Our Voices

A High School Journalist Dug Into Suspensions of Black Students. What She Found Won an Award.

Nina Lavezzo-Stecopoulos and the co-editor of their high school newspaper, The Little Hawk, were talking to students in November about what they disliked about Iowa City High School when she sensed something was off.

“That day I had a lot of good conversations about wrongful suspensions and racism” by the staff members who monitor the halls, Lavezzo-Stecopoulos said.

She had also been learning about the justice system in her ethnic studies class, and, “seeing that this was an issue within my own school,” she said, “I decided to write about it.”

Ms. Lavezzo-Stecopoulos got to work.

The result: an article in December titled “Black students nearly two times as likely to be suspended as white peers in the ICCSD,” a reference to the Iowa City Community School District, which is about 120 miles east of Des Moines.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights honored Lavezzo-Stecopoulos, 18, with its High School Journalism award for her work at its 2020 RFK Book and Journalism Awards ceremony on Thursday.

The awards, founded by reporters who covered Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, honor “outstanding reporting on issues” that reflect his concern “for human rights, social justice and the power of individual action” in the United States and abroad.

By winning the award, she hopes her article will be read by a wider audience.

“I hope people realize how much systemic racism impacts every black student in the American school system,” she said. “As one of my sources said, it starts in kindergarten with getting sent to the principal’s office. These kids are taught that they are troublemakers from Day 1 because of their teacher’s implicit or explicit biases.”

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