The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Religion reporting project allows Murrow students to tour places of worship

Project aims to take students to different houses of worship, including Sikh Gurdwara and Sravasti Abbey
A number of students participating in last year’s religion reporting project

The Murrow College of Communications is continuing to offer its religion reporting project this semester.

The project is led by Murrow professor Tracy Simmons with the focus on taking students on tours of different worship houses, with the intent to grow journalists’ familiarity with the traditions and practices within their community.

“I want students to be able to be prepared to walk into a house of worship they may not be familiar with when they enter the professional communication field,” said Simmons. “You [professionally] just never know when you might have to go into a Mosque or a Synagogue, or a temple, or even a church.”

The project started last school year and will run the entirety of the 2023–24 school year. Currently, 22 students are signed up for the project, but there’s no expectation for interested or enrolled students to attend every trip, Simmons said.

“I think anytime a student exposes themselves to something they otherwise would have contact with,” said scholarly associate professor Rebecca Cooney, who is starting on the project this year. “It’s an opportunity they inherently add enrichment to their lives and the learning process.”

Cooney said this experience is a good opportunity because it is different from what most students are going to be able to or are comfortable doing.

“We’re able to walk into a place of worship outside of our area of practice. I see it as a unique opportunity to have access to something that the [students] wouldn’t normally have access to, or be comfortable entering,” she said.I think anytime a student exposes themselves to something they otherwise would have contact with it’s an opportunity.”

Cooney said one of the locations they will be visiting is the Sikh Gurdwara, which will be an introduction for a whole new culture for some students.

Students signed up for the project can expect some interesting trips, with the project culminating with an overnight trip to the Sravasti Abbey, a Tibetan Buddhist monastery located in Newport, Washington. Simmons said.

“Opportunities like these are really important in journalism because I really believe in the impact of experiential learning. In classes like Com 300 for example, we learn a lot from the textbook, but it only goes so far, you have to get out and do things,” she said. “I think it’s great that Murrow offers courses like these, the Religion Reporting Project, the Rural Reporting Plunge and Backpack Journalism; when you go out and do something, it’s going to be a lot more influential on you.”

WSU alumn Puneet Bsanti participated in this project starting in fall 2022, which was the first year the project started. She continued with it until the end of her senior year last spring.

“That was the first time they did the project,” Bsanti said. “After the Islamic Center we went to a synagogue in Spokane as well, probably about a month later … A few of us got to do an overnight trip in a monastery in Idaho. It was Saint Gertrude’s monastery.”

Bsanti said she enjoyed visiting all of the places of worship and that they were all unique in their own way, but the most memorable one was the monastery, in part because she visited overnight and got the chance to get to know some of the nuns.

“The nuns dedicate themselves to their worship and to their faith 24 hours a day and they live there, they have the sisterhood, it’s really interesting to see that,” Bsanti said. “There’s so much history that goes to a monastery, so I just really enjoyed hearing about it.”

Overall, one of the biggest takeaways from her time with the project is an increased understanding of the differences in religions, Bsanti said. She recommends students going into the project always have questions prepared for the different people you encounter.

“Have an open mind, especially when you go into different houses of worship,” she said. “I hope Murrow college students as they start their journalism careers are able to consider doing the project, especially because Tracy is incredible. She’s a religion reporter and she’s been doing this for so long. I think she’s the perfect person to lead this project.”

For students interested in journalism, the program will offer opportunities to extend their knowledge of religion in the media, she said. The program will also connect students with professors and guest speakers.

Through diverse opinions and open discussion, students involved with the project will develop a fuller understanding of the nuance of religion and different perspectives to report on, Simmons said. 

To sign up, students can go to The Religion Reporting Project website and sign up for the email list. The website will then redirect them to a Google form to sign up.

“Through this course, I hope that students will learn that you don’t have to be a person of faith to write quality religion stories. Religion stories are really all around us; they’re on the sports pages, the business pages and definitely on the politics pages. If you just have a little baseline understanding of what the ‘religion beat’ is, it can take you very, very far,” Simmons said.

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