Carleton University’s Rachel Watts named the 2021 Fraser MacDougall Prize winner

Rachel Watts, a fourth-year undergraduate journalism student at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication, has been selected as the recipient of this year’s Fraser MacDougall Prize for Best New Canadian Voice in Human Rights Reporting for her story Pandemic intensifies silent sorrow of Canada’s asylum seekers, published in Capital Current. 

This year’s judges agreed Watts’ story was thorough and eloquently written. The story’s compelling focus on chronicling the challenges asylum seekers face, even after overcoming horrific challenges in their home countries, was both potent and persuasive. 

“This story captures so many meaningful nuances which, against the backdrop of the pandemic, have become all the more concerning,” says John Fraser, the executive chair of the National NewsMedia Council. “The story helps to amplify the perspectives, and life experiences, of those whom we do not always hear from in the media but that are important voices that shape our collective worldview.”

The Fraser MacDougall Prize is jointly sponsored by the National NewsMedia Council (NNC), in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR). The prize was first presented in 2017 as a way of supporting young journalists to report on challenging, high-impact human rights issues. You can read about previous winners here

Watts offered a heartfelt ‘thank you’ to her “wonderful” professor, Kelly Patterson, for her guidance on bringing this important story from idea to publication. 

Through my reporting, I began to realize how newcomers and refugees are often depicted as being mostly ‘grateful’ and ‘relieved’ upon their immigration to Canada,” says Watts. “Settlement, or creating ‘a new life’, is viewed as ‘the easy part’. 

“Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. Too many vulnerable groups of migrants continue to experience various challenges such as culture shock, severe isolation, language barriers, discrimination and dead-end jobs. It’s particularly relevant to consider these barriers in the COVID-19 pandemic context– one which began to isolate newcomer families and individuals on a whole new level.” 

This year’s competition attracted a record number of submissions. A short list of four finalists was announced last month

“Despite an extremely trying and challenging past 18 months, the quality of this year’s submissions have shown us that student journalism continues to successfully push boundaries and has never been stronger,” says Fraser.

In addition to the $1,000 prize, Watts will be celebrated at JHR’s upcoming Night for Rights gala, which will be held on October 20.