A team of investigative reporters including the SPLC’s Sara Gregory was just announced as the winner of the Associated Press Managing Editors’ national First Amendment Award, for their work on the 2014 series, “Campus Insecurity,” about inadequacies and deception in the way colleges respond to sexual assaults.
The series, published in The Columbus Dispatch in installments beginning in September 2014, exposed systemic understatements in the way colleges fulfill their federal crime reporting obligations; a review of 12 years of federal Clery Act crime reports discovered that one-fourth of institutions with on-campus housing (those where violent crime is most likely to occur) claim never to have had a sexual assault. The investigation exposed colleges’ widespread practice of, inaccurately, citing federal privacy law to deny the public access to records showing how often students are disciplined for sexual assault and what penalty they receive.
“We could not be prouder of Sara’s work on this issue of paramount national concern, which directly advances the SPLC’s interest in holding colleges accountable for complying with their legal obligation to disclose public records completely and accurately,” said Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “As Sara and the team at the Dispatch discovered, colleges routinely mislead the public about the safety of their campuses and are allowed to get away with it because of lax federal enforcement. Their reporting helped elevate this issue to a matter of national urgency and is richly deserving of recognition.”
Gregory, a graduate of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill who worked for the SPLC for two years as a journalism fellow in a position funded by the McCormick Foundation, is now a reporter with The Roanoke (Va.) Times.
“Campus Insecurity” also won an honorable mention in a different APME category for public service journalism; first place went to The Detroit News for its series on premature births and youth violence, “Surviving through age 18 in Detroit.”