Statement on Global Eyewitness

In November, 2020, I was contacted by a group of College of Journalism and Mass Communications alums to discuss the Global Eyewitness program, an endowed program providing UNL CoJMC students interested in photojournalism, multimedia and writing the opportunity to travel internationally and develop compelling stories. In the meeting that followed, alums expressed their frustration over the stagnation of the program they felt had remained virtually unchanged over the years despite societal changes and expectations. It was clear to me that these former Global Eyewitness students cared deeply about the program. They also felt deeply hurt by the College’s lack of attention to the concerns they and others had expressed about the program over the years.

The alums shared their own experiences as well as comments and feedback from other former Global Eyewitness students. Many felt they benefited personally from their participation in the program, including building lasting relationships with contacts around the world, enhanced professional portfolios and job opportunities and even awards won with work produced through the program. They also outlined issues with the program and the faculty, including unrealistic expectations to produce a piece worthy of a Hearst Journalism Award in three weeks, a lack of integration of the program in the journalism curriculum and pressure to tell stories related to poverty, war, domestic violence or other traumatizing events without being provided necessary support.

Concerns were also raised regarding the program’s structure. Students felt the instruction lacked an emphasis on the study abroad country’s history and culture and provided little to no attention to cross-cultural ethics, Western bias and privilege, trauma-sensitive reporting and fair treatment of local partners.

When students expressed concerns to faculty and college leadership about safety and mental distress from the experience, they felt unsupported. When they returned from the trips, no trauma informed aftercare was provided to help them deal with the mental distress, and concerns raised with college and university administrators were often left unaddressed.

Over the years, the Global Eyewitness Program has created incredible hands-on learning experiences for hundreds of students in the CoJMC. Many of those experiences were positive and inspiring. Others created lasting negative effects for alums who today feel guilt for the way they engaged in the program and anger with the CoJMC for not preparing them better and not supporting them more.

On behalf of the UNL CoJMC, I apologize to our Global Eyewitness alums. We should have done better. We will do better.

In the spring of 2021, we invited representatives from our Global Eyewitness alums, the Offices of Global Affairs and Diversity and Inclusion, affiliated faculty from across campus, and CoJMC faculty, staff and current students to serve on a task force to reform Global Eyewitness. In between task force meetings and over the summer, a working group of CoJMC faculty endeavored to overhaul the curriculum, engage campus partners and establish an assessment plan for Global Eyewitness to ensure the program continues to evolve along with societal and ethical journalistic expectations.

In addition to the technical hands-on training with DSLR cameras, audio equipment, Adobe Premiere Pro and Bridge, Global Eyewitness students will now learn how to report about and for other cultures. They will be taught how to use critical thinking skills to gain understanding and recognize how factors — such as history, culture, traditions and political, economic and social factors — shape the country and its people. They will be trained in trauma-informed reporting and storytelling for different cultures that is racially and culturally informed. Ethical considerations of reporting abroad, empathetic reporting and photography, reframing traditional journalism narratives and how journalism can serve communities through the practice of solutions journalism will all be emphasized.

The curriculum is being revised to allow the Global Eyewitness courses to count toward CoJMC majors. All students across the CoJMC will be required to take a course on social justice, human rights and the media. Specific lessons on safety and security while traveling abroad will be included in the pre-trip class and debrief, while access to mental healthcare providers will be included in the post-trip class. Local partners will be contracted through international third-party partners, and the program will return to the same country for at least three trips. Returning to the same country will allow us to build strong partnerships with the communities we engage and share our stories with those involved.

The first pre-trip class since the creation of the Global Eyewitness Task Force is scheduled for the spring semester. Fifteen students applied for the program, which is planned for travel to Kenya. Chris Graves, the newly appointed lead faculty member of the course, has worked with Kenyan journalists as part of a U.S. State Department-sponsored solutions journalism workshop. Professor Graves will partner with Visiting Professor of Photojournalism Shoun Hill to teach the classes and travel abroad.

We still have much work to do to rebuild the Global Eyewitness program and regain the trust of our program alums. I am grateful for the courage of our engaged alums who invested significant time and experienced renewed heartache and distress to demand changes of our college. We are making changes, and we expect you to continue to hold us accountable. We want you to be as proud to call us your alma mater as we are to call you an alum.

Shari R. Veil, Dean

Global Eyewitness Task Force Members:

John Bender, CoJMC Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs

Dawn Curry, Associate Professor of History and Ethnic Studies

Lory Dance, Associate Professor of Sociology and Ethnic Studies

Andrew Dickinson, CoJMC and Global Eyewitness Alum

Nkenge Friday, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives in Diversity and Inclusion

Andrea Gaghagen, CoJMC Assistant Director of Advising

Dulce Garcia, CoJMC Student

Chris Graves, Assistant Professor of Journalism

Haley Hamel, CoJMC Director of Business & Operations

Michelle Hassler, Associate Professor of Practice in Journalism

Celine Haynes, CoJMC and Global Eyewitness Alum

Shoun Hill, Visiting Professor of Photojournalism

Drake Keeler, CoJMC Student

Mara Klecker, CoJMC and Global Eyewitness Alum

Dave Long, Global Safety & Security Director

Jared Long, CoJMC Student

Maggie McCabe, CoJMC Student

Marnie Nelson, Associate Director of Education Abroad

Gabriella Parsons, CoJMC and Global Eyewitness Alum

Luis Peon-Casanova, Assistant Professor of Practice in Broadcasting

Anna Reed, CoJMC and Global Eyewitness Alum

Natalie Saenz, CoJMC Student

Brianna Soukup, CoJMC and Global Eyewitness Alum

Morgan Speihs, CoJMC and Global Eyewitness Alum

Bruce Thorson, Associate Professor of Journalism

Isabel Valazquez, Associate Professor and Graduate Chair of Spanish

Shari Veil, CoJMC Dean

Adam Wagler, CoJMC Associate Dean for Academic Programs

CoJMC Faculty Working Group Members:

Chris Graves, Assistant Professor of Journalism

Michelle Hassler, Associate Professor of Practice in Journalism

Shoun Hill, Visiting Professor of Photojournalism

Luis Peon-Casanova, Assistant Professor of Practice in Broadcasting

Bruce Thorson, Associate Professor of Journalism

Adam Wagler, CoJMC Associate Dean for Academic Programs