ITHACA, New York – The racially driven protests at Ithaca College this fall have rocked the upstate New York campus like few other events in the school's 123-year history. For many student journalists, covering a conflict that has made national headlines would be a dream.
But for Kira Maddox, the college newspaper’s editor-in-chief, leading the coverage has come with mixed feelings.
As a biracial woman, she empathizes with student protestors of color. As a journalist, she's charged with getting all sides of the story right.
As she and her staff have balanced coverage of both sides of the debate — every day online and every week in print — Maddox also has to grapple with her own identity.
The student-led protest at Ithaca is, in many ways, about inclusion and being accepted; feeling like you belong instead of feeling like you’re out of place – emotions Maddox knows all too well.
Growing up outside of Utica, New York, with her father, who was black, and her mother, who is white, Maddox was one of two mixed race students in her class.
“They would call me ‘caramel’ or ‘milk chocolate,’ stuff that I never really understood when I was younger,” she said. “But I was like, ‘How come no one else gets called caramel macchiato? Why can’t I be like everyone else?’”
It was her father who helped inspire Maddox to be a journalist. She remembers sitting with him in their living room as he watched the television after 9/11.
“He was the only person on the opposite side of things,” Maddox said of her father, who died when she was 12. “He would remember what people said on the news and if the story changed he would … bring it up and say, ‘That’s not what they said two days ago.’”
Those experiences make her empathize with the student protestors of color. It’s also made getting the story right especially important to Maddox. But getting to the truth and covering the protests hasn’t been easy.
“There are some people who don’t want to comment, and that’s been true both sides of the coin, both with the students who are leading the protests and somewhat with the administration as well,” she said.
She was the first to get an interview, though, when college president Tom Rochon decided to break his silence after the calls for his resignation began reverberating across campus — a big “get,” in journalist speak.
As the movement on campus continues, Maddox is constantly re-evaluating the paper’s coverage with her staff— how to word stories, when to use “racially charged” versus “racist,” or when to use “alleged” versus saying something outright.
“We have those conversations a lot about making sure that we’re not being judge, jury and executioner,” she said.
That’s where her views on the protestors, and how to cover those who may not support them, come together.
“I think that everyone has a right to feel respected and heard,” she said. “So if people aren’t, [on] any scale, from a small thing to a large issue, then I feel like that’s something that should be looked into and addressed.”