“We had so many people reach out and say they appreciated the article, and a lot of others requested that we put an English version of the story onto our website. It’s eye-opening for a lot of people who wished they could read the Spanish article. It gives them a chance to see how language barriers affect communities, and I think that’s a big part of working towards inclusivity.”
- NIXSON BENITEZ
Tucked away in the basement of Maucker Union, in The Northern Iowan newsroom, a team of students are writing a new chapter in the history of UNI’s on-campus newspaper — and forging a more inclusive future.
For the first time ever, stories are being reported in Spanish, thanks to a new column of the newspaper called The Northern Iowan en Español.
“This work is about building a more inclusive community and empowering Spanish-speakers to have their own space on campus,” said Nixson Benitez, a junior digital journalism major and executive editor of The Northern Iowan.
After joining The Northern Iowan as a staff writer last spring, Benitez immediately pitched the idea of a Spanish language column in the newspaper.
“When I first came to UNI, to a predominantly white institution, I knew I wanted to find a way to serve my community as a Central American and a Spanish-speaker,” he said. “Service looks different for everyone, and this is the way it came about for me. I wanted to provide an outlet for Spanish-speaking students, and their families, to stay informed and feel connected. Now, they can feel welcomed in their own language and feel like they have a place here.”
Then-news editor Elizabeth Kelsey, a TESOL/Spanish double major, helped Benitez get The Northern Iowan en Español off the ground.
“I was really excited when Nixson approached me about this,” Kelsey said. “For me, as someone who’s so involved in the Spanish language and the newspaper, this idea never occurred to me. That was a wake up call for me, when I realized we needed to be serving this community better. It’s also been a great chance to merge my love for Spanish and journalism into an experience that’s taken my learning beyond the classroom — where we’re able to make a tangible impact on the community.”
Initially, Benitez and Kelsey worked to translate existing articles from English into Spanish, with assistance from Spanish professors. But eventually, Benitez published his first original story in Spanish, and The Northern Iowan en Español took off.
“It really just exploded after that,” Benitez said. “We had so many people reach out and say they appreciated the article, and a lot of others requested that we put an English version of the story onto our website. It’s eye-opening for a lot of people who wished they could read the Spanish article. It gives them a chance to see how language barriers affect communities, and I think that’s a big part of working towards inclusivity.”
Since then, The Northern Iowan en Español has continued to grow its presence on campus, and in his new position as executive editor of the newspaper, Benitez is working to hire a dedicated Spanish editor and more Spanish writers.
“I definitely want to continue to grow this, and build on the success we’ve had so far,” he said. “And if someone wants to report in another language, like French, we encourage that, too. We want to give everyone a space to share their story.”
Christopher Martin, ‘03, faculty advisor for the student newspaper, says this is just one way the university is working towards inclusivity, by empowering students to make their voices heard.
“Nixson has done a great job reaching out to Spanish language students at UNI, and it’s been a really cool thing to be a part of,” he said. “I think it says something about where we are as a university — a place that welcomes multilingual students and provides opportunities to amplify their voices. This is a place where we’re working towards inclusivity on a number of levels. I’m excited to see where it goes.”
Looking forward, Benitez hopes the work being done at The Northern Iowan en Español will encourage others to create change in their own way.
“In five years, I think this will speak volumes to the standards we’ve set up in the newsroom, and the way we want to communicate with people,” he said. “Beyond that, I feel like I’ve made my own place on campus. Now, I want to pay it forward, and empower others to do the same thing.” UNI