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Cronkite students win third RFK award in 4 years

May 14, 2012

For the third time in four years, students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication have won the prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award.

Their project, “Stateless in the Dominican Republic,” about immigration and border issues in the Dominican Republic, won in the college category.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights also announced the 2012 winners in eight professional categories. They include the Los Angeles Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the South Florida Sun Sentinel and NPR.

Students will receive the award at a ceremony at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., on May 24. Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, will present the award as well as a $500 prize and a bust of the late senator and U.S. attorney general created by sculptor Robert Berks.

The RFK Journalism Awards program honors outstanding reporting on issues that reflect Kennedy's concerns, including human rights, social justice and the power of individual action in the United States and around the world. The winning entries are selected by a panel of 40 judges in several rounds.

“Stateless in the Dominican Republic” was the work of 17 students in the Cronkite School’s depth reporting class last year. The students spent the first part of the class researching story topics, then traveled to the Dominican Republic for a 10-day reporting trip over spring break. Rick Rodriguez, Cronkite’s Carnegie Professor of Journalism and Southwest Borderlands Initiative Professor, and Jason Manning, ASU’s director of student media, taught the class and accompanied students on the trip.

The students used in-depth reports, photographs and video to create a rich multimedia website that explores the impact of the abolition of birthright citizenship on those of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic. It includes a 30-minute video that documents the students’ experiences.

"This was a major test for the students, and they passed with flying colors,” Rodriguez said. “Most knew very little about the Dominican Republic at the start of the semester. After digging into their subjects, they had to find the right sources and set up their interviews and photographs as well as report the story in multiple languages. This project involved great teamwork and was a professional-level experience with professional-level results."

Cronkite students who contributed to the project were Joshua Armstrong, Serena Del Mundo, Michel Duarte, Lauren Gilger, Carie Gladding, Joanne Ingram, Bastien Inzaurralde, Lindsay Erin Lough, Tarryn Mento, Nick Newman, Nathan O’Neal, Whitney Phillips, Brandon Quester, Cristina Rayas, Lisa Ruhl, Stephanie Snyder and Dustin Volz.

"It is a tremendous honor to have been a part of this project and to now have our names associated with such an iconic champion for social justice,” said Volz, who recently graduated from the Cronkite School and is the recipient of a Fulbright fellowship to teach English in Indonesia. “I grew up idolizing Robert F. Kennedy for his commitment to helping the poor and the voiceless.” 

Lauren Gilger, now an investigative producer for KNXV-TV, Phoenix’s ABC affiliate, added, “This was an experience that really affected all of us. I’m happy that we’re being recognized for this kind of reporting because these are the kinds of stories that need to be told and that no one else would have told.”

The project was part of the Cronkite School’s Southwest Borderlands Initiative, whose aim is to teach students how to report on Latino communities and border issues in the U.S. and around the world. Two previous Southwest Borderlands Initiative projects have won RFK Awards, including “Crossing Lines” (2010), a multimedia report by Cronkite student David Kempa about a man’s mission to help impoverished Mexican farmers, and “Divided Families” (2009), which documented the effects on families separated by the U.S.-Mexico border.

The projects were all supported by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, an Illinois-based nonprofit organization founded by the international photojournalist, author, environmentalist and philanthropist. Since 2006, Buffett’s foundation has funded multiple photojournalism and reporting projects that have given Cronkite students the opportunity to practice journalism in other countries.

The Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards program was founded by a group of journalists covering Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign and has grown to become the largest program of its kind in the world.