The Elon junior will serve alongside five other members, including Assistant Professor Israel Balderas, who is the newly appointed chair of the Legal Defense Fund.
Elon University junior Kyra O’Connor has been selected as the first student member for the Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund Committee. As part of the six-member committee, O’Connor will help decide how the fund can aid journalists through providing legal or direct financial assistance.
“It is truly an honor to serve SPJ in this capacity,” O’Connor said. “It is especially meaningful to me to see cases and concepts I am learning about in my classes here at Elon directly relate to my work on the LDF – it’s experiential learning at its finest.”
O’Connor was recommended for the position by Assistant Professor Israel Balderas, who was recently appointed chair of the fund. Balderas first got to know O’Connor during his Media Law and Ethics course this fall.
Balderas said that heading into the semester he already knew that O’Connor was a dedicated member and leader in Elon News Network, Elon’s student run newsroom, where O’Connor serves as executive director. After seeing O’Connor’s passion for journalism firsthand, Balderas identified the fund as another chance for engaged learning and mentorship.
“I saw an opportunity to instill in my Media Law and Ethics student, as well as a rising SPJ journalist, a greater commitment to the First Amendment beyond classroom work,” Balderas said.
O’Connor also serves as a member of SPJ’s inaugural Student Trustee Council and as president of Elon University’s student chapter of Society of Professional Journalists, two roles she said have enhanced her understanding of journalism and the media industry.
President of SPJ Rebecca Aguilar said she loved the idea of adopting a mentor scholar relationship on committees – so much so that she said she will be recommending it to all SPJ committees in the future.
For Balderas, having O’Connor on the committee shows the success of engaged learning and mentoring at Elon.
“I love mentoring Kyra to not only be a defender of First Amendment, but to think critically about the importance of a free press to our democracy,” Balderas said. “There’s a reason why Elon University ranks No. 1 in Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, according to U.S. News and World Report. Not only are faculty committed toward engaged teaching, but also fostering mentoring relationships with our students.”