Practice what we prize

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By Cheryl Hatch/Copyright 2016

 

“Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

 

When student journalists put the final fall issue of the college newspaper to bed last December, I breathed a sigh of relief. Incredibly, we’d made it through the semester without any threats. Challenges, yes. Threats, no.

 

They published their last issue for this academic year on Friday, April 29, 2016. We celebrated another award-winning year—and a full year unmarred by threats.

I’m the adviser for the student newspaper. I am also a career journalist who’s covered conflict in the Middle East and Africa. I came to the college in 2012 after completing assignments in Afghanistan.

 

In a decade of covering conflict, I’ve dealt with threats. I never expected to encounter threats on a small college campus.

 

In my first year as adviser, a student journalist wrote an article about a sex education workshop that generated some controversy—and threats, many from fellow students. Some of the threats were anonymous, through social media; others through the grapevine. Some threats implied bodily harm. The student’s mother said she was coming to remove her daughter from campus out of fear for her safety.

 

I spoke with the student’s mother, the counseling center and campus security. The dean of students joined the conversation. The student did not return to her dorm room that weekend. She stayed in a secure location with friends.

 

Another story reported the arrests of two students on multiple drug charges. After this story published, a group of students stormed the newsroom, shouting and throwing things. One of the frightened student journalists had 9-1-1 keyed on her cell phone. When another student journalist was walking across campus with a stack of newspapers for delivery, a passing student asked if she worked for the paper. She said yes, and the student spit on her.

 

After a story last year, a student was singled out in her class, bullied and intimidated solely for her participation on the newspaper. Despite the stress she felt in class, she didn’t file a complaint. She feared reprisal and further harassment. She feared her grade might suffer. I checked in with her in person or by text after nearly every class.

 

In the spring of 2015, a student objected to an opinion piece about snow removal. He wrote a lengthy, angry, threatening email to the student writer then later to the editors. He demanded the opinion piece be removed and he wanted an apology, though he was not the subject of the piece.

 

The student journalists offered the appropriate recourse for the aggrieved student. They told him that he could write a letter to the editor or his own guest column. He didn’t. He continued to intimidate the staff, primarily through email until one night he came into the newsroom uninvited and hovered over an editor.

 

I spoke with the counseling center multiple times and campus security. I discussed the situation with the student editors and they decided they would try to work through it before they asked the counseling center and administrators to intervene.

Next, I was called into a meeting and learned the angry student had filed a complaint against me. He was threatening legal action.

 

I explained the emails, the escalating, out-of-proportion behavior and the course of action I’d taken. I expressed my genuine concern for the safety and wellbeing of the student journalists and myself. The administrators blamed me for not meeting with the student. I said that I would not meet with a student who had threatened other students.

The student journalists handed over all the emails and explained their concerns. We were sure that would be the end of it.

 

I was called into another meeting and asked to sign a no-contact order, indicating that I would have no contact with the student. I didn’t understand. What is it? And why would I sign a no-contact order for a student with whom I’ve had no contact? Will he sign an order to have no contact with the student journalists and me? I declined to sign a no-contact order.

 

In the last meeting, the administrators told me the student had said I was harassing and following him, making him uncomfortable. I said that’s simply impossible since I didn’t know him. Noting details revealed in the conversation, I realized that the student knew my schedule and routine and he was following and observing me.

 

The administrators said they found him credible. I found a lawyer.

 

I followed my attorney’s advice. I wrote an “in-case-anything-should-happen-to-me” letter, tucked it in a drawer and informed a trusted friend of its content and my situation. She encouraged me to trust my intuition.

 

I stopped returning to my office at night. I changed my schedule and routine. We changed the open-door policy at the newsroom. The door now remains shut and locked when students are working.

 

On the advice of my attorney, I did not attend our college’s bicentennial graduation last May. I didn’t see students I’d come to respect and cherish, including several members of the newspaper staff, celebrate their accomplishments. I didn’t get to meet their families and pose for photographs. I left town.

 

After the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last fall, my friend texted me: I couldn’t help but think of you spring semester.

