If you don’t pay attention to the flyers plastered across the walls of academic buildings, or browse upcoming events on the University Calendar, you may not have been aware that National Geographic reporter and UC-Berkeley professor Cynthia Gorney visited campus earlier this month.
Gorney graced us with her confident and energetic presence as a part of the Journalism Department’s recent affiliation with the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in Washington. While visiting, she discussed her in-depth reporting on child brides with Journalism and Women’s and Gender Studies classes, showed her National Geographic documentary that showcased this reporting, participated in a discussion panel with Journalism Professor Justin Catanoso and Pulitzer Center Director Jon Sawyer, and experienced firsthand our east coast humidity.
I have to admit that while Gorney was here, I felt kind of like her personal stalker. Not only did I slip into a class she was speaking in, attend the documentary and Q&A session, and hunt her down afterwards as she was hurrying off to dinner, but I dared to show up at her doorstop on Good Friday during the wee hours, when your hair hasn’t fully air-dried, and coffee is still in the pot…Nevertheless, Gorney managed to look relaxed, in casual black pants and a white t-shirt, as she answered the door, led me inside, and offered me a cup.
While we talked, the professor, public speaker, and worldly reporter that I had watched over the past few days transformed into a mom, housewife, soccer coach, and Grey’s Anatomy fan.
As I scribbled illegible notes and sipped my caffeine, she told with me about her background in journalism, what it was like reporting on child brides with photographer Stephanie Sinclair, and how she’s avoided cynical-journalist syndrome throughout it all.
Her latest project, tracking down the villages in Yemen and the region of Rajasthan in northern India that participate in underage wedding ceremonies, was no easy task (they are illegal, after all). Once they had been found, however, Gorney proved to be a natural at establishing relations with the mothers and children.
Gorney chalks up her ability to connect with the young Indian girls to a simple love of children, and a sense of comfort around them.
She shared a story about a boarding school she visited in Rajasthan, where the smart girls from the village were sent to receive their educations. Sitting in the tiny excuse for a dorm room, talking (through her interpreter) to the girls about what life was like for them and what life was like in the U.S., Gorney said she “felt so at home.”
It reminded her of her own daughter’s high school years, and the many conversations she had with her and her friends about life, learning, and the challenges of growing up.
“Despite the vast differences between my daughter and her friends, and these girls, there also are connections that are the same – in my experience – in whatever culture you’re in,” she said.