Alumni Spotlight: Maddy Crowell

by Erika Riley

Maddy Crowell had never considered journalism before attending SIT’s program in Morocco in the Fall of 2013. Now she spends her days freelancing around the world, covering everything from France’s colonial legacy in Guadaloupe to white supremacists in the United States.

“It was all very transformative for me,” the 26 year-old alum said. “I came back to Carleton after the semester and switched [my major] from philosophy to politics and was very very restless and ready to get out of school.”

She originally applied to the SIT Morocco: Field Studies in New Media and Journalism program because she wanted to study outside the Western world and wanted to learn Arabic. She wasn’t specifically looking for a journalism program.

As a philosophy major, she became fascinated with Mohammed Abed al-Jabri, a Moroccan philosopher who died in 2010. Despite wanting to write about him for class, she listened to her adviser Mary Stucky’s advice to pursue a larger story for her independent project. She ended up deciding to report on the government’s reactions to activism and journalism in a barely post-Arab Spring Morocco.

That’s how she found herself being followed by two men in suits around Avenue Mohammed V in Rabat, where she was both living and conducting most of her interviews.

“The activists would tell me these men would be parked outside their apartment in the middle of the night. They were constantly being monitored, they were going through their email, all their private information was being watched,” she explained. “So just by attaching myself or just by sitting in public squares and cafes with these activists, interviewing them, that got the attention of the government … I kind of walked into their territory unknowingly.”

After a few days of being followed, she and Stucky called the US Embassy. Shortly thereafter, the following stopped.

“The whole thing was like a wake-up call to me,” Crowell said.

After finishing her junior year at Carleton College in Minnesota, Crowell took the opportunity to go abroad again in Ghana, where she worked at a local newspaper and eventually started freelancing. After graduating, she headed back out of the United States to intern at a paper in India, and then eventually found herself in Cambodia, then travelling around Asia reporting on several different stories.

She did come back to the U.S. to go to graduate school at Columbia University in New York City from 2016 to 2017. She is currently based out of New York and when she’s home for longer periods of time, she works as a fact-checker for New York Magazine. Otherwise, she prefers to be travelling and reporting around the world.

“I think there’s this illusion, this constant sort of misconception that when you travel you’re trying to escape something, or you’re leaving something, or you’re getting away,” she said. “But the truth is when you’re travelling, you’re confronted with yourself all of the time, you’re not escaping anything … I think everyone should travel quite often.”

She admits that she doesn’t find vacationing quite enjoyable anymore, though, feeling like she should be interviewing someone or writing someone while she’s travelling. She’s had plenty of interesting experiences abroad, including riding the new train line in India from Kashmir (a disputed territory of Pakistan and India) back to New Delhi, when the train got stuck, a lockdown occurred and fighting broke out.

But what she loves most about reporting is finding a deeper understanding of the issues and topics that fascinate her.

“The thing that’s so beautiful about journalism, is you can just pursue whatever you’re curious or interested about. … I think I’m very drawn to understanding how things work and why, and I’ve always been drawn to that, and I think journalism—at least to some extent—can give concrete answers to things.”

You can find Maddy on Twitter @MadCrowell.

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