Meet five women who are making a difference in Memphis.
(page 4 of 6)
University of Memphis
Once a timid teenager, she's now a fearless college journalist, whose passion for the truth can't be shaken. Despite pressure from higher-ups, she stands her ground.
No” isn’t an acceptable answer for firebrand Daily Helmsman editor-in-chief Chelsea Boozer.
The University of Memphis senior will get the story no matter what obstacles are put in her way. Deny her public records, and she’ll recite the law. Refuse to offer comment, and she’ll be sure to let her readers know. Try to hide the truth, and she will sniff it out.
“Nobody can take her courage away as far as I’ve seen,” says Helmsman faculty advisor Candy Justice.
Throughout her college career as an award-winning student journalist, Boozer has faced challenges from University of Memphis administrators and Student Government Association (SGA) leaders who were none too happy about her stories exposing free tuition benefits for SGA members and a football program that loses money every year.
University officials often give Boozer a hard time when she’s attempting to view open records. She even had two police reports (which she and her journalism professors believe contained false accusations) filed against her as she and another reporter attempted to gather news about campus rapes last fall.
“I’m not intimidated. If I know I’m standing up for something that’s right, I don’t have anything to worry about,” Boozer says.
Student Press Law Center director Frank LoMonte has described Boozer as “Mike Wallace with molasses syrup, disarming, but deadly.”
This summer, as Boozer was preparing to begin her last semester at the U of M, the Helmsman’s funding was slashed by 25 percent. Boozer and Justice alleged the cuts were a First Amendment violation as SGA members retaliated against the Helmsman staff for choosing to cover hard news over fluff pieces about SGA events. A university investigation found that claim to be true, and the Helmsman’s funding was fully restored in late August.
Boozer boasts a 3.8 GPA, and she’s garnered numerous awards for her writing, including the 2012 College Journalist of the Year award at the Southeast Journalism Conference and a first-place Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) Award for her series on SGA members receiving free tuition.
“They have one student category, so I was there with people from The New York Times and CNN,” Boozer says, calling that award her proudest accomplishment.
It’s hard to believe that Boozer was once painfully shy. When she was in her teens, she wouldn’t even go to the gas station in her hometown of Marion, Arkansas, without her older sister by her side.
“When I first started in journalism in junior high, I was so nervous,” Boozer says. “But I had to go out and talk to people, and I was president of other clubs. Eventually I became more sociable. I think journalism brought me out of my shell.”
Boozer was drawn to journalism through her dreams of being a writer. When she was in the seventh grade, her honors literature teacher actually accused her of plagiarism when she turned in an exceptionally well-written short story. Boozer’s mother was called to the school to confirm that her daughter had indeed written the piece. “That was encouraging,” she says. “That’s when I realized I could write well, so I ended up taking a journalism class because it was a writing class.”
Although Boozer still loves the craft of writing, it was the allure of the Fourth Estate’s watchdog role that kept her interested. After graduation this fall, the self-professed “news nerd” hopes to land a job at a daily newspaper. She recently finished an internship at Scripps Howard News Service, Washington Bureau.
“I’m passionate about the service that journalism provides,” Boozer says. “As a journalist, you get to uncover things that may not be going right. Or perhaps your work can persuade a policy change. You get to tell people things they want to know when they may not have the means or be brave enough to find the information out for themselves. Your job is to be the voice for them.”
— Bianca Phillips