 

Our college has a statement of community that offers students and employees “an inclusive, respectful and safe residential learning community that will actively confront and challenge racism, sexism, heterosexism, religious bigotry, and other forms of harassment and discrimination.”

 

I have not experienced this community.

It’s said that if students are going to be journalists, they should get used to criticism and learn to weather the tough spots. That’s true. A career in journalism will require a thick skin. As the late, iconic White House reporter Helen Thomas said: “We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers.”

 

It’s one thing for someone to object to a story in the college newspaper; it’s another to cross the line into bullying and threats. I want people to remember that the student journalists are first and foremost students. They are entitled to the rights and protections in their learning environment as outlined in the statement of community.

 

I understand this abusive intolerance is not unique to our campus. It’s become part of our political polemics. It’s voiced nationally and globally. We need to address the problem.

College is a place to learn to think critically and speak freely. Our college offers an annual prize of Civility in Public Life. Practicing civility on our campus would be a good start.

Let’s create a class that teaches students how to read the news and respond respectfully. Let’s learn to offer criticism without condemnation. Let’s teach students how to disagree without hurling toxic language, accusations and threats.

 

I’ve been warned that speaking up about these incidents could have repercussions. I also know I am a journalist and an educator. I teach in a newsroom and a classroom. I teach by example.

 

I will no longer be silent.

 

And I will attend graduation this year.

 

Note: This column was first published on The Huffington Post on May 5, 2016.

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Walking a fine line

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Outside the Box, a column by Cheryl Hatch/copyright 2016

Allegheny College is losing a treasure this week.

Director of Campus Communications Kathy Roos retires on April 29, 2016, after 19 years of service.

When I first met Kathy four years ago, I joked with her. You work for the dark side, I said. Public relations and journalism use the same skills for distinctly different objectives. Both tell stories. Sometimes we’re on the same page. Sometimes we’re not.

In my career as a professional journalist, I’ve encountered many public relations professionals who assume an adversarial or hostile approach to members of the media with whom they need to work. I can think of software giants who hire entire firms to craft their image and message, complete with stylists and wordsmiths who want to manage press conferences and photo opportunities. Politicians, the United States military, sports teams and colleges and universities all have public relations professionals on the payroll to help members of the media see things their way.

Kathy and I have both been around long enough that we realize that a working relationship can be built on respect and professionalism without thwarting our separate—and often disparate­—objectives.

In the four years I’ve had the privilege to work with Kathy at Allegheny, she’s been nothing but a pro—and unceasingly kind.

I often gauge people by the way they treat students, particularly student journalists at The Campus newspaper.

Kathy reads the student newspaper and has sent email messages complimenting the students on stories. I pass these messages to the students, where they serve as a kind of salve on the sting of remarks and rebukes they also receive.

This is an indication of a consummate communications pro. She can do her job while working with and respecting members of the media.

Last year, Sam Stephenson and Meghan Hayman won first place in the Society of Professional Journalists Region 1 Mark of Excellence Awards. This was a first for The Campus and a high achievement. The students earned the award for their coverage of the Kirk Nesset arrest.

Kathy wrote the press release and didn’t go into the details of the story that won the award. She highlighted the students’ accomplishment without citing the title of the news story, which would have brought renewed, potentially negative attention to the college.

In August 2013, Kathy responded to a request from community members and The Campus. A number of Meadville residents asked if the paper could include notices of campus events so they could attend. Kathy began compiling a weekly calendar of events at Allegheny College, which now fills a third of a news page in The Campus each week.

Two weeks ago, the student journalists hosted a surprise farewell party for Kathy in the newsroom, complete with balloons, cards and pizza. Christina Bryson, the editor-in-chief, offered her a prized Campus coffee mug, a gift of gratitude and respect.

Kathy, in turn, offered her congratulations to the students on their 2016 awards and commended them on their improved coverage.

I wrote part of this column Monday morning in the Market House Grille. I looked up to see a man tucked under a ball cap at a table next to the big frig. He was reading The Campus and I watched him study the page with the calendar of events.

Thank you, Kathy.

