National Association of Hispanic Journalists makes Arkansas debut

Alli Flynt, The Arkansas Traveler

The smell of tacos and the sound of Selena Quintanilla’s voice filled Kimpel Hall on the day of the University of Arkansas National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) chapter’s first meeting. At the meeting, a number of highly decorated Hispanic reporters and journalism students shared similar stories and perspectives, said Vice President Rachell Sanchez-Smith.

The UofA chapter of NAHJ is the first of its kind in the state of Arkansas, despite the state’s large Hispanic population, Chapter President Lauren Burgess said. The organization’s goal is to provide resources and support to Hispanic journalism students. 

Burgess said she developed a relationship with her journalism professor Ninnette Sosa. Sosa noticed her work in class and that she was Latina, so she approached her about working together to start the chapter.

“(Sosa) saw the lack of resources and support in the journalism program for Hispanic journalists,” Burgess said, “so we knew that this was something we definitely wanted to implement at the University of Arkansas, and I think it’s really cool that we’re the first to do it, too.”

Sosa said getting the chapter started took her almost two years because she not only had to organize the registered student organization but also get the national organization to approve it. She said she wanted to form this club to provide a space for Hispanic journalists to feel welcomed and share their cultures with each other. 

“It is a chance for Hispanic journalists to come together and have a little bit more of a level playing field,” Sosa said. 

There are 61 Hispanic students enrolled in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media, according to an enrollment report from the UA Office of Institutional Research. This number includes all Hispanic students with journalism or advertising and public relations majors, so the number of students with journalism-specific majors is even lower.

NAHJ helps Hispanic students, especially those who are first-generation immigrants or have first-generation immigrant parents who did not attend college, gain greater accessibility to resources that will help them in their higher education in journalism, Sosa said. 

Sanchez-Smith grew up in Northwest Arkansas and said she noticed a need for better representation of the NWA Hispanic population in local media. 

“The news didn’t look like my community, like my tíos, tías, the people in the poultry factories, and the other people around me,” Sanchez-Smith said, “but they did make up such a big part of the community and were the backbone of it.” 

Sanchez-Smith said she hopes NAHJ will help promote better representation of the community in local media and get more Hispanic journalists in the newsroom. NAHJ created a needed space on campus for journalism students who look like her and have a similar culture to her, she said. Sanchez-Smith also said people who are not Hispanic but want to better support journalists of color in the newsroom are welcome. 

“Latinos can find a community here,” Sanchez-Smith said. “There is a community that’s strong, and especially as DEI efforts are being downplayed across the country, I think it’s so important that we show that there is space for people of color, for Latinos, and there are people who want to welcome them into the industry and who need them to be storytellers of their own communities. We can’t do this without them.”

Sosa said NAHJ encourages Hispanic journalism students who are finishing their two-year associate’s degree at Northwest Arkansas Community College to continue studying journalism at the UofA. The historically small number of Hispanic journalism students at the UofA is a result of a lack of awareness to study the field at a four-year college. 

The club has around 12 members so far who have joined and regularly participate, Burgess said. The members are excited to be the first in the state and a part of history, and they have a new pride and sense of belonging on campus, she said. 

Sanchez-Smith said the club is planning to visit KUAF, the local radio station, and KNWA, the local news station, for tours of the facilities to make connections and ask questions. Another opportunity NAHJ members will be able to participate in is the NAHJ national conference this summer, she said.

“Those events are so, so important,” Sanchez-Smith said. “Not just to see yourself kind of reflected in an industry that primarily doesn’t look like you, but it’s also important for those networking opportunities, job opportunities and finding new news angles. That’ll be really exciting.”

Cover Photo: Lauren Burgess poses for a photo. Burgess is the President of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists at the University of Arkansas. Randi Mendolia // Staff Photographer

Publisher’s Notes: National Association of Hispanic Journalists makes Arkansas debut was first published on The Arkansas Traveler, and was republished with permission.

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