Meet Raven Yamamoto ’21: An Up-and-Coming Journalist Crafting Stories for Social Change

Look around BCLA and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone busier than Raven Yamamoto. Originally from Hawai`i, Yamamoto is a senior journalism major with a minor in political science. Raven has previously been president of Agapé, the Loyola Marymount University service organization, and is the founder of Agency, an independent newsroom run by LMU students that promotes social justice and foregrounds the voices of individuals not normally heard on mainstream news.

Beyond LMU, the world of Broadcast Media has taken notice. Yamamoto was recently named a Carol Simpson Scholar by Radio Television Digital News Foundation (RTDNF), and was also awarded a Diversity Scholarship by Sinclair Broadcasting.

“Both scholarships were created to empower and uplift student journalists of color after seeing how little of them there were in a white-dominated industry,” explained Yamamoto.

The Carol Simpson Scholarship is named after its eponymous RTDNF trustee who was the first African American woman to solo anchor a network TV evening newscast, and who frequently reported on social and cultural issues. The Sinclair Diversity Scholarship is awarded to 10 students from under-represented minority groups who are dedicated to careers in broadcasting. Both scholarships aim to encourage further diversity in journalism. It is an honor for a student to receive one of these prestigious awards, and Yamamoto has received two.

Yamamoto believes founding Agency helped them stand out as a candidate. “It felt natural to write about Agency because we were created to give a platform to marginalized voices and experiences at a predominantly white institution after seeing how little they were featured in existing student media. I also feel like this sort of event in my life might have hit different for folks because of the recent movement within the news industry to recognize these gaps and do better to be more inclusive of people of color in newsrooms nationwide— both in their coverage and in their staff.”

When asked if any LMU Journalism professors have helped to shape them as a journalist, Raven credits several in the department including: Benjamin Gottlieb, Tara Pixley, and Carol Costello.

“When I think of the people I can thank for my immense growth over the past four years, I think of those three because they gave me my fiery passion for journalism that burns bright to this day. My confidence as a reporter and a storyteller came from the skills and tools they gave me in my time learning from them.”

In addition to their professors’ passionate teaching, Yamamoto has been equally inspired by faculty members’ accomplishments in the field of journalism.

“What I respect the most about these people is that they aren’t just professors— they’re still journalists. They are experiencing the world as reporters at the same time we are as the world changes around us. There’s something so valuable in the conversations that come from that dynamic and how it marries with the personable element of learning LMU gives its students.”

For Professor Tara Pixley, the enthusiasm is very much mutual. “It has been an absolute pleasure to work with Raven as the Agency advisor over the last year” Pixley says of her student and mentee. “They are a rare student: one who takes on leadership roles with grace and passion while also working incredibly hard to improve their own work, constantly striving to learn more and do better as they bring other students up with them in their successes. Raven is a delightful person who possesses the exact combinations of curiosity, tenacity, and social justice ethos necessary to become a brilliant journalist. I’m honored to know them at the beginning of their career so I can watch their successes for many years to come.”

Taking the technical audio journalism skills they learned from Ben Gottlieb’s class, the investigative instincts they learned from Pixley, and the professional and political savvy they learned from Carol Costello, Yamamoto started a successful Agency podcast called Addendum. In a recent episode, Raven reported on students writing an open letter to LMU’s College of Communication & Fine Arts to create curriculum and programs that center around BIPOC artists and BIPOC perspectives. In the episode, Raven explains the letter “isn’t just a call for action in the art department. It’s a wake-up call for students university-wide in their own unique fields of study,” including those in the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts.

Yamamato elaborated on how journalism has the ability to incite change.  “Conversations about inclusivity have always been happening, in BCLA and otherwise, but never with the type of urgency we have now after a summer of civil unrest that will continue if our words are not followed by action. As institutions of learning, universities like LMU play a huge role in producing tomorrow’s changemakers across professions and instilling values of anti-racism in our students needs to be prioritized now more than ever. It’s about the way we speak, the way we interact with one another, and the way we view the world. Anti-racism cannot just be encouraged, but emphasized the same as any other part of BCLA’s curriculum.”

These ongoing conversations give Yamamoto hope for the future of the journalism program, which they believe has an opportunity to Identify and hire faculty from diverse backgrounds.

“Investing in faculty of color will only create a chain reaction that both recruits and retains students of color by giving them the opportunity to see themselves in the industry they’re pursuing. There is something so special about learning from someone who looks like you, someone that you don’t have to explain yourself and your lived experience to.”

While Raven initially moved back to Hawai`i to wait out the coronavirus, they now plan to stay there permanently to pursue journalism work after graduation in spring 2021. But Yamamoto as plenty to do before May, including finishing their capstone and running Agency’s newsroom.

As a senior, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the legacy I hope to leave at LMU. I think not only about what I’m leaving behind but who I’m leaving it to and for me, that’s Agency. Agency is so much more than just a publication, it’s a statement. You don’t have to settle for existing student media if you don’t see yourself in it. You can question those in power and hold them accountable while you ask hard questions. You can criticize and institution while still being a part of it. Anyone is capable of using their voice and this community will always be there to listen.”

The photo used for this article was taken by Kiana Liu. Please note that Raven Yamamoto is referred to by they/them pronouns. Please visit www.mypronouns.org to learn more.