Medill on the Hill postponed to 2021-22 academic year due to Capitol Hill pandemic restrictions


Courtesy of Ellen Shearer

The Medill Newsroom in Washington, D.C., stands empty. The program was recently postponed to the 2021-22 academic year due to COVID-19.

Assem Belhadj, Reporter

Directors of Medill on the Hill announced Thursday the popular undergraduate program would be postponed to the 2021-22 academic year, citing pandemic restrictions on Capitol Hill.

The announcement came just weeks after Fall Quarter began, marking the second time the program was postponed since the start of the pandemic. The program, only open to select journalism students, engages participants in political reporting from Washington, D.C., covering beats such as national security, business and the environment. This is the first year since the program began in 2009 that it has been postponed or delayed.

“I’m disappointed and I know students are disappointed,” Medill on the Hill director and Medill Prof. Ellen Shearer said. “I wish things could be different, but there’s the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and media access to Capitol Hill being severely restricted.”

For Medill sophomore Grace Deng, missing out on election reporting wasn’t her only frustration. She said she could hardly keep up with her housing arrangement as the program and the University kept announcing updates.

Before the first announcement, Deng was told to look for apartments in D.C. After a July update announcing the program would be pushed from this fall to winter, Deng began looking for apartments in Evanston. Then, Deng received the news that she wouldn’t be coming back to campus, and had to stop searching for fall housing.

“It was like being pulled back and forth by all of these forces,” Deng said. “Except the force was just Northwestern, pulling us everywhere.”

Some students said they expected the Medill on the Hill postponement because the University’s COVID-19 plan communication had been so lackluster all summer.

Medill sophomore Shannon Coan said she was disappointed but not surprised to hear she wouldn’t attend Medill on the Hill during Winter Quarter.

“I didn’t really think it was going to be possible with how Northwestern was updating its policies for coronavirus on the main Evanston campus,” Coan said.

This fall, students accepted into Medill on the Hill were given the opportunity to enroll in a remote class called Protests, Politics, Pandemic and the Presidential Election.

The class, taught by Shearer, offers students the chance to report on the election while adjusting to the pandemic changes most reporters covering the election face.

“Reporters are not going out on the campaign trail,” Shearer said. “Reporters are covering the presidential campaign from a distance, and that doesn’t seem like the kind of experience that is the embodiment of Medill on the Hill.”

To accommodate for this year’s postponement, Shearer said Medill will offer the program twice next year — during both fall 2021 and winter 2022.

“This was not an easy decision,” Shearer said. “It’s just so severely restricted right now. We would not have been able to offer students what they expected.”

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