In just a little over a month, journalists across the country will celebrate open government in action. Held annually in March, Sunshine Week is a chance for journalists to demonstrate to lawmakers and the public the importance of open government and easy access to public records.
In the past, the Student Press Law Center has teamed up with student journalists across the country on public records projects. Last year, we used public records to examine dining card practices. We found that students lose thousands of dollars each year in unused meal money, and some schools even budget expecting that meals will be unused.
This year, our focus is campus safety, and our project is one that even students at private universities can participate in: We’re inviting student journalists across the country to help audit your school’s compliance with the Clery Act.
Most people are familiar with the annual Clery reports that schools issue each October, but there are other requirements as well. In addition to the annual reports, schools must maintain a daily crime log that’s available for anyone to see on request. The daily log must include details about each crime reported to campus police or security: what the crime was, when it took place, when it was reported, where it happened and how it’s been resolved.
Over two weeks in February, we’re asking students to stop by their school’s police or security department and ask to see documents that, by law, they’re entitled to see. Then, come Sunshine Week (March 10-16), we’re asking students to write about their experiences.
Here’s how to participate in the SPLC’s Sunshine Week project:
- The two weeks we’ve designated for on-campus audits are Feb. 4-8 and Feb. 11-15. We’re asking students to make two visits, once each week. Send two different reporters so that they can compare notes. You also might want to consider sending one reporter who won’t be recognized — you want to see how your school responds to a request from someone who doesn’t identify themselves as a journalist.
- Before you go, look over this checklist we’ve compiled. When you go to the police department, be prepared to answer these questions. After each visit, fill out the checklist to share your results with SPLC. We’ll share everyone’s results in March. Feel free to call us — (703) 807-1904 — if you run into problems or have questions.
- Write about the results of your audit during Sunshine Week. We’re asking that everyone who participates in the audit publish stories during Sunshine Week, between March 10-16. It’s a chance to explain the Clery Act to students and your community and how they can use the law to keep themselves informed about campus safety. If your audit uncovers any problems, it’s also a chance to ask administrators why. Send us an email if you write a story about your results.
For more Sunshine Week resources:
- Browse through the “idea bank” of public records-based stories compiled by the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who co-coordinate Sunshine Week activities.
- Check out SPLC’s Tumblr, which highlights the best records-driven, public interest student reporting we’ve seen.
- Make a public records request with our fill-in-the-blank letter generator.
- Read our guide to Freedom of Information laws.