'I Want To Accomplish So Much': Get To Know Our Korva Coleman Diversity Intern, Hafsa Quraishi

Jun 9, 2020

This month, KMUW welcomed — even if just remotely — the station's inaugural Korva Coleman Diversity Intern, Hafsa Quraishi.

From her home in Jacksonville, Florida, where she's staying because of the pandemic, Hafsa has already covered blood shortages at the Red Cross, looked into how HealthCore Clinic's free testing site went, and the announcement — and later cancellation — of Ivanka Trump's commencement speech at WSU Tech's graduation.

We're honored to have her on the team this summer before she starts her final semester at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.

KMUW talked to Hafsa recently about her start in public radio, what she likes to do outside of work, and her long list of career goals.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why she wants to be a journalist

I mean, the short answer is that, uh, I'm really nosy. I’m the most nosy and curious person — maybe curious is a better way to describe it. But I'm very curious. I love asking questions. I love getting the whole story of anything like, especially ... gossip. I like to know everything. So this kind of gave me an excuse to ask my questions.

The bigger reason is that I obviously ... didn't see a lot of representation of Muslim voices in the media. And then just in general, I didn't see people who look like me report the news on TV. And that sounds so cliche. It sounds like the typical ... minority story, where, 'I didn't see anyone on my TV, so I want to be that person.' And obviously I'm not going into TV, I'm going into radio, but it's definitely ... made me feel so much better knowing that my community has someone like me. And there are so many others, don't get me wrong, there's a lot others, just not nearly as enough as there should be, I mean, Muslim-American journalists, and just Muslim journalists or South Asian journalists, there's not enough. And I wanted to be one of them.

I wanted to increase the visibility of my community, increase the coverage. Cause ... so often you see Muslims and South Asians only … covered as a reactionary sort of journalism. Like, if some ... terrorist incident happens or if a mosque gets burned down, 'Here's their voice.' But you're not covering the issues that led up to this moment, the issues that are really important, and not only covering the community, but covering issues that impact the community.

Getting her start

Credit Courtesy Hafsa Quraishi

My parents are immigrants to this country so, of course, ... they had a different vision of what they wanted their children to become. And I just took a different path than what they intended for me. And they did a lot for us growing up, so obviously there was that … like, initial guilt, that struggle to convince them that I wanted to do something else. In fact, I was pre-med for the first two years of my undergrad career. And I literally spent those two years arguing with them, debating with them on anything else I could become cause I did not want to become doctor.

They were really confused and unwilling to accept me wanting to become a journalist. And then I took [a particular class] and I hated it. And I was like, 'You know what? This is my breaking point. I can't do it.' So then I switched into journalism, and I had no one to help me. Literally, I knew no one in journalism. My parents, we have a lot of doctor friends, so they helped us get volunteer opportunities and research opportunities. So there was that connection that they could help you with when I was becoming a doctor. But when I was becoming a journalist, there was no one who could help me. They didn't know anybody. So I kind of built — not pulled myself up from the bootstraps, but something like that. People in this industry are very nice, thankfully, and they definitely helped me.

On getting into public radio

I actually hated public radio. I grew up listening to NPR, not by choice. My parents would play it when they would take us to school. I literally hated it. I was always begging for them to put on some music. But, you know, it became ... kind of like a routine that I didn't realize how much value I had in it. But that was more sentimental ... related to my parents and driving me to school. It wasn't because I liked public radio.

My first journalism job was my internship six months after I changed my major. So at that point I was desperate. I needed anything and everything that I could get my hands on because I needed to prove to my parents that I could do this. … So, I applied for, and luckily, thank God, got an internship at WUSF in the fall of 2017. And it was a digital internship. I was not on the radio, and that's what I wanted. I didn't want to be on the radio. I was like, 'You know, radio sucks.'

But literally my first day when I went, they had orientation. They let me sit in on a newscast and I saw the engineering behind it, just the timing, how it had to be exact, and it was a lot of pressure, but I was in love. I loved the newscaster. I became obsessed with her. I would just go sometimes when I had some time, I would just go in and watch and witness the different newscasts from the engineering room just cause I was so interested, and I did the same thing at NPR. It's always charming to me. … I don't know how to describe it. It was just very magical.

Her favorite story she’s reported

In 2018, I was the … Stephen Noble Radio News Intern for WUSF, which is the NPR affiliate station in the Tampa Bay area. And I fought to cover this story. Like, I genuinely fought to cover it.

Listen: USF Student Organization Does More Than Feed The Homeless

It was a student organization, majority Muslim but not only Muslims, ... that was separate from the Muslim Student Association. It was called Project Downtown Tampa.  It was a bunch of students … who got together and fed the homeless, literally every single week, rain or shine, school in session or out of session, they gathered food from different vendors and they assembled sandwiches in the cafeteria of the school. And then they drove over downtown to where a lot of the homeless population lives and they divided up; they went to homeless shelters, they would go just in an area where a lot of people gathered, like a park, they would go everywhere and they would just distribute food to these people and water, and ... [have] conversations and help them feel a little more human than society tends to think of them as, and I got to go with them on a few trips.

