Imagine starting out as a journalism major to explore your love of writing, which turns into a personal mission to help women across the country. This is where the career path led for alumna Fraidy Reiss (Journalism and Media Studies, ’07).
In 2011, Reiss launched Unchained at Last, the only nonprofit in the United States dedicated to helping women and girls leave or avoid arranged/forced marriages and rebuild their lives. The organization is also committed to creating social, policy and legal change to end forced and child marriage in America.
We recently spoke with Reiss on the work of her vital organization and its mission, and how training from SC&I prepared her for this life-changing endeavor.
Why did you choose to study journalism?
I chose to study journalism because I figured I would be good at it: I love writing. I enjoy probing and asking questions, and I have an uncanny ability to sense when the answers I receive are dishonest. I can be relentless.
Please name 3 specific things you learned from your program at SC&I that helped you launch your organization.
My journalism training prepared me in several key ways to found and run Unchained At Last, the only nonprofit dedicated to helping women and girls to escape forced marriage in America and the only nonprofit dedicated to ending forced and child marriage in the United States.
First, my writing ability. SC&I taught me how to write like a journalist – that is, to distill complex topics into concise and compelling copy that anyone can understand. I used that skill to get the financial and other support I needed to found Unchained, and I continue to use it daily to advocate on behalf of Unchained clients and to build support for Unchained’s mission.
Second, my tenacity. I was always tenacious, but SC&I showed me how to use my “powers” for the good. At SC&I, that translated into chasing down the information I needed for news stories. At Unchained, that translates into chasing down the information, allies and access the organization needs to serve clients and to end forced and child marriage in America.
Third, my appreciation for the power of the press. I learned when I was at SC&I how powerfully and quickly the press can amplify a message, and I have used that lesson – writing op-ed articles, granting television interviews, appearing on radio – to garner international attention and support for Unchained without spending a penn
Which SC&I faculty/staff members inspired/encouraged you during your program?
I still keep in touch with the SC&I faculty members who inspired and encouraged me while I was a student there. Guy Baehr, the part-time lecturer who taught the investigative journalism class that earned me a few minutes of international fame and an interview on The Daily Show. Linda Steiner, the journalism professor who remains a mentor to me. Steve Miller, every journalism student’s favorite teacher.
Do you have any advice for incoming freshman or current journalism students?
Don’t let them scare you. They’ll all tell you journalism is shrinking and changing and maybe even dying. They’ll tell you you’ll never get a job in journalism, that you should switch your major to something more practical.
You chose this major for a reason. Don’t let them make you forget that. And even if you end up in a profession far removed from journalism, as I eventually did, you’ll always benefit from your journalism training. As I always have.
What strategies have you utilized to raise awareness for your organization?
I’ve raised international awareness for Unchained without spending a penny, through the news media. I’ve written op-ed articles published in The New York Times, Washington Post and other papers. I’ve made enough noise that my work has been featured by The New York Times, BBC, NPR, etc.
It’s an effective strategy for an organization like Unchained, which operates on a modest budget.
What advice you would provide for those wanting to launch a charitable organization?
Take a nap. Now. It’s the last chance you will ever get to sleep. Also, surround yourself with people wiser and more experienced than you, who are generous enough to let you pick their brains. You will not be able to accomplish anything without them.
How can the Rutgers community help you in your mission at Unchained at Last?
I hope every member of the Rutgers community will stay updated on Unchained’s work and help to spread awareness of forced and child marriage in America – and help to stop it. They can do this by following Unchained on social media (and sharing, liking, retweeting); joining Unchained’s email list (I promise not to send too many emails); taking part in an upcoming Chain-In, a unique form of protest Unchained invented at which participants wear bridal gowns and chains to protest child marriage in America; and visiting Unchained’s website right now to email their state legislators and urge them to end child marriage.
For more information or to make donations to Unchained at Last, please visit http://www.unchainedatlast.org/