Since I arrived at Allegheny College, my goal has been to raise an awareness and understanding of journalism and its role on campus and in our community and democracy. I believe Kathy and I have been partners in this endeavor. We know and respect the limits of the partnership and honor the instances when we can collaborate.

Kathy attended every Ida Tarbell birthday party The Campus staff hosted. She wrote excellent releases for all the journalism in the public interest and Campus events, particularly our annual journalism conference and multimedia workshop. She wrote press releases that served faculty, staff and students from all parts of the Allegheny community.

Her good work brought local, regional and national media attention to the college.

Most mornings I look out my kitchen window and see Kathy and her husband of 42 years, Bob, walking to campus, often hand-in-hand. Bob, a professor of computer science, will retire, too.

On Monday morning, the smell of fresh-cut grass hung in the air as I backed my car out of the driveway. I saw Kathy and Bob walking down the brick road.

I stopped the car and jumped out. Not many more days, I called to Kathy.

She held up her right hand, showing five fingers.

I crashed their morning walk for a short distance, savoring a few moments of conversation.

I will miss Kathy Roos. The Campus journalists will miss her.

She walked the fine line between our two worlds with professionalism, dedication and respect. And she always walked that line with a gentle reverence for the integrity of words and importance of impeccable communication.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Vocational: I’ll wear that badge with honor.

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

On more than one occasion since I arrived at Allegheny, a person has labeled my work, what I do, what I offer to the students and the community, vocational. Each time I hear that comment, I wince and bristle inside. It feels dismissive, disrespectful.

I am a journalist. After the most recent comment, I decided to do what journalists do. I decided to investigate. I interviewed professors at Allegheny and other academic institutions. I spoke with colleagues in journalism. If someone described your work as vocational, what would that mean to you? How would it make you feel?

It’s definitely a charged word, one professor said. It implies a vo-tech education. In high school, if you took vocational-technical classes, it meant you weren’t going to college. If someone calls your work vocational, it implies you’re not an intellectual.

Another professor voiced a similar opinion with one distinction. Particularly in a liberal arts college/tradition, if a professor refers to your work as vocational, it means that you and your work are not valued or respected. It implies that you are not a scholar, that you don’t do scholarly work. It doesn’t necessarily address your intellect.

These opinions reflected what I was feeling. Devalued, dismissed and disrespected. It implies I work with my hands not my head. I’m not a peer. I’m more like a plumber. I don’t belong.

I remember vocational classes in high school: auto repair, woodworking/shop class, typing, home economics. I would have loved to take a woodworking or auto repair class; at that time, girls weren’t allowed in those classes. I took typing and that skill has served me every day since I graduated high school.

On fall break, I was walking along the ocean with a dear friend, a graduate of Wellesley College. I told her about my experience at Allegheny and the vocational label some at the college attach to journalism.

Remember the origin of the word vocation, she said. It means a calling.

I beamed.

Exactly, I said. I often tell the students that I consider journalism a noble calling.

I went home and looked up the word. Vocation derives from Latin vocātiō, meaning a call, a summons. It first meant a call by God, particularly to a religious life in the Christian tradition. In the 20th century, it came to be associated with training, talents and a job. I’m not sure when the negative connotation attached to it.

I asked a journalist friend about the label of vocational and its blue-collar implications for our profession.

Of course it’s vocational, he said. We don’t think about journalism. We do journalism. When you teach journalism, you teach students to work for a story. If they fail, they learn to dust themselves off and get back to it. If that’s blue collar, I’ll wear that badge with honor. And yes, it is a noble calling. We sure don’t do it for the money. We serve our communities, our democracy and our world.

I come from a long line of blue-collar workers, of people who serve. Among our men, we have farmers, fishermen, an electrician, a tinsmith, a janitor, a state representative, soldiers and sailors. Among our women, we have farmers, a home economist, a nurse, teachers and a suffragist. And yes, there’s a woman reporter who preceded me by three generations, long before the vocation called me.

Journalists do important work. Teaching the next generation of journalists is important work.

