Article by Christine Tenny
An article detailing the scandalous and inappropriate behaviors of prospective members of UPUA has recently been published.
To everyone’s surprise, it wasn’t The Daily Collegian or Onward State behind this story. Rather, it was the new, student-run publication The Underground that unravelled this story alongside its multifarious collection of other news stories about the Penn State community.
Founded by sophomores Candice Crutchfield (majoring in Criminology and CAS) and Adriana Lacy (majoring in Public Relations, Advertising, and Applied Communications), The Underground started in February 2015 and officially launched in September of the same year.
Crutchfield explained that she and Lacy developed the idea after the co-founders attended the Penn State-sponsored educational lecture given by CNN correspondent, Soledad O’Brien, on the lack of diversity in the media.
“It was her ‘Black in America’ Tour. We felt inspired.” said Crutchfield. “We were wondering why isn’t there more journalism oriented towards under-represented groups on campus, so that’s where I probably felt it all started and that’s when we thought ‘Oh, that would be something really cool to do.’ As the weeks went on, we kept talking about it and we thought ‘Wait, we can actually do this,’ instead of just talking about it.”
As a reaction, the online publication was formed with social justice and diversity as its focal points, as evidenced by its mission statement: “The Underground is an independent, multicultural student-run media site devoted to exposing the untold stories within the Penn State community. We seek to foster the multicultural student voice through creating an open forum of discussion and promoting diversity and community involvement.” With that foundational mission in place, the online publication was up and running.
In the early stages of its formation, the co-founders experienced difficulties with spreading their organization’s message to the public and recruiting new members. To accomplish this goal, they relied heavily on social media accounts and collaborations with other organizations.
“In the beginning, I would definitely say it was trying to get our name out there and trying to get people to take us seriously. We weren’t just another organization that does what other organizations do and we were trying to stand out,” Crutchfield said. “Then, I think once we got our name out there, recruitment of people who were interested and actually dedicated to the mission [was the next goal]…but we’ve found some great people, so I think we are on the uprise.”
Lacy mentioned that most writers are also members of various clubs, such as Black Caucus and Penn State LGBTQA Student Resource. By having this cross-membership of people who are passionate about various social issues, the organization can easily access new information within these organizations, as well as distinguish itself among other publications by covering stories that they wouldn’t typically cover.
“I think the biggest distinction [between us and] other news sites is that we focus on diversity and social justice,” Lacy said. “We don’t cover all Penn State news, [but] we focus on Penn State news from a diverse standpoint – we cover [underrepresented groups] more than national or on-campus news.”
The Underground’s initiatives on diverse media content caught the student organizations they have collaborated with by surprise, but they have responded well to the initiatives put forward.
“I think in the initial stages, [the student organizations] were surprised because we were still kind-of new and they really didn’t know what to expect, but I think as we have grown as an organization [and] as a media site, that they have been excited and welcoming,” Crutchfield said. “They love to have the general public know about what they’re working on , and they also want other people to get involved. We are kind-of like a recruitment tool to help [other students] know more about organizations on campus and the work that they are doing.”
These mutually beneficial relationships with other organizations has helped The Underground cover and publish popular articles about past or present happenings on and off campus. For example, Crutchfield described a recently published article, “A Look Back at The Village.” This article describes the social demonstrations, that took place and were organized by various Penn State students in the spring of 2001, concerning equality and social justice. Crutchfield said the purpose of these particular stories remind students about the importance of talking about social injustice, both in the past and present moment.
“I would add that we did a look-back on ‘The Village’ of an event that happened at Penn State in 2001. Some students of color felt that they were not accurately being represented or time was not being dedicated to them – their academic advancements and achievements,” Crutchfield said. “[It] highlighted some of the struggles and how far Penn State has come, so I think that one also got quite a few views as well.”
Lacy explained that national stories covered by the publication usually become the most popular articles on the website. One story was The Underground’s coverage of the national story on the University of Missouri’s student strikes against discriminatory behaviors that occurred last Fall.
“I think the biggest one, that got the most views so far, is about the University of Missouri and their strikes on campus with the football team refusing to play until their president resigned,” Lacy said. “I think because it was national news, it got more attention because it was a breaking news article and we were able to relate it back to Penn State. That was a really good one. Any events that we cover tend to get a lot of views, especially with the photographs and all that.”
Both Lacy and Crutchfield believe in using their media site to predominantly assist the groups hosting these events in gaining the attention and the acknowledgment that they deserve from readers.
“I would say there are definitely a lot of organizations that do things, but don’t get covered in the [campus] news because they may not be as popular. But, there are definitely things on campus,” Crutchfield said. “Student associations are definitely devoting their time to social justice. I guess it just does not get noticed, but there is definitely change happening.”
In terms of writing style, both founders said there aren’t many restrictions placed onto its writers, in regards to style and content.
“I think we are laid-back. We are not looking for AP Style. I would say we operate more as a blog and that we pay attention to making sure that our facts are accurate and our writing is original, ” Crutchfield said. “It is definitely more laid-back, but we still try to generate a honest conversation with accurate writing.”
Besides “hard” news, the publication currently has a travel section from writers who are studying abroad. In this section, the co-founders want its readers to realize the accessibility and resources provided to all students at Penn State to study abroad.
“I think the traveling [section] is big for us. We know that less than 10% of black and hispanic students actually study abroad in their undergraduate years and we want to highlight that for people who don’t actually think about [studying abroad],” Lacy said. “We have a lot of multicultural students right now that are studying abroad; we have three currently on our staff that are studying abroad right now.”
Crutchfield and Lacy, still being sophomores, expect the publication’s reputation to grow under their leadership for the next two years.
“I think it is really good for a club to have stable leadership for a while. Also, I am happy that we didn’t start this when we were juniors or seniors because I wouldn’t see it as being successful down the line with the [founding] members graduating next year,” Lacy said. “It is good that we have more time to work on the site and get more readers onto the site, so by the time that we leave, it will be able to run under new leadership.”
For now, Crutchfield and Lacy want the Penn State community to recognize the efforts of its organization and interact with the underrepresented groups on campus via their publication.
“I would like for everyone at Penn State to know of The Underground or know someone that knows about The Underground,”said Crutchfield. “With the growing staff and readers, [we hope for] more attention to be placed on social justice issues, which is our main focus – and for people to more readily get involved in the community and what is happening around on campus.”
Feature Image Credit: The Underground