Visiting professor teaches Humanitarian Journalism

Sophia Pizzi

   From managing a refugee camp in Macedonia to writing on the editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer, humanitarian worker and journalist Carolyn Davis has quite the résumé of work experience. This spring, her résumé continues to grow as she joins the Communication Department as an adjunct professor, teaching a course dedicated to the practices and principles of humanitarian journalism. 

   A Cleveland native, Davis graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. After a few years in the field, she went on to graduate school at Ohio University, where she received a master’s degree in International Affairs and Communication Development. 

 Entering work dedicated to reporting on and improving the global community, Davis’s career has brought her to countries across the world. Her early humanitarian-relief work took her to places such as Rwanda and Macedonia, where she engaged with individuals suffering from conflict. As a journalist, she traveled to Uganda, Ghana, Cambodia and Thailand to freelance stories for Cleveland publications. Most recently, her work as a Communication Consultant for the United Nations has brought her to Jordan, Sierra Leone and Greece, where she assisted in communication to and for refugees, most notably Syrian refugees fleeing the ongoing Syrian Civil War. 

   Davis reflects on her experiences abroad as both challenging and rewarding. 

  “Text messages take on a whole new meaning when you’re relaying information like ‘Next week, your food assistance will be reduced by half,’” she said about her work during her communication consultancies with the UN. “It makes me feel fortunate—that the person in the refugee camp could easily be me, and my husband and my daughter. But we’re fortunate to live in the country we live in. I feel the proudest to be an American when I am overseas.”

   Between her early travels and most recent work with the UN, Davis found a role where her passions for humanitarian work and journalism intersected as a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer. She worked as an editorial writer and reporter at the regional paper for more than 10 years. She educated readers on humanitarian issues both locally and abroad. 

   In her present role as adjunct professor, Davis expressed excitement when talking about bringing all of these professional experiences to the classroom. 

   “I’ve been thinking for a long time about doing a humanitarian journalism course, even when I was a journalist still,” she said. “Some of the series and efforts I did at the Philadelphia Inquirer struck me as humanitarian journalism and there wasn’t much, and still isn’t a whole lot written on the topic, and young people were very interested in it, and are still interested in it.”

    The course will look at reporting fundamentals, principles of humanitarian journalism, ethics of humanitarian reporting, covering natural disasters and epidemics from a humanitarian perspective and covering war and the refugee experience from a humanitarian perspective. According to her syllabus, students will be exposed to a variety of learning materials, including Davis’s experiences abroad, scholarly articles, accounts from news outlets and international aid agencies concerning specific crises and humanitarian aid responses to them, films/videos, and practitioners who will speak to the class in person and via Skype.

   “I hope students get hard knowledge about international settings, about what causes international crises, about what kind of crises there are, and what the mechanisms that take hold once a crisis occurs look like,” Davis said. “I want them, from a journalistic sense, to get a sense of the other. I want them to get some tools and frameworks in their mind they can use in any setting that gives fuller picture of the issue we’re covering and produces a deeper, potentially more constructive news report on it.”

 Prior to starting the course, Davis was “delighted” as many students registered for the course as they did. 

“I think it’s great that students are interested in these topics because these crises aren’t going to go away, sadly,” Davis said. “And I am grateful Villanova is interested because it is a different kind of class.”

 So far, Davis says she has been impressed by the students in the first week of the course and notes their keen observations and fruitful discussions on the material. 

 “I’m really looking forward to the course this semester—it’s the first time this type of journalism has been offered at Villanova,” senior communication major Kelsey Tyler said. “I think humanitarian journalism will broaden students’ scope on the definition of the field of journalism and how we can apply a social lens to it out in the real world. I’m excited to see how Professor Davis will relate the course to current events as well as to her past experiences as a humanitarian journalist herself.”