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Tending to others’ stories with care

Because of her thoughtful approach to sharing knowledge, I nominated Medill professor Patty Loew to deliver the Last Lecture to the Class of 2021
Mia Mamone recalls a trip to the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin. Photo by Jim Prisching

When the Northwestern Class of 2021 first received the call to nominate a faculty member to give our Last Lecture, I immediately thought of Medill professor Patty Loew, who directs the Center for Native American and Indigenous Research. Though it’s been over two years since I took Professor Loew’s class, her approach to teaching has continued to stick with me. I was excited to learn that she was a Last Lecture finalist and then that my fellow seniors voted for her to be our speaker. 

At the urging of two older friends who had taken the course the year before, I enrolled in Native American Environmental Issues and the Media during fall of my sophomore year. It was technically a journalism class, but the most important takeaways for me were historical; we learned about tribal sovereignty and the indigenous environmental movement — topics I was largely unfamiliar with, despite growing up in Oklahoma. Professor Loew always centered indigenous voices in our class materials, and, as a nod to the importance of oral history, would meet with us to discuss our homework in person instead of asking us to write traditional response papers. In those meetings, we critically analyzed how journalists portrayed indigenous issues and challenged our own assumptions.

Professor Loew, who is a member of the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Ojibwe in Wisconsin, took about 10 of us on a trip to the Oneida Nation near Green Bay, Wisconsin, one weekend in October. There we met with folks from the White Corn Cooperative to learn about tribal food sovereignty. We spent hours collecting and eventually braiding corn, talking with Oneida Nation members about the harvest and their lives. Unlike in other Medill classes, we didn’t have to rush to get quotes, and instead fully immersed ourselves in the experience.

On the ride back to Northwestern, I was in Professor Loew’s van. During the drive, she asked my classmates and me what kind of journalism or media jobs we wanted to pursue in the future. I wasn’t sure then, and after a year of a global pandemic that has shaken up so many different aspects of life, I’m now even less certain about what I want to do professionally. But the advice Professor Loew gave us all then — that journalism is, at its heart, good and fair storytelling, something that will always be needed — is just as true now as it was back then. 

The Last Lecture is a time for the graduating class to receive valuable advice before setting off into the “real world.” Given our unique position of graduating into a world so different from the one in which we entered college, we surely need all the wisdom we can get on how to be adaptable to changing circumstances. I don’t know exactly what Professor Loew will share with us during her talk, but I know we all can learn from her thoughtful approach to sharing knowledge and tending to others’ stories with care.