And I pitched that story and my editors were like, 'You know, I don't know, maybe it comes off as biased because you're Muslim,' or 'Maybe, you know, this is not great story. No one's heard of it, and it's been around for so long. So maybe no one cares.' And I was like, 'Let me do the story. I promise you it's worth it.' And they definitely changed their minds.

The nat [natural] sound in that story was just so great. I got this clip of someone cutting into this head of lettuce, and it's just that beautiful, crisp crunch. I think it makes the pieces so beautiful.

And ... when [the story] was told, I got a lot of praise on it. Obviously this was a majority-Muslim organization, [so] they did do a prayer. I've grown up listening to NPR, but it was the first time I heard someone repeating the Islamic prayer on the radio. And that just made my heart ... I don't know what the word is, but it just made my heart skip a beat. It was so beautiful.

Her favorite journalists

Not to be all 'this is the hand that's feeding me,' but Korva Coleman, obviously. My internship was named after her. I wrote about her in my cover letter, and I've talked to her, and she's just so cool. I've got to say, she gave me a lot of clout with my family when I was like, 'Oh, yeah, Korva Coleman's my mentor. I talked to her on the phone.' They were like, 'What? This is actually cool.' So that helped.

But, other than that, (NPR reporter) Asma Khalid. I actually didn't know this when we first met, but she's a family friend, like, an adjacent family friend. She's married to someone from Jacksonville that we know well, but she doesn't live here. We don't see her often, but in the past few years, I've gotten to know her very well. She served as a mentor to me as another hijabi Muslim journalist … in this field. She kind of started the same way as me, ... she was a national desk intern and she worked her way up where she's now covering politics. And she's just a huge inspiration to me. Her stories of her covering the 2016 election while being a hijabi, that was so inspiring.

I kept that very near and dear to my heart because I know that I’ll probably be going through the same experience. It's really helped that she's ... told her story and been a voice on this issue of covering tough topics, but also like any topics where they kind of see you as a Muslim first, then a journalist. She's been really helpful and just the greatest cheerleader.

Similarly, Hannah Allam. Oh, my goodness, all-time favorite reporter, and she's also Muslim. She's so amazing. The investigative pieces that she did for Buzzfeed News while she was there, I don't know what her exact beat was, but she covered a lot of Muslim-American issues. She opened the door and the light to me that this was actually like a beat, the Muslim-American beat. She opened my eyes to that. I had no idea that that was a thing.

I'm really appreciative of all of these incredible … just amazing journalists of color that have helped me, that have paved the way for me and also have lifted me up in this career.

Some of Hafsa's henna work
Credit Courtesy Hafsa Quraishi

What she likes to do outside of work

It's so hard being in quarantine. I don't even remember what the outside world feels like now. I love going on walks, people watching … where I can just see people living their life. I think it's just really interesting that every person has a story. And like I said, I'm really curious. I want to know everything about everyone. So when I go on walks, I don't make up stories about these people — that's a little weird — but I see them living just a part of their story and I think that's really just a privilege to be able to witness a part of someone's story.

I like doing henna. … Henna is a way for me to challenge my doodles that I've done since I was very little into something meaningful because it's the same doodles with the flowers and the lines and everything. So I really like art. I have this whole drawer full of paints and canvases and all the art supplies.

Her career goals

That's a loaded question. I want to accomplish so much. I literally have a list in my Notes folder. I want to be on a podcast team. I want to make the front page of a newspaper. I want to be consulted as an expert for something on a news topic. I want to create such a strong voice and presence in a certain beat that I'm considered like, 'Oh, hey, she's the go-to person if you want to report on this.'

I want to teach journalism at a college level. I think being a professor is very humbling and also it's a really, really great way to give back to the upcoming generation of journalists, and I think that's really important, especially since I'm one right now.

I want to be the advisor for student newspaper ... help them lift themselves up. … I want to break a huge investigative story. I want to have ... a big legacy media steal a story from me. Like, I know that's a weird goal, but I want to have done a story so good that I want them to steal it. And then I can ... make a whole to-do about how they stole my story.

I want to host a newscast, and I want to do good local journalism. … I think I want to work in a local news org for a good amount of years where I know the community and I'm reporting directly on issues that impact that community. I think that's really important. I would love to do it here in Jacksonville, Florida, just cause I've grown up here, but anywhere. I think it's really important to tell local stories and that's literally, like everyone says, it's the backbone of media, but it's more than the backbone. It's the most important part of you. It's the skin, it's like the largest organ in the human body. It makes up every national story.