SPLC, Columbus Dispatch collaboration awarded top First Amendment award

July 24, 2015   
Contact: Frank LoMonte, Executive Director
director@splc.org or 202-872-1704

The Student Press Law Center and the Columbus Dispatch have been awarded the Eugene S. Pulliam First Amendment Award for the groundbreaking investigative series on the leniency and secrecy of colleges’ response to sexual assault, ‘Campus Insecurity.’

The award was presented by the Society of Professional Journalists’ educational foundation, the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation, and carries a $10,000 prize. It recognizes a person or organization that has fought to protect and preserve one or more of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The award is given in memory of Eugene S. Pulliam, publisher of The Indianapolis Star and The Indianapolis News from 1975 until his death in 1999, who was a staunch supporter of the First Amendment.

SPLC reporter Sara Gregory worked alongside reporters from the Columbus Dispatch for more than a year to investigate the reliability of colleges’ self-reported rates of sexual assault and other serious crime. The series, published in 2014, revealed that federally required crime disclosure rates are often misleadingly low, with many colleges claiming never to have experienced a violent crime. 

The authors also found a deep lack of transparency on college campuses, with serious crimes funneled into closed-door campus judicial hearings handled by untrained faculty and students, dealing out inconsistent penalties that were, at times, as minor as writing an apologetic essay. Many colleges resisted multiple demands for release of public records even where the law clearly required disclosure, falsely invoking an inapplicable federal privacy statute. 

“It’s incredibly gratifying to see the work of Sara Gregory and the ‘Campus Insecurity’ team recognized by the most knowledgeable people in the field. Reporting this project took well over a year of haggling with recalcitrant colleges over records that should rightfully be available to the public,” said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center in Washington, D.C.

LoMonte added, “Sara’s groundbreaking work has focused national attention not only on colleges’ failure to treat sexual assault as a serious crime, but also on colleges’ outright defiance of their obligations to keep the public informed. ‘Campus Insecurity’ should be a wake-up call for lawmakers everywhere to reform toothless disclosure statutes and rein in out-of-control privacy laws that colleges manipulatively misapply.”

In its release of the award, the SPJ said the investigation brought awareness to the importance of accurate crime reporting and informed the public of a very serious issue.

The SPLC and the Columbus Dispatch will be honored Sept. 20 at the President’s Installation Banquet during Excellence in Journalism 2015 in Orlando, Fla. The conference is hosted by SPJ, the Radio Television Digital News Association and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

About the Student Press Law Center

The Student Press Law Center is an advocate for student First Amendment rights, for freