Shasta Community College will continue to partner with California Humanities to build democracy through journalism education this academic year. The local college is one of eight community colleges across the state who received funding through the Democracy and the Informed Citizen Emerging Journalism Fellowship in 2021.
Rosa Yadira Contreras, who grew up in Fall River Mills, was one of Shasta College’s two journalism fellows during the 2021 spring semester. She said when her Shasta College history teacher, Chris Rodriguez, reached out to invite her to the fellowship, she was excited to be part of something that involved younger voices in the democratic process.
She was also excited to tell a deeper story. As a young person, Contreras said, she notices how many pictures she and others share on social media, but also how rarely those pictures tell the deeper stories of their real lives.
“It was such an important moment for me personally,” Contreras says, “to decide what story I wanted to tell and how I was going to tell it.” Contreras, whose mother is an agricultural worker, originally wanted to write about the experiences of that community.
Eventually she decided to tell her own story instead, writing about how Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, has impacted the lives of thousands of immigrant youth, including herself.
Contreras says after choosing her topic she waited until the weekend before the piece was due to begin writing. “Only because I was scared,” she says. “I know that sounds funny because I was writing about myself. But I was terrified to talk about my experience.”
While the actual writing of her piece went quickly, the emotions her writing brought to the surface were hard to process. Sharing the story with her sister also brought up deep feelings, she said, and she has still not shared the piece with her Spanish-speaking mom because the piece is written in English. Contreras also interviewed another student who is a fellow DACA recipient. Listening to that student cry during her interview reminded Contreras of how much of what DACA recipients experience usually remains hidden from the world.
She’s currently working as a case worker for Indian Child Welfare, a job she loves, but she says her dream is still to become a full-time journalist someday. Regardless, she says the networking and connections she made with journalists, mentors and other students during the fellowship will remain with her forever.
Jim Dyar, Shasta College Writing Center Coordinator and a former full-time journalist for twenty years says he thinks the fellowship helps build a better understanding of the role of media in the students who participate.
“I think that anyone in (the fellowship) is getting a real glimpse into the importance of journalism,” Dyar says. “How multi-faceted journalism is, it’s potential to . . .communicate something that can change people’s perspectives. Journalism really can make an impact and get something wrong changed.”
He says campus community newspapers used to be strong enough to provide that to the college community but they’ve been “decimated” in recent years. “We need these inroads back into journalism,” Dyar says, “That’s what I like about this program.
John Lightfoot, a Senior Program Officer with California Humanities, says the journalism fellowship was developed with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. That funding was designated to address the intersection between journalism and democracy and “the dire straits that journalism finds itself in,” Lightfoot says.
Chris Rodriguez, Heather Wylie and Jim Dyar serve as mentors to the journalism fellows at Shasta College.
On Sunday, Shasta Scout will publish Contreras piece on her experience as a DACA recipient growing up in Shasta County.