Learn How to Learn: Coleen Jose ’12

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The Marshall Islands in the North Pacific is one of the most remote places on the planet. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States dropped 67 nuclear and thermonuclear bombs over the atolls. The population was exposed to radiation, then subjected to decades of medical testing as part of classified military projects.

It’s challenging to imagine that the sleepy lagoon where I’m writing this in Enewetak atoll, one of the 29 necklace-shaped thin strips of land in the country, was witness to nuclear tests and a bomb 1,000 times as powerful as one that decimated Hiroshima. As a journalist and documentary photographer, it’s a challenge to document this story that rarely make the pages of history books in the United States.

Journalism has given me the freedom to examine this untold chapter of U.S. history, a still potent nuclear legacy manifest in contamination of the environment, exposure to thousands of Marshallese and many others who have called these atolls home.

There’s a saying with our team’s reporting thus far, one that resonates with the Davidson experience: learn how to learn. My journalism career began in Davidson. It was at Davidson where I first consciously made a photograph while studying abroad in India. We were walking along the steps of the Ganges in Varanasi when a Hindu sanyasin (renunciate), with white flowing hair, dressed in orange garb, sat near us. In India, I learned to let a moment unravel and to capture it with a camera.

It was also at Davidson where I reported my first reporting project funded by the Dean Rusk International Studies Program in partnership with the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Reporting on the local impacts of overfishing and deforestation across the Phillipines was my introduction to the craft. Like our travels and study in India with Dr. William Mahoney and countless teachers we encountered in temples or on the street to the chai stand, my experience in the Phillipines was a glimpse into a profession that is more than a job. It’s a life.

As I write and send this dispatch from Enewetak atoll, that mantra-like saying continues to frame every picture I make and story I hear: learn how to learn.

Coleen Jose’s reporting in the Marshall Islands is supported by the GroundTruth Project and Society of Environmental Journalists.

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About Author

John Syme '85

Senior Writer John Syme graduated from Davidson with a French degree in 1985. After gigs in newspaper, advertising, translation in France and cross-country travel writing in the United States, he returned to alma mater in 2001. He has no immediate plans to graduate again.

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