Journalists are members of the Fourth Estate. They are watchdogs tasked with the duty of holding our governments and businesses accountable. Journalists risk their lives covering conflict abroad and corruption at home. They document history and tell the stories of a community, from the county fair and school board meetings to far-flung wars and areas of conflict and suffering. Journalists provide information that serves the public interest. A free press is a pillar of our democracy.

It takes smarts and guts to be a journalist—and to serve.

I followed in my great grandmother’s footsteps in becoming a journalist. I followed in my mother’s footsteps in becoming a teacher. I followed all my ancestors in a life of hard work and service.

Both my jobs are vocational. I’ll wear that badge with honor.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/outside-the-box-vocational-a-term-i-wear-like-a/article_602b069a-7ced-11e5-a8a6-9b43114d875a.html

 

The hardest part of leaving is letting go

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

Long before 9/11 and the TSA, I would stand at the departure gate at the airport.

I’d watch my friend, family member or beloved, walk down the gangplank to the plane. I’d wave until he disappeared from sight. I’d shift to the giant windows and press my face against the glass, trying to find his face among the oval windows on the plane. I’d stand and wait until the plane backed out. I’d watch until it took off and disappeared from sight.

I didn’t want to leave.

As an Army BRAT, I moved with my family more than 20 times before I graduated from high school. It’s a pattern I continued as an adult in my work as a foreign correspondent. While I have a lot of experience with leaving, it’s never been easy for me.

In truth, we are all leaving from the moment we draw our first breath.

In The Campus newsroom a couple weeks ago, Amanda Spadaro said she had a moment. A graduating senior and co-editor-in-chief, she looked around the newsroom where she’d spent countless hours of her four years at Allegheny. She remembered the late nights, the laughter, the good times and the tough times. She looked at the students she’d shared so much with and those who would carry on in her absence next year. She realized she was leaving.

Spadaro left her hometown in Washington, Pennsylvania four years ago. On Saturday, she’ll graduate with a major in biology and a minor in English. She has no immediate plans after graduation, though she’s in the running for an internship at The Meadville Tribune.

Her career plans: “Pipe dream is to be the next Ida Tarbell, so. We’ll see how that goes. “

Elliott Bartels, The Campus Web manager, left his hometown in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania, four years ago. Bartels will graduate with an ecology major and a graphic design minor. Immediately after graduation, Bartels will work in Charlotte, North Carolina for Wildlands Engineering, a bio/environmental engineering firm that specializes in water remediation and mitigation.

His career plans: “Working for a while as an environmental engineer/scientist to pay off loans and to afford a new project Jaguar, then maybe back to grad school to increase $$$ and get a degree in upper management/business.”

The Campus features editor Claire Teague left her hometown in Chatham, N.J. for Allegheny. Saturday she’ll graduate with an English major and economics minor. This summer she’ll be working for the Presbyterian Church of New Providence where she’ll be the assistant director to the youth program, working with hundreds of high school and middle school students.

Sam Stephenson, The Campus co-editor-in-chief, left his hometown in Portland, Oregon, four years ago. He’ll graduate with an English major with a focus in journalism and an economics minor. He’ll head home and teach summer tennis camps, work out and get ready for the Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.

His career plans: “Join the Marine Corps as an officer and stay in as long as my heart is content. Eventually though, I’d like to have a career in journalism or communications, but that might not start for a while!”

At Allegheny’s bicentennial commencement today, parents will watch their children cross the stage and collect a diploma. They’ll shout and wave and snap photos. They’ll also wonder where the time went. They can remember when their children left home for college. Now they’ll watch as they leave their college home for new adventures.

When my folks take me to the airport now, I linger by the curb. I hug my mom. I hug my dad. I don’t want to leave. My father insists on taking my luggage to the check-in counter. Usually, I’ll leave the cart and run back outside and stop my parents before they leave. One more hug. One more “I love you.”

The hardest thing about leaving is letting go.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/outside-the-box-the-hardest-thing-about-leaving-is-letting/article_86b87cd4-f511-11e4-adf0-270d6b767289.html

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Happy to be embraced in return home from Ebola-stricken Liberia

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Outside the Box, by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

When we arrive at the entrance gate to Barclay Training Center, I reach out my hand to the soldier who greets us.

Oh no. Don’t give me no Ebola, he says.

I’m in Monrovia, Liberia, and touching of any kind is not allowed. The usual friendly gestures of hugs and handshakes are strictly forbidden in this West African nation that has been in the grip of an Ebola outbreak for months.

I chose to spend my winter break working rather than resting. I turned in grades then flew to Texas to break the news to my parents that I’d be leaving for Liberia on December 29.

I traveled with writer Brian Castner. We’d met at the Combat Paper: Words Made Flesh conference at Allegheny, where he’d spoken last September. I’d been raised in the Army and Brian had served in the Air Force as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal officer in Iraq. Brian proposed that we cover the actions of the 101st Airborne, whose soldiers had fought insurgents in Iraq. The president had now tasked them with fighting a virus.

The virus is transmitted between humans by direct contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “When an infection occurs in humans, the virus can be spread to others through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola.”

The Army’s mission was to build Ebola Treatment Units and train healthcare workers. They would have no contact with Ebola patients. In Monrovia, they were confined to a walled compound where they would wander to one gate, called Redemption Gate, and look at the ocean. Redemption references the beach slightly north of the soldiers’ view. In 1980, Samuel Doe claimed power in a coup and had the previous government’s ministers executed on the beach.

As one soldier gazed west to the horizon and a faraway home, he called the ocean view a slice of heaven.

It was a look-but-don’t-touch lifestyle.

Earlier that day, Brian and I had gone to West Point, which Brian described as a shantytown. It sits on a .15-square-mile peninsula with 80,000 residents, the majority children. In August, when Ebola was rampant, the government placed West Point under quarantine and enforced it with police and barbed wire.

As we walked the beach, our host kept reminding us to watch our step. Feces. Feces.

The U.S. soldiers haven’t been to West Point.

As I photographed, children swarmed around me. They pressed in close for a view of me and pressed into my camera’s viewfinder.

I’ve been in such situations many times. In the past, I would have worried about theft or assault or an ambush. This time I worried about sweat: the children who grabbed my sweaty arms with their sweaty hands. I became acutely aware of unconscious habits, such as rubbing my eyes as I wiped sweat from my brow.

Brian noted that Ebola was a new type of threat for him, too. With a bomb, he’d know his fate instantly: the bomb blew or it didn’t. With Ebola, it can take up to 21 days to manifest symptoms of the disease after exposure to the virus. It’s a silent bomb.

I’d notified the Student Health Center of my travel plans before I left and again when I returned. A fellow photojournalist warned me to be prepared for a frosty reception. Even close friends steer clear when you return, he told me.

Upon arrival in the U.S., I began my 21-day self-monitoring protocol. The women at the Pennsylvania Department of Health are on the ball. Someone calls me each morning to get my twice-daily temperature readings. She inquires if I have any symptoms. No fever. No symptoms.

I had decided I would continue the precautions and practices Brian and I had exercised in Liberia. No contact. Smiles and waves only. Or tapping elbows instead of hugs and high-fives.

My friend, a fellow journalist, who’d lived and worked in West Africa, met me at the airport. He is tall with a deep voice made for radio. Welcome home, he said, and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, tucking me in close. I chafed, briefly. It was a shock to be embraced. It was also the best welcome home. I spent the weekend with my friends. We shared meals and they listened to my stories. I realized how blessed I am to have friends who will always embrace me.

When I returned to Allegheny, a student spotted me and came running across the Campus Center lobby. Professor Hatch. I didn’t have time to put up my arms. She ran right into me and wrapped me an exuberant hug.

When I heard you were in Africa, I was afraid you weren’t coming back. If you weren’t coming back, I wasn’t coming back.

She smiled and questions poured out of her. I smiled. Happy for the hug and the stream of questions.

She’s a journalist, all right.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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On Thanksgiving day and each day, I honor all my relations

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2014

 

Thank you.

These are the first words I form when I wake. Sometimes softly, in my mind before I open my eyes. Sometimes out loud, before I roll out of bed and plant my feet on the floor.

Thank you. For another day of life. For the breath that fills my lungs.

Granted, as I start my day, I don’t always remember to say thank you, silently or aloud. Sometimes I remember when I’m washing my face.

Thank you.

For the roof over my head. For heat on a cold night. For running water. For the food in my refrigerator.

Or, I remember as I dash to dress for class.

Thank you.

For my job. For the privilege of sharing my knowledge and experience with a new generation of bright, shiny young people, earnest, restless, wise and naïve.

In our last class before the Thanksgiving break, I asked the students to stand in silence and reflect on what they were thankful for. When they opened their eyes, they shared their thoughts. Thank you. For friends and family, for their love and support.

I said I was thankful for our class and my friends and family, though time zones and oceans separate me from those I hold dear. My parents are still here, having weathered health crises that threatened to tear them from us.

Thank you.

For my ancestors. This Thanksgiving break, I’ll visit their graves and leave flowers, new American flags, seashells and chimes. They dreamed for us—college educations and happy lives. I especially celebrate my matriarchal line and my great grandmother. Widowed, she ran the family farm and raised her nine children. Born after the Civil War, she was ahead of her time. She insisted her six daughters got training to work, so they could support themselves. A suffragette, she blazed a trail for all women who followed.

I am thankful because I have spent time in dark places. Events I’ve witnessed and the suffering I’ve photographed seared my heart and scarred my soul. I remember the dark times. In my mind’s eye, I hung over an abyss, clinging to the wall and life by the very tips of a few fingernails. Every piece of my being pleaded with me. Let go, Cheryl. You’ve had a good life. Let go. You’re tired. It’s too hard to stay the course. It would be so easy to let go.

Except for the small, tiny, persistent voice that whispered “Hold on.” You don’t want to leave your niece and nephew. You want to watch their lives unfold. Hold on. You don’t want to leave this wide world. There is beauty here, even as you dangle above the void.

As a photographer, I know well the beauty of the shadow and light. I also understand the importance of where I place my focus. If I focus in one direction, things may look bleak: I don’t have a job lined up after my third year at Allegheny College. If I shift my attention slightly, I see things in a different light. I have a job now and the possibility of new adventures—and that’s where I place my focus.

If I look in the mirror, I reminded that I’m overweight. I’m forced to face the extra pounds I carry every time I put on a swimsuit or dress for class. Most of the clothes in my closet are two or three sizes too small. They wait to dress a version of my self that I miss and despair I will never recover.

I shift my focus. I’m alive and I’m healthy. With some effort and commitment, I’ll resurrect the athlete I’ve buried and strengthen my core, my muscles and my resolve.

I choose each day to say thank you for the things I have. I don’t spend too much time lamenting what I don’t have or might have lost. I think of the strong women in my life and lineage: my mother, my grandmothers and my great grandmother.

Thank you. For your strength. Your inspiration. Your courage. Thank you for the sense of wonder and lust for adventure that pulses in our shared blood.

In bed at night, before I fall asleep, I again say thank you. For the glorious, precious gifts of the day and this life. For my friends and family. For the beauty of our Mother Earth and all that share the land, ocean and sky.

Mitakuye oyasin. All my relations.

To the Lakota Nation, this is a prayer, an invitation to remember that everything, all life, is interconnected and sacred.

On Thanksgiving Day and each day, I remember all my relations.

Thank you.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/columns/on-thanksgiving-day-and-each-day-i-remember-all-my/article_e41466d2-79dc-11e4-a88a-436a4ed80418.html

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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A seat at the table

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/x493485708/Getting-a-seat-at-the-table-takes-a-strong-jaw-and-spirit

When I graduated from college, I had no job. I was told to get an unpaid internship to build my portfolio.

Even then, I balked. I didn’t like the idea of working for no money; however, I relented and found a gig at the local daily newspaper.

A calendar with a bikini-clad woman straddling a motorcycle greeted me in the darkroom.

It was the worst version of a Cinderella story. The two male staff photographers envisioned my job as a step-and-fetch, answer-the-phone, do-what-we-don’t-want-to-do internship. Instead of mentorship, they offered me their disdain and the dregs of the assignments. I poured my energy and enthusiasm into each one, assuming I had to prove myself.

One day, a presidential candidate was passing through town and everyone on staff was covering his visit and speech. I was thrilled. I had no hope of getting a plum assignment or photo position; however, I knew I’d get a shot at photographing a major news event. I’d get to go to the party. After all, I’d paid my dues.

The photo editor assigned me to the newsroom, to answer phones, file negatives and cover any other news that might come up.

What? There is no other news.

Then and there I realized the editor and his sidekick were not interested in offering me learning opportunities. I went to the managing editor. Of course you can cover it, he said.

I covered the event and left the unpaid internship.

I hopped on a plane to Cairo. I figured if I had to make no money I’d rather be where I was doing what I wanted to do.

Out of the frying pan. Into the fire.

Egypt—then and now—is not an easy place for women, especially for a single, foreign woman. Photojournalism—then and perhaps less now—is a male-dominated profession in the U.S. and Egypt.

I first landed a job at a monthly English language magazine. As an independent photojournalist, I also got regular assignments from the wire services, Reuters and the Associated Press. Later I photographed assignments in the Middle East and Africa for photo agencies in Paris and Milan.

On one occasion, I went to the presidential palace for a press conference. I arrived an hour early to get a position. There was only one other woman in the press corps that day. Just before the conference started, an Egyptian TV cameraman walked in and set up his tripod and camera directly in front of me.

Naturally, as a woman, I was invisible to him and had no place there.

I knew it was risky and ill advised to challenge him; however, I needed that camera position to do my job. There was a heated discussion among the journalists and a scene. He eventually shifted his position.

A few weeks later, I was back at the presidential palace to cover an event with a visiting delegation of United States congressmen. The press scrum had tripled and included U.S. traveling press from major TV networks and newspapers.

The same Egyptian TV cameraman set up his gear directly behind me. Each time I raised my camera to shoot, he pushed me, jarring my arm and ruining the photograph. I decided to escape his retaliation and move. As I left, I shoved him so he would give me room to shift position. He turned and punched me in the face.

I did what I learned in Egypt. I made a scene. A woman from CBS said she’d file an official complaint. A melee ensued. The congressmen looked confused as the security guards rushed them from the scene and swarmed the journalists to pull our presidential credentials.

I quickly tucked my presidential press pass inside my shirt and covered it with my hands when the guards tried to strip it from me. I pointed to the cameraman. Strip his credential. He punched me in the face. He lost his credential. I kept mine.

If I sound like I was tough, I wasn’t, truly. I took a lot of punches—literally and figuratively—in my career. I’d get the wind knocked out of me and I’d get back up.

As an Army brat, my father raised me with stern instructions not to rock the boat or talk back. And definitely not to challenge authority.

I told my father years later that it was crippling advice for a woman in a man’s world.

This semester, I’ve been mentoring a student who wants to be a sports reporter. I arrived at a basketball game one evening and discovered a row of men seated at the long bench that serves as the press table. There was no place for the young woman reporter.

I asked the men for a seat for her. Most ignored me. A few glanced in my direction. A couple shrugged and turned their backs to me. They didn’t make room for her.

I climbed up the bleachers and found the director of sports information.

At first, the men found a seat on the cement stairs next to the press table.

No. A seat at the table, I insisted.

The next game I arrived and found a large paper with the reporter’s name and publication taped to the press table. She had an official, reserved spot.

I showed her the paper and made a photograph of it. You have a seat at the table, I said. Literally and metaphorically. This is important. Remember this.

No one is going to give you anything. You have to ask for it. Then you demand it. Then you take it and own it. You have every right to have a seat at the table.

This week I am proud to announce the inaugural Allegheny College internship at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A woman and non-traditional student will be a features reporter for 10 weeks this summer. She’ll have an accomplished staff journalist as a mentor.

And she’ll be paid for her time and talent.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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