anisha and The Chronicle would be nowhere without your willingness to share your experiences.

Anisha Reddy | Senior Editor

Anisha Reddy is a Trinity junior and a senior editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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