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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

NJF Presents Middlebury’s Untold Stories

NJF Poster showcases each interviewee
NJF Poster showcases each interviewee

Middlebury’s 2022-2023 Narrative Journalism Fellowship (NJF) hosted a gallery-style listening event open to the Middlebury community in Axinn on May 4. The four Middlebury student fellows — William Reed ’23.5, Mira Irfan ’23.5, Kate Sadoff ’23.5 and Katherine Michaelson ’25 — conducted interviews with three to four Middlebury students each to produce short podcast profiles answering the project’s central question, “How did you get here?” Guided by English Department Scholar-in-Residence Sue Halpern, the fellows produced 14 final pieces in collaboration with Middlebury Magazine to capture a snapshot of the Middlebury student body.

This year’s question has been the central focus of the NJF podcast since the fellowship’s creation 11 years ago. When discussing the early ideas behind the project, Halpern was struck by the diversity of backgrounds amongst students who were interviewed. “I mean you have one student from Jordan, another from Texas, and so on,” Halpern said. 

Halpern also noted that the diversity of thought and origin that she perceived at an event on campus was in stark contrast to the stereotype — or perhaps misconception, as the NJF podcasts reveal — that Middlebury’s community is homogenous. NJF projects aim to highlight the diversity of experience that exists on campus and reveal stories, complexities and backgrounds that can only be uncovered by asking questions of Middlebury students. Halpern described how this experience provided the fellows with insight into journalism and experience in the field.

“It’s so great to work with these students because their skills [in interviewing, editing, and podcast composition] improve so much throughout the fellowship,” Halpern noted. 

Rowan Heffelfinger ’24, one of the interviewees, told Sadoff part of her life story for the project. “I spoke a lot about my childhood growing up overseas,” Heffelfinger said. “How I got here, to Middlebury, wasn’t really a straight line at all. It was cool to tell that story to someone, to talk about things other than ‘why did you live there?’ — what I usually get asked.”

Michaelson had no prior experience in journalism but described the experience as “great,” particularly for the skills she gained in audio editing and interview techniques. She expressed excitement about telling peoples’ stories who would not get that opportunity otherwise.

Reed, who created four pieces this year, noted a similar appreciation for the personal narratives shared through podcasting. “I think hearing stories about our peers, and honestly just listening to stories in general, is such an important way to engage with one another as members of a community and in life generally. We don’t always get the opportunity to do so, so NJF is a cool way to facilitate that type of engagement,” Reed said.

At its core, NJF is an audio journalism fellowship aimed at exposing students to the world of audio storytelling and investigation. But the lessons learned by these fellows and those who listen to their work go beyond the technical skills of journalism. 

Irfan and Sadoff were both struck by the diversity and depth of experience of the students on campus. “There is so much beneath the surface that you don’t get or wouldn’t even expect when you pass someone on campus,” Sadoff said. 

Cameron Truman-Wyss ’23.5 attended the listening event because it gave students the opportunity to learn more about their peers’ lives before Middlebury. “I knew that Middlebury had crazy, talented, and interesting people, but you don’t really hear about that. You just talk to them at face value,” Truman-Wyss said.

While they are far from an exhaustive representation of all that the Middlebury community has to offer, these podcasts do more than just recount the biographies of individual students. NJF gives time to appreciate the depth and breadth of lived experiences that make up the college experience, and the final pieces push listeners to think more critically about the ways in which they know, understand and relate to one another on campus.

This year’s NJF podcasts and its archive can be found on the Middlebury Magazine website

Editor’s note: William Reed ’23.5 and Kate Sadoff ’23.5 are layout editors for The Campus.