Madeline Blaedow ’20 never saw herself as a journalist. But as of this summer she will have a published byline in an internationally-distributed magazine curated by students at Carroll University.
El Coloso is an annual Spanish language magazine with a variety of articles spanning local, national and international issues in the Hispanic world. All articles are researched and written by students in a spring journalism course taught by Dr. Elena De Costa, who also serves as the editor of the magazine.
“Working with De Costa and the magazine has helped me to widen my perspective towards reporting on the importance of valid themes and sharing the truth,” said Blaedow, who graduated in May as a Spanish major. “The class shaped my writing skills for my time as a student as well as a lifelong learner seeking to report on my experiences and share my observations of the world around me.”
De Costa, who teaches Hispanic Cultural Studies through Journalism and Literature (SPA319), the course that produces the student magazine, said the first issue of El Coloso was published in the summer 1998 under the care and direction of a part-time adjunct Spanish professor and journalist from the Waukesha Freeman. More than 20 years later, De Costa calls each article that is published her “baby.” Pieces she nurtures from conception to birth.
“El Coloso is so important because it teaches students a very practical style of writing, like editorials, reviews, investigative articles, inspirational articles with calls to action, informative articles and experiential reflections,” De Costa said. “This publication is the product of an introductory journalism course taught entirely in Spanish at the undergraduate level.”
That’s a rarity, she adds.
In the class, students are instructed in journalism skills, including the style of writing and effective interviewing skills. Each student proposes a topic for an article, which De Costa approves with any necessary suggestions, then the research and interview process begins. Deadlines are put in place throughout the semester as students submit various portions of article content for review and revisions. De Costa’s role, she said, is to edit and oversee the process. By the end, she jokes, she knows nearly every article by heart, word for word.
“I will sometimes suggest an article topic, but I prefer that the ideas come from the students,” she said. “The only stipulation is that the topic deal with the Hispanic world—locally, nationally or internationally.”
Students have interviewed esteemed members of the Hispanic community, such as community organizer and human rights promoter, Dr. Luther Castillo of Honduras, and Cuban governmental representatives. Articles have been written about “the disappeared,” the name for thousands of people who were murdered or disappeared during the Chilean dictatorship in the 1970s and ’80s. With the exception of the latest issue, each cover features Carroll’s bilingual theater performance, which didn’t occur in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Eleni Capio ’21 enjoyed getting immersed in her research while working on the 2020 issue of El Coloso.
“Not many students get the chance to be a published author in college and I am so grateful for the experience,” Capio said. “I formed such a close bond with my editor, Dr. De Costa. I found myself reaching out to her with more than just thoughts on my article or suggestions for formatting. She became a mentor to me for so much more.”
Each spring, the two-color, 24-page magazine has a print run of 1,500 issues. Each issue is provided to local organizations that have a Spanish-speaking readership in the greater Milwaukee area, including the United Community Center (UCC) in Milwaukee and La Casa de Esperanza in Waukesha, as well as local colleges and universities, the Waukesha County Courthouse and the School District of Waukesha. De Costa also personally distributes the magazine when she attends national conferences and passes them along to the partner organizations she works with for her cross-cultural experience (CCE) courses. Each issue is designed by a Carroll graphic communications student as a capstone project.
For De Costa and her students, El Coloso is a labor of love.
“Students have been inspired by the real-life tragic circumstances of the people whom they have interviewed,” she said. “They make the literature and textbooks that we read in class, and the documentaries and class discussions we have, come to life, placing them in the context of the real world with real people who validate what we are learning in class. These are social justice issues at home and abroad from immigration to revolutions.”