The following feature appears in the Fall 2016 issue of Medley Magazine.
White walls pinned with proofs and past articles closed in as tensions rose; the blare of laptop screens reflected onto widening eyes heavy with fatigue; and hands reached up for hair to grip in frustration. Welcome to a newsroom deep in the bowels of election night. It was 2:46 a.m. and Caroline Colvin, editorial editor at The Daily Orange, had been sitting in the room since 8:30 p.m. Morale was plummeting around her, but she didn’t — couldn’t — care yet. She was not just a Clinton supporter right now, but an editor with word counts to meet.
Only when she caught a ride home an hour later could she breathe long enough to let the disappointment roll in. Now, Colvin sits in disbelief with her head in her hands processing what this means, both as a journalist and as a queer woman of color. “I was coming at it as a DO editor. It didn’t settle for me until I saw tears,” she says. “For me it’s that we had one of the most qualified people who had the experience of working in a male-dominated field and who has always been feminism™. But she still couldn’t break the glass.”
In the early morning on Nov. 9, Donald Trump swept 290 electoral votes out from under Hillary Clinton. Though most coverage since has focused on protests against Trump from liberals, women, immigrants, people of color and members of the LGBT community, concerns remain regarding what Trump’s presidency means for media. The President-elect’s past attacks on the press and on liberal-leaning news outlets have many journalists like Colvin, a junior magazine major, worrying about the future of the free press and politics. “We need to uphold free speech. So many people admire Trump for how he speaks his mind — we should be afforded the same opportunity,” she says. “If someone as vulgar as Trump can be elected, you better not tell me I can’t speak out against injustice.”
While Colvin prepared the Opinion page for election night for weeks, she spent her free time engaged in politically charged phone calls with her girlfriend Genna Williams, a canvasser for Clinton’s Florida campaign.
On Wednesday, between drops of prewrites and language changes in Trump-related articles from “won’t be’s” to “might be’s” to “will be’s,” Colvin live-texted Williams about her resolve to participate in social justice conversations as a career. “This solidified my interest in political journalism,” Colvin says. “I’m compelled to speak up because clearly half of y’all don’t get it — there’s over 270 electoral votes for people who don’t grasp basic human rights.”
Colvin has always had a clear interest in writing. Starting at age two, her mom put together makeshift bound books of printer paper for Colvin to scribble in. In grade school she won a Harry Potter contest with an essay she wrote in the car and slipped under the door of the local bookstore after closing time. Soon, she’d graduate to writing supernatural fiction and cutting up collages from Nylon and her favorite hip-hop or alt-punk music magazines. She didn’t find a voice for social justice, however, until her senior year at Bishop England High School.
Surrounded by mostly white students and a Catholic school rhetoric that discouraged same-sex marriage and bi-curiosity, Colvin sought solace in tumblr and feminist-centric blogs online. When she got to Syracuse in 2014, she was finally able to fully explore her identity and given the tools express it. What started as a post about Trans Day of Visibility became “Brown Girls Only,” an online forum dedicated to pushing back against systems of privilege and creating a safe space for queer women of color. Colvin’s mom, Dr. Cindy Colvin, watched her writing grow from waxy Crayola circles to narratives about National Coming Out Day. “She writes with a lot of strength. She’s not meek at all and I’ve never seen her like that,” Dr. Colvin says. “I know some people think writing is safe, but her voice is powerful. It needs to be out there.”
“I’m compelled to speak up because clearly half of y’all don’t get it — there’s over 270 electoral votes for people who don’t grasp basic human rights.”
Colvin, who came out as bisexual to her mom two summers ago, feels coming out is different for people of color and cultural backgrounds often clash with being LGBT, ideas that compelled her to start BGO two years ago. Now she’s in her first same-sex relationship with Williams, and her blog still directly addresses issues facing underrepresented females that Williams says Colvin deals with daily. “What Caroline writes about is a lot of who she is and who she surrounds herself with,” Williams says. “She really likes to study the intersection between being queer, being a woman and being a person of color all together.”
In light of the election and its implication on minorities and free speech, Colvin is determined to get contributors for her blog and amplify more voices than her own. Still, for Colvin’s best friend Sam Mozden, one voice was enough to open her eyes to the importance of voting, feminism and the struggles of women of color. “After reading her pieces, I found a passion for things I didn’t know about,” Mozden says. “She’s taught me a lot.”
This education is something Colvin strives to continue, now through narratives rooted in public policy. For Colvin, the media is in danger of being too normative, whitewashed and censored. It’s more important for her than ever to create safe spaces and forums of expression. Journalists, she says, need to educate the ignorant on identity and social issues.“A lot of it is life experience and exposure and if you don’t have that, or if you have exposure with a prejudiced lens, then there’s a lot you don’t see,” she says. “I think change takes people recognizing privilege and understanding there’s more to think about than what we can see on the surface.”
On the surface on election night, Colvin was an anxious editor trying to meet deadline. But underneath it all she was worried about her own rights and resolved to use her words to protect them.
written by Danielle LaRose