Cronkite School grad wants to improve Muslim representation in the news

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Farah Eltohamy’s first real reporting experience taught her a lesson that she still carries with her: The president of a mosque told her, “You are one of the only people who’s actually talking to me and asking me about this mosque and telling the stories of the people here."

“That was really the moment that changed everything for me," she said. "That moment really reminded me why I do the work that I do. It reminded me of the point of telling the stories of my community, and that moment when he thanked me — it meant a lot to me.”  

Eltohamy originally planned to study art and had prepared a portfolio to submit to art schools, but a teacher at her high school in Chandler, Arizona, suggested that she pursue journalism. She was accepted to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and awarded an ASU Leadership Scholarship. She completed her undergraduate degree in three years, using the fourth year to earn her master’s degree through the Cronkite School’s 3+1 program. Eltohamy was named an Outstanding Undergraduate Student for the spring 2021 Cronkite School convocation, scheduled for May 3. 

Eltohamy said she has been particularly inspired by Professor of Practice Fernanda Santos.

“She basically gave me the confidence that I needed to stay in this field,” she said.  

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I have a weird path to deciding what I wanted to do in college. At first I was a STEM kid. I was really into biology and environmental science, and then I was like, "Wait, now let me just go to art school, because I’m pretty good at it, and I was very passionate." So then I spent the majority of my high school preparing for the art school route. I had an entire portfolio that I was working on and was ready to submit to art schools. At the last minute, I got cold feet. The reason why I got cold feet was because, as much as I love art, I could not see it as a career. I thought about it deeply, and I asked, "What is the next thing I could see myself doing?" And it was journalism, and it felt very natural because I am someone who is very passionate about social justice and politics. I remember having conversations with my AP English teacher and she said, “You’re good at writing, you’re very passionate about social justice, so why don’t you go into the field?” For me, it was specifically spurred by Muslim representation in the news. Journalists from other marginalized backgrounds, in general, have never really been able to break into this field and tell the stories of their communities fairly and accurately. So that’s something that I really wanted to help fix, and the only way you can really fix that is by having more Muslim journalists in this field who can tell the stories of the Muslim community as it is.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I worked an entire semester on a piece about the 2020 census and how there’s no category for people from the Middle East and North Africa. This was for Fernanda Santos’ Advanced Bilingual Reporting class, so I worked on this really long story in both English and Spanish for the entire semester. I had the opportunity to talk to the president of the mosque. This was one of my first journalism interviews where I was actually a serious reporter. I remember that conversation; it just felt incredibly natural. I’m Egyptian and he’s Palestinian, so we were switching back and forth in Arabic and English. I remember very specifically, at the end of the interview, he thanked me. He said the only time people in news ever approach him, it’s to condemn some random terrorist attack in some other country as opposed to actually getting to know the community and getting to know him.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Fortunately, I got good scholarships to help cover my tuition and everything, and Cronkite is also a really good school. I was fortunate enough to get a high quality journalism education without having to pay too much. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Fernanda Santos. I owe her so much. She is truly incredible. So, Fernanda is also a woman of color in journalism and a very accomplished person in journalism. I remember having so many conversations with her. After class or in between classes, we would talk about journalism and its problems. I remember I was telling her about how I had a really uncomfortable incident when I was out reporting and someone was essentially being racist to me. She told me, "Don’t let anybody undermine you. Especially as a woman of color, people will try to bring you down, undermine you and not try to listen to you. They take you for granted." And she said, "Don’t ever let anybody do that. Don’t let anyone walk all over you." That really stuck with me. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: It’s hard, but it’s all going to be OK in the end. I can get so caught up in my anxiety whether it’s from school, work, life, anything, and most of the time, things end up just fine. Life is too short to be so stressed out. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I’m doing a 3+1. I’m currently finishing up an internship at NPR and then I’ll be heading to the Texas Tribune as their Washington reporting fellow, which is really exciting. I’ll get to report on the Texas delegation in Congress and focus on an entirely different state.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: In a perfect world, what I would do is take every single billionaire’s money and redistribute it to everybody else. I’d put it into solving housing issues, food insecurity, health care, etc. 

Written by Kasey Brammell