getting into journalism: how one ableist comment nearly put me off my dream career
Amber Sunner wanted to be a journalist since she was 11, but after falling ill people began doubting her capabilities. It almost put her off her dream entirely.
When I was in sixth form, I visited every university I had applied to, not to scope out the student accommodation or check out the nightlife but rather to ask the important question: ‘What support would I get from this university?’
I had two strokes when I was younger which means getting into journalism is going to be a challenge for me as my voice is not necessarily as strong as the typical journalist. I am determined to make it, but I can’t without support which meant that that little question was very important to me and my dreams.
One university open day will stick with me for a long time. It was one of the top universities in the country for its journalism course and it was also the one that I had my heart set on. But I left that open day in tears on the journey home.
First, we were given a taste of the course. All the prospective students were sat in a room where we were given an introduction to the types of thing which were taught at this university. We were then split into two teams, a team for radio and a team for print. I was put in the radio team and with a voice like mine I knew I wasn’t going to hack it. So, I discreetly told the lecturer that I wanted to switch teams. This is where I got a bad feeling.
The lecturer shouted across the room to the print team leader in front of all of the students: “This girl has had a stroke and wants to switch teams.” I wanted the ground to swallow me up there and then. I understand that people have good intentions, but this was surely out of order.
We were then carted off to a room and left to our own devices with a little task before a lecture with the head of department. The course was fantastic, and I was excited to apply despite the blip earlier in the morning. These lectures with the heads of department were routine, as was the post-lecture Q&A where I would discreetly ask the lecturer what support they could offer me, which I would need with my condition.
Every lecturer I talked to had been supportive of my decision to go into journalism. Apart from this one. She point blank said: “Sorry, but you shouldn’t go into journalism if you can’t talk.” The funny thing is that I can talk. I talk a lot. It was an ableist comment that proved to be a setback and made me start questioning whether I could do the course.
I lost faith in myself and my capabilities. My family started saying “Are you sure you want to go into journalism,” which did not help the situation either. The dream I had since I was 11, before I had suffered any strokes, felt suddenly out of reach.
My auntie dragged me to my final university visit. I recall saying “I don’t want to go into journalism anymore,” but this visit made me drop that attitude fast.
It was at the University of Kent’s Centre for Journalism. I was instantly made feel welcome and reassured that my needs would be met. I got a tour of the campus and I loved it. The staff reassured me that I would get a tailored individual learning plan and that there was always staff on hand if I did suddenly feel ill. This was the best reassurance I needed.
When the offers came in, the university whose lecturer said I wouldn’t be able to make it in journalism gave me a reduced offer, which I declined. Kent became my firm choice, and my dream. I made it there in 2018 and two years on I have met incredible people, made lifelong friends and had endless opportunities. We’re like a family unit. I’m living far from home in Kent, but it feels like a second home to me now.
The best thing is, is that I was shortlisted for a BBC award of Student Journalist of the Year along with four other amazing young journalists in the country, and the university which doubted me had no students in the same category. That was a big thing for me because that comment made by that lecturer almost stopped me going into journalism. I’m beyond glad that my auntie took me to Kent despite my moaning, because without that visit who knows where I would be now!
If anyone reading this is worried journalism isn’t for them, please don’t let anybody stop you from achieving your dreams. Run at them and keep going above and beyond to get to where you want to.
In researching for this blog, I have tried to find other journalism schools which promote that they support students with disabilities but to no avail. However that shouldn’t discourage anyone from going into this amazing profession. Most of the universities I talked to were more than happy to accommodate me. I think it is a question of going to the universities and talking to them about your own situation.
The experience I had has made me even more passionate about how we need more people who represent society to diversify this industry, and to make it more inclusive.