Writing the Story of Our Era

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- by Abby Weingarten

The day after the historic court verdict in Minnesota on April 20—when activists worldwide were reflecting on civil rights and the power of protest—New College alumna Giulia Heyward was writing about it.

The young journalist had spent the past two months compiling an in-depth piece for Politico on the impacts of sweeping anti-protest legislation nationwide (and its ramifications).

“Following the summer’s widespread racial justice protests after the killing of George Floyd, Republican lawmakers in 34 states have introduced sweeping anti-riot bills,” Heyward wrote. “Democrats and civil rights groups have spent months warning that these bills will infringe on citizens’ rights to protest, affect rates of incarceration and could be an attempt to silence Black Lives Matter and other racial justice protesters.”

Heyward’s article was timely, but it was just one of numerous stories she had written about social justice since graduating from New College in 2018—for every major outlet, from The New York Times to The Washington Monthly.

Exposing the inequities in society has always been integral to Heyward’s mission as a writer. The events of the past year have only electrified her passion.

“As a journalist, when you get to report on an issue that everybody has their eyes on, that everybody is tuned into, it makes your work feel that much more significant,” Heyward said. “With the George Floyd case, for example, it wasn’t just Minnesota or the rest of the United States that was watching. The whole world was paying attention. Police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement feel like the story of our era right now.”

That story is one Heyward has told, in her own way, her whole adult life.

Her New College thesis, for example, was entitled Black Lives Matter! The Representation of Black Activism in the Press. She spoke at the 2018 New College commencement with two of her peers (Miles Iton and Leen Al-Fatafta) in a speech about activism, stating, “We are students who leave class to get into cars to ride-share to protests. We are students who navigate conversations to advocate, not just for ourselves, but for our fellow peers…It is our peers who we have worked with, protested with and advocated for that will remain our co-conspirators for the rest of our lives.”

Heyward has strengthened her advocacy and activism ever since that speech. She is only just beginning.

In June, she will move from her hometown of Miami to New York City to work as a New York Times fellow for one year—reporting for the national desk and joining a group of 33 fellows who were chosen from more than 3,000 applicants worldwide. The highly competitive opportunity will come only a month after Heyward, a fully-funded Roy H. Park Fellow and Tom Wicker Award recipient, graduates with a master’s degree in media and communication from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (and completes a legislative internship with Politico, where she has been covering criminal justice reform in Florida).

Transitioning straight from graduate school to The New York Times fellowship, in the middle of a pandemic, feels somewhat surreal for Heyward, she said.

“With the media right now, there’s a lot of job insecurity. So, it feels like a combination of both good luck and hard work that I was able to find full-time employment post-grad,” Heyward said. “I know that’s not everybody’s story immediately after getting out of school. The fact that I was chosen out of thousands of people who applied is just wild. All of the other fellows are so impressive, and I feel super honored.”

More than “good luck and hard work,” it has been Heyward’s unstoppable work ethic that has propelled her in her career (a skill she cultivated during her New College years as editor-in-chief of the student-run newspaper, The Catalyst).

“I think New College really helped me foster this idea of constantly learning and engaging, and not being afraid to try new things (even if I won’t do as well as I think I will),” Heyward said. “Because of my experience at New College, I just really encourage students now to pursue interdisciplinary education in that way.”

Heyward took that interdisciplinary foundation with her to graduate school, where she wrote a thesis for the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media entitled A New Day for Queer People in the South: Reporting on Anti-LGBTQ Legislation in North Carolina.

She has written about bathroom bills for The Atlantic, hate crime legislation and anti-discrimination bills for The Assembly, and conversion therapy legislation for Indy Week. She recently spoke to CBS News about the prospects of police reform in the aftermath of the Derek Chavin trial.

“There’s a lot of historical relevancy to the verdict in the Chauvin trial, and that historical significance feels as if it may be a turning of the tide,” Heyward said. ‘But I still think that we really need to be paying attention to what happens in the next few months. As a journalist, the job never stops.”

It is a job that fills Heyward with a sense of purpose.

“This past year, I’ve been honored to cover a lot of legislation and public policy, and how it affects our everyday lives,” Heyward said. “I want to be writing stories that I’m passionate about—stories that will be having an impact and affect profound change in the way people live their lives.”

To learn more about Heyward, visit giuliaheyward.com/work and follow her on Twitter.

To read more about Heyward in New College News, visit ncf.edu/news/news/journalist-alumna-makes-global-impact.