A Farewell to the Worst/Best Year of an Unexpected Editorship
I accepted this job during a sweaty summer in 2019 when I was interning for a magazine in New York. Something about this incessant, unresolved question of whether to take the offer or not clicked into place one day, and I carefully typed out sentences into the text bubble on my phone: “I’m in,” essentially.
I remember when former Editors-in-Chief Shawna Chen ’20 and Emma Swislow ’20 sat me down outside The Student’s basement office, next to a vending machine with a constant low hum. “The job is yours if you want it.” It became a choice between spending the spring semester studying abroad in New Zealand or dedicating every Tuesday night (into Wednesday morning) in this dim and damp basement. It should have been a no-brainer.
That summer in New York meant a lot to me; it was energizing to walk into a newsroom every day and not only watch world news unfold, but to actually have a hand in reporting it. I asked my beloved boss this question, of New Zealand or newspaper, one day when we were both riding the train home, sitting immediately next to each other in a way that would feel unnatural and imposing in any other venue than a subway at rush hour. She’s a world traveler, lover of adventure and the best advocate of living life according to your own plan, but she’s also a devourer of news, seasoned editor and avid reader of print. She seemed like the perfect person to ask. I saw her advice as something of a guide to ending up where she is; I often thought I’d like to be like her one day, riding the train into some features-focused journalism job. But a year and a half later, I am not as certain as I was that August. This job sucks sometimes, and sometimes, hers did too.
But she gave me the push in the direction I was already leaning, and here I am. I hadn’t imagined what it would take for me to even reach this point of saying ‘here I am” at the end of my tenure — like really, no idea.
I had no idea how our weekly Tuesday night production meetings would bleed across my calendar into an all-week, always-on-call commitment. I had no idea that the responsibilities of managing fair, accurate and timely coverage would affect me so deeply that I would get stomach aches every week before sending the articles to print. I had no idea how deep my affection and respect for our editorial board would become, how much I would love staying in the Morrow basement until two or three in the morning. And I had no idea that all of that would only last for a few months, because the coronavirus upended everything we knew.
I am sure that the legacy both my co-Editor-in-Chief Natalie De Rosa ’21 and I leave behind is this one, of leading The Student’s coverage of the coronavirus. I was sitting in the newspaper office, with Natalie, Shawna, and our sports editor Henry Newton ’21, when we received the email from Dean of Students Liz Agosto letting us know that the rest of the spring 2020 semester would be conducted online, from home. I think this frozen snapshot moment — the ‘where were you when you found out’ moment — reveals a lot about what we care about and how we spend our time — My best friend, who is head of DASAC, was in the middle of a dance rehearsal; many of my friends were with each other.
It feels fitting to me that I was in the newspaper office because so much of how I have experienced the school’s policy around Covid has been filtered through the lens of this job. When I learned in July that the college had decided to invite only first years, sophomores, transfers and study abroad students back to campus — meaning I was not allowed to return to my school — I rushed to figure out how we would cover this. It wasn’t until days later that it fully sunk in for me that this place I know and love — think love in the way you love your family while they also drive you crazy — this place I’ve dedicated the past four years of my life writing about and delivering news to, did not care if I was there or not.
This absence has helped me understand how vital a newspaper is to its community. In the early months of remote learning, producing The Student every week helped me feel like I was part of something larger. It forced me to read and listen to and work with students from across grade levels to produce a single, united publication. Otherwise, it would have been easy to feel like I was doing my school work in a void, disconnected from the institution itself. We received countless emails commending us for keeping our “Student Sums It Up” newsletters as a virtual quad, of sorts, that held this binding power. It was able to remind us that we are a part of some greater community, even if we are all over the globe. I am most proud of this unifying role that we were able to serve.
I felt most proud of this because we were able to provide a forum for activism when the #IntegrateAmherst movement arose. The news that we needed to leave campus came hardly 24 hours after three members of the men’s lacrosse team engaged in racist hate speech, meaning nearly all disciplinary action and, more pressingly, the student activism that sparked in response needed to happen remotely. In those early months, there were few public forums for the entire Amherst community to access and share. But, The Student was able to provide one such forum and become the site of a complex, provocative discussion around the steps the college needs to take to make students of color feel welcomed and supported. That series taught me how valuable a paper can be — both in our reporting of the incident and also for the space we could provide for ideas and discussions to take shape.
Of course, that does not mean that our editorial role was perfect. I will be the first to say that I have made mistakes during this tenure. And even more than that, I’ve made many decisions that were probably not wrong, but also probably not totally right — rather, they live somewhere in between. I have had so many nights of sleep jolted awake by a question of whether I emailed the printing press to confirm a file delivery or a concern that we left the em-dash on page 7 as two hyphens (– ugly) instead of one smooth seamless line (— beautiful). And for each of those nights, I’ve had many more where I cannot find sleep at all and instead lie staring at the Greenway’s cement ceiling (or, even worse, at the ceilings of my childhood bedroom) haunted by floating faces of the people at the center of the pieces we published.
I think what lies at the core of this job that I think many people miss, many people including myself, really, until I stepped into the position myself is that it’s not about a news beat or copy-edited commas but about the people in this community. Writing is about taking full, complex lives, conflicted, nuanced feelings and convoluted, abstract ideas and rendering them on a two-dimensional page. Journalism is no different. I have learned that it excels when it recognizes the lives behind the stories it tells, when it tends to the community it serves and when it genuinely recognizes its needs and the paper’s purpose in meeting those needs. There is no way I could have learned that without the past year underscoring it in boldface for me to see.
There is also no way I could have learned this without our own micro-community of the newspaper editorial board. This is one of the best groups of people I’ve ever known. I adore our executive team with my whole heart and relish the weekly meetings when we brainstorm big, chat and sometimes complain. In you, I am lucky to have colleagues and also wonderful friends. I’m also so lucky to work with a staff of editors who astound me with their ability to rise to the occasion, pandemic and all, in producing content, organizing writers, scouting out stories, and researching at the drop of the hat. Every week, you all make me marvel at what a truly collaborative project it is to make the news. I feel so grateful that you have always had my back, as Natalie and I have had yours. I’m luckier yet knowing that I will leave this job to two of the brightest people I’ve met at Amherst: Ryan Yu ’22 and Becca Picciotto ’22. My hope for you is that you get along as well as Natalie and I have and that you’ll be allowed back into our production office after all this remote learning comes to an end. From there, everything will be fine.
I’m writing this from home where snow flurries have been falling outside all morning. I’m thinking of the version of myself who sat sweating on the New York subway in July, thinking I knew what to expect, and I’m so grateful for everyone who made this past year, and the three before that, the unpredictable learning experience it was.
Thank you, to you all.
P.S. It looks like Natalie and I tag-teamed or brainstormed our farewell letters together —it’s just further evidence of how close we’ve become in the past year of partnership. As in most things, she’s found a way to give voice and perspective more elegant than I, and as always, I defer to her.