A commitment to her Native American roots leads Stanford’s Aliyah Chavez to a journalism career

Her new press badge symbolizes Aliyah Chavez’s new job in Phoenix.  (Image

Her new press badge symbolizes Aliyah Chavez’s new job in Phoenix. (Image credit: Courtesy Aliyah Chavez)

After Stanford, Aliyah Chavez will pursue dual passions for reporting the news and drawing attention to the issues of indigenous communities as a journalist for Indian Country Today. She’ll work on a PBS program for Native American peoples created by Native American journalists.

Aliyah Chavez isn’t giving herself too much time to relax and recover after her graduation this weekend.

Chavez, a co-terminal student who is earning a graduate degree in communication, starts her new job as a reporter for Indian Country Today on the Thursday following Commencement.

The new job, which relocates her to Phoenix where part of her family lives, combines Chavez’s passion for her Native American heritage, her gift for storytelling and her skills in broadcast and digital media.

She’ll be working on a weekly program set to air on PBS this fall. The news show will be created for Native Americans and produced entirely by Native Americans. Chavez is a member of the Kewa Pueblo and grew up on her tribal reservation near Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has interned and worked freelance for Indian Country Today in the past, covering, for instance, an Indigenous Peoples Day event on Alcatraz Island and the mid-term congressional elections.

Invisible minority

"In my studies here, I have tried to learn about the world we live in and specifically why native people are nicknamed ’the invisible minority,’" Chavez  said. "I’ve tried to focus on how I can help my community. I consistently came to the same conclusion, which is that the media is incredibly pervasive and powerful. Native Americans are underrepresented in the media, which affects how people view us and how much people care about our issues."

Her accomplishments at Stanford have brought pride to friends and family in New Mexico and in Arizona. In fact, 38 people are traveling to Stanford to witness her participation in Commencement, the Department of Communication diploma ceremony and the Native American graduation, including parents Frank and Mary Chavez and young siblings Leander and Leandria.

But missing the ceremony will be a favorite uncle, Everett Chavez, who encouraged his niece to choose Stanford over Dartmouth and supported her studies here. Dartmouth was initially her first choice because of its strong Native American community and academic programs. Everett Chavez died in December.

"He was like a second dad to me," she said. "He really felt strongly that Stanford was a great institution. He also warned me, ’Aliyah, you have no idea how much the weather will impact how happy you are.’ Plus, there are a lot of tribal ceremonies and cultural activities, and the price of a plane ticket from Stanford to New Mexico is a lot less than New Hampshire to New Mexico."

Chavez has never regretted the decision to attend Stanford or to focus her graduate studies in journalism, after having earned her undergraduate degree in communication and comparative studies in race and ethnicity.

"I took a class taught by (communication lecturer) Janine Zacharia in my freshman spring. She said something I will never forget: Being a journalist is the best job in the world because you get paid to go around and listen to people’s stories. That hit the nail on the head for me. Journalism combines everything I love and value, especially wanting to give back to my community. So, I decided to co-term. I really do love reporting."

The communication program has given her a chance to intern with such organizations as NBC’s Today show and to master the data analysis that has become a cornerstone of journalism today.

It also has allowed her to delve deeper through her thesis into such issues as the epidemic of missing and murdered Native American women, who suffer violence at a rate higher than women of other ethnicities. She wrote about the death of San Franciscan and Native American Jessica Alva, whose case is still under investigation.

Unlikely cheerleader

Chavez says she’ll miss her faculty and fellow students in communication, but perhaps not as much as her colleagues on the Stanford cheerleading squad and friends in the Native American community.

The story of how Chavez - a volleyball player in high school - ended up cheering for Stanford athletics beginning her senior year reflects her determination when she identifies a goal she wants to achieve.

The indigenous students at Stanford are some of the most resilient and powerful people I have ever met.

Aliyah Chavez

Graduating co-term student

"I tried out for the cheerleading team my freshman year, never having done cheerleading or gymnastics or even having a dance background," she said. "I didn’t make the team, but I really love being told no. So, I worked at it and took dance classes and worked on flexibility and pretty much everything I possibly could. I tried out again, and I made the team. It has been one of the best gifts Stanford has given me."

Chavez said members of her community at home are avid college sports fans. Her participation in the cheer squad has given friends and family at home a chance to keep tabs on her on the sidelines as they watched the Cardinal compete.

At Stanford, she was also involved in the Native American community, holding leadership positions with Powwow and the Stanford American Indian Organization.

"The indigenous students at Stanford are some of the most resilient and powerful people I have ever met," Chavez said. "I’ve credited a lot of my getting to my graduation to my family, and I include the Stanford Native American community as among my family.

"Stanford has given me a community here," she added. "Together we have been through not only school work, but also microaggressions, death and mental health challenges. We’ve picked each other up. The indigenous students here have been my best friends. Aside from cheer and journalism, it’ll be what I miss most."