Aicha Sacko came to Syracuse University as an undeclared major in the College of Arts and Sciences. In the Spring 2021 semester, the broadcast and digital journalism senior transferred to the Newhouse School. Though she faced parental pressure to enter the medical field, Sacko—a first-generation college student—knew she wanted to be a journalist. At Newhouse she covers social justice stories, champions diversity and takes on every challenge that’s handed to her with determination.
What is your background ?
My mom and dad are both from Mali, which is a country on the west side of Africa. They did not have a formal education. I am the first person ever to go to a private institution, and to get a full ride. I’ll be the first person ever to graduate in the entire Sacko family.
How has your culture contributed to the stories you want to cover?
Oh, it plays a huge role. I only do social justice beats and I only do things that are important to me. I’m always doing stories on the south side of the Syracuse community. The last story I did was about how the I-81 highway is too close to the predominantly Black elementary and middle school, the Martin Luther King Jr. School. I don’t feel obligated to do it, but I am going to do those stories because those are the stories that interest me. Those are the stories that I want to put out on my platform.
What are your extracurricular activities?
I do the Z89 radio where I run the hip-hop station. I’m not really in any particular organizations on campus, but I work with a nonprofit organization called the Know Your Rights camp. We travel to different cities where we teach predominantly Black and Brown kids about their rights when they’re interacting with police, literacy and technology.
How does it feel being a student of color at the Newhouse School?
It’s very intimidating. When I first transferred into Newhouse, I doubted myself because the people didn’t look like me. I had a completely different background from everybody. I believe in social justice. As a journalist, you’re not supposed to pick sides, they tell you you’re supposed to stay neutral. It was very challenging. But being the person that I am, I’m able to get through anything. I liked the challenge, because I like it when I can prove to myself that I am worthy of being in the school and I’m at the right place. So even though it’s challenging and intimidating at the same time, it’s nothing that I can’t handle.
How do you think Newhouse can contribute to increasing diversity?
I think they need to acknowledge that not everybody comes from the same background, and not everybody has money. And when you don’t realize those things, you create barriers for other groups. If you can acknowledge that there are other groups and they’re just as important, then you will start to see a change in how you do things, and you will see a change in how you include people.
What pressures do you feel now that you have committed to a career in broadcast journalism?
My mom and dad both wanted me to be a doctor, so it’s a lot of pressure. Coming from a family who came a long way just to have you succeed, they put that pressure on you all the time. So I always had the pressure to graduate, to do good, to not fail and to always succeed. I know where I came from. I know I cannot afford to lose or fail. I had to keep working. I also put pressure on myself because I go to Newhouse, which is a top program for journalism. And I have to do well, so the pressure comes from all around, but that pressure only allows me to become better.
How do you see diversity improving in the upcoming years at Newhouse and the overall industry?
I can see more people who look like me, more people of color going here. I think I can see that the National Association for Black Journalists is growing bigger and bigger. And I can also see the graduate students and the undergraduate students joining forces, because honestly, we’re all that we have. So I really do hope that in the next couple of years, it becomes more inclusive.
Sarah Torres is a first-year student in the magazine, news and digital journalism program at the Newhouse School and the political science program at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.