By Franco LaTona
Cronkite student journalists teamed up with two Arizona Republic reporters last summer to produce a series of stories about COVID-19’s outsized toll on some of the Southwest’s most vulnerable communities, including Native Americans, immigrants and refugees.
The series — intended to raise public awareness about the issue — is archived in “A Journal Of The Plague Year,” a curatorial collaborative initiated by ASU’s School of Historical, Philosophical, and Religious Studies, and is part of a larger initiative called the ASU/Luce COVID-19 Rapid Relief project. The New York-based Henry Luce Foundation funded the program and partnered with the ASU Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict to deliver COVID-19 relief services and resources to underserved Arizona communities. Two ASU professors, John Carlson and Tracy Fessenden, oversaw the program’s implementation.
Cronkite students produced a wide range of content covering a variety of populations in Arizona.
Jessica Myers, a Cronkite student journalist and fellow who worked on the project, profiled local farmworkers, specifically a woman who worked for a nut and dried fruit producer where she and 86 other workers contracted COVID-19 by early July.
Another story, written by student fellow Katelyn Keenehan, highlighted the efforts of Arizona lawyers to persuade judges to impose stricter sanitary measures in state prisons where 569 inmates were infected with COVID-19 by July 15.
In addition to these in-depth stories chronicling how coronavirus impacted residents in the Southwest, Sarandon Raboin, also a Cronkite student and fellow on the project, produced a video for the nonprofit Local First Arizona. The video highlights the organization’s efforts to create a $600,000 relief fund for small businesses and then provide individual grants of $2,500 to struggling local enterprises.
“I was really moved by the stories of so many hardworking people in this state,” Raboin said. “Since rural communities are often left out of media coverage, I hope I was able to shed some light on their unique challenges and ultimately have a positive impact.”
Cronkite alumni and current Arizona Republic reporters Maria Polletta and Rafael Carranza led the reporting team of student journalists. Polletta said the students handled the project with the utmost professionalism.
“I’m so proud of our fellows’ efforts to connect with people from marginalized communities,” she said. “They handled each and every step of the process with sensitivity and care, thoughtfulness and dedication.”
The grants funded 13 different local organizations helping unique causes in the state.
The International Rescue Committee of Phoenix received a grant from the program to help migrants, asylum seekers and refugees pay rent and utilities. The White Mountain Apache Tribe obtained funds to help with food box delivery, personal protective equipment and toys for children on the reservation. And the Pascua Yaqui Tribe Charitable Organization used its grant money to purchase freezers for a food pantry distribution center.
In addition to grant funding for local organizations, students and journalists were selected for the program who had lost employment and wages due to the pandemic. Maria Polletta and Rafael Carranza, the editors on the project, at the time were each furloughed one week per month without pay.
Here is the full list of student reporters: Vandana Ravikumar, Sarandon Raboin, Jessica Myers, Katelyn Keenehan, Mckenzie Allen-Charmley. Erin Craft, an ASU student at the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies, built the project website.