Outstanding Cronkite School student became a leading voice on campus diversity, social justice issues

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

In the space of three years, Kiarra Spottsville went from being a shy freshman to being a leading voice for students on diversity and social justice issues.

Spottsville said she knew she wanted to study at ASU after participating in the Summer High School Journalism Institute at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

“It was two weeks, and it was really hard. I was exhausted by the end of it, but I genuinely enjoyed Cronkite. My senior year, I only (started) just two applications — to ASU and Northern Arizona University, and then I never finished my NAU application because I knew I didn't want to go there. ASU was the choice from the start.”

Spottsville was awarded the New American University Dean’s Award, offered to outstanding incoming undergraduate students, and also earned the Chief Manuelito Scholarship and the American Indian Services Scholarship. 

During her undergraduate career, Spottsville focused on public relations and organizational leadership. She completed her professional program in the Cronkite Public Relations Lab and her internship at Valley Metro. She also served as president of the National Association of Black Journalists at ASU, where she found her voice in speaking out against social injustice. 

“In my time here at ASU, especially in 2020, a lot happened. I was in a leadership position and these students were coming to me, telling me they felt uncomfortable about things going on,” she said. “That moment shifted my perspective because I was in this position of power and people needed someone to stand up for them, to defend them.”

Spottsville, who will receive her Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism, was named an Outstanding Undergraduate Student for the spring 2021 Cronkite School convocation, to be held May 3. 

Here’s what Spottsville had to say about her undergraduate experience at ASU and what she plans to do after graduation. 

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

Answer: I always knew that I wanted to do some kind of writing, but I knew that I didn't want to be a reporter or journalist — I just didn't like the pacing. I knew I didn't want to do print or broadcast, so I was like, "Let me give PR a shot." I ended up in JMC 415, Writing for Public Relations, and in that class, everything clicked for me.

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

A: I would say in my time at ASU, I've learned that it's fine to challenge what you're being exposed to. It's fine to speak up when you think something's wrong. You don't have to be afraid of the consequences as long as you believe in what is right and what you're doing is right and you have a support squad behind you who also understands what you're feeling and how others are feeling.

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

A: When you go into college, you kind of have this expectation that your professors don't care about you. But Interim Dean Kristin Gilger was the first professor that showed she cared. Next was Retha Hill. Being a student of color, it can be really hard to go to all of your classes and every professor is either a white man or woman, and you don't see yourself reflected in these successful people. It was great to see someone who was so talented, so skilled and such a good person, who at any moment would be willing to help me and other students out and make sure that we were set up for success. Also Lisa Schmidtke, the PR Lab director. She's incredible. You can tell that she's very passionate about what she does, and that she's not only passionate about public relations but she's passionate about helping students.

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

A: Something my dad says is that the time is gonna pass anyway. There's definitely been some hard spots … where it kind of just felt like it wasn't worth it. There's no right answer for everyone. Just know that the time is gonna pass and it’s up to you how you spend it.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: My favorite spot in Cronkite is that half floor between the second and third floor, where there's just tables and high chairs. It reminds me of pre-COVID when we had class at 8 a.m. We had to get up early, sit there with a Starbucks until the classroom opened and just chat with all your friends, talking about what assignments you are stressed out about — having that community of people around you who understand what you're going through and who are supportive of you. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: In the fall, I'm doing the 3+1 program at Cronkite, so I'll be returning for my master's degree. After that, I just recently started thinking about getting my PhD. I’m not sure if I'm going to do it, but I'm thinking about it. 

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

A: When I was really young, maybe like 6 or 7 years old, I remember listening to the radio and they were doing a money giveaway or something like that. And I remember thinking, "If I was rich, I would build a giant house for all homeless people to live in and help them get back up on their feet." It's just always kind of stuck with me. So I think if I had $40 million, I would probably build that giant house to help out the homeless population.

Written by Lisa Diethelm