Se habla español: My JSK Fellowship as a Spanish-speaking journalist

How to make the most of Stanford University resources as a fellow from Ibero-America

El Centro Chicano/Latinx at Stanford. Photo: Barbara Maseda

In September 2017, I moved from Havana, Cuba, to California, to spend ten months at Stanford University as a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow. Since the 1960s, this fellowship has been supporting journalists from around the world, so that they can contribute and develop ideas that will help to solve the most pressing issues in our field.

With so many talented applicants competing every year for fewer than 20 spots available, it’s not uncommon to feel very fortunate to be selected — a feeling that only multiplies when you analyze your luck from a regional perspective, and realize that you come from one of the two Latin American countries represented in your class.*

Although my project focuses on a more universal type of question (better text processing solutions for journalists), it’s genetically inevitable for journalists to bring regional and national interests into the equation, so I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking of problems that are relevant (sometimes, even exclusive) to Latin America and/or Cuba.

In doing that, I have found resources that I think could be extremely useful for future fellows with similar interests, and that I want to share, all in one place, in this blog post. Some of these could also be interesting for Latinx/Hispanic students at Stanford in general:

1. Other fellows (in your cohort)

More than the saviors who will give your tired brain a most-appreciated Spanish-relaxation break after a long day of English thinking-reading-speaking, other Spanish-speaking fellows will be a wonderful sub-group to share ideas, concerns, contacts, you name it.

I am lucky to share my class with Mago Torres, who is originally from Mexico City, Mexico, and Guilherme Amado from Brazil.

Talk by Brazilian fellow Guilherme Amado

This also meant that our class has hosted representatives from Central America, South America and the Caribbean, which was very useful in terms of having access to expert views about these regions.

Additionally, you can all indulge every once in a while in criticizing the ethnic restaurants that allegedly serve food from your country :)

2. Other fellows (from previous years)

Although there are no official regional quotas in the fellowship, it’s hard to find a class that hasn’t included at least one Latinx/Hispanic journalist. You can explore the lists yourself, if you want to learn who they have been and what their projects were about.

If you want to follow their work on Twitter, I have put together a list of all the former JSK fellows who are of Latino/Hispanic origin or descent, and have Twitter accounts. Use it to follow them all with only one click!

Of course, not all of them are on Twitter — going back in time, it is harder and harder to find many of the journalists who were fellows in the 1990s and before — but this list covers at least the last 15 years.

At the time of writing, the list included 39 members

3. Centro Chicano y Latino

Located right across the Stanford Bookstore, the Centro Chicano y Latino is the best place to meet people of Hispanic origin and descent on campus. The best way to break the ice is to go to one of their Friday Cafecitos, an informal meet and greet where you can have coffee, chocolate and traditional pan dulce while networking with fellow Latino undergraduate and graduate students as well as non-Latino scholars/students with an interest in Latino research topics.

You will find all the necessary information in their website, where you can also join some of their mailing lists. I personally found the CentroGrads one (for graduate students only) very useful. This is a very active list that will keep you in the loop of all kinds of Latino-related events: from holiday celebrations to scholarly talks, to opportunities to volunteer as an interpreter in local events.

4. Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative (SLEI)

If your JSK project is naturally destined to become a start-up, this hidden jewel at the Stanford Graduate School of Business will be a great resource. Check out their website, and try to get in touch with one of their research analysts.

Since 2015, SLEI has been conducting an annual survey about the state of Latino business initiatives in the United States. The results are published in the first quarter of the year under the title State of Latino Entrepreneurship Research Report. The most recent version is always featured in their website.

Keep an eye out for their events. Don’t miss their State of Latino Entrepreneurship Conference, which is a great opportunity to hear about successful Latino-owned businesses, and to network with lots of interesting people.

5. Libraries

With nearly half a million materials (print and multimedia) in Spanish, Stanford libraries and the Hoover Archive store loads of interesting resources. Coming from a country with very limited links with the United States, I was surprised to find really rare items in their collections, such as this exclusive color film footage of Winston Churchill’s visit to Cuba in 1943. Contact library specialists to get more information about relevant items in these collections.

6. Bechtel International Center

You will probably hear about the Bechtel International Center during your JSK orientation, but make sure you benefit from their resources beyond their most obvious (and essential) services linked to your visa and international travel (if you are an international fellow/student).

In addition to culture-related courses (language and cooking courses, for instance), they hold a great series of talks about international issues, and most likely, you’ll be able to give one of these talks. A good tip in that case, is to give the talk early in the year (Fall or Winter terms) because it is a great way to let people know that you are at Stanford.

In our class of 2018, Guilherme Amado gave a talk about corruption coverage in Brazilian media; Mago Torres spoke about Mexican journalism; and I spoke about new media start-ups in Cuba.

Talk by fellow Mago Torres at the Bechtel International Center

7. Center for Latin American Studies

Stanford’s Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) maintains research projects covering many countries in the Latin American region. The center is an excellent resource for anyone working on Latin America-related issues, especially for those needing to work with state-of-the-art social science research techniques and methods applied in contexts that can be quite complex in our countries. Keep an eye out for the events that they organize on campus at Bolivar House.

8. Conferences

It is advisable to keep conference attendance to a minimum (they are time consuming, and your commitments as a fellow won’t allow for much free time away from Stanford), but if you are going to a journalism conference make sure you reach out to fellow Latin American and Spanish journalists. Use social media sites and other conference-related resources to get in touch with some of them in advance. Review conference programs and speakers to find interesting colleagues, and if possible find (or even try to organize!) an informal Latinx get-together.

9. Scholarships

Benefit from scholarships that will help you attend events sponsored by organizations interest in diversifying their participants or speakers. Particularly in San Francisco and Palo Alto, there will be many tech events that will offer scholarships to minorities. As a Latin American woman working on a project on the intersection of data analysis and journalism, I was able to secure a scholarship to attend the Open Data Science Conference in December 2017. I also used a scholarship offered by OpenNews to attend the NICAR conference in 2018.

Check out diversity scholarships, not only because it’s an option out there, but mainly because, even when you don’t think about it that way, you do have a lot to contribute to those events.

*Fellow Mago Torres is originally from Mexico, but when she applied to the JSK Fellowship, she did so as a journalist based in the United States.

Do you have any other tips that you would like to add? Do you have any suggestions for the Twitter list of fellows above? Please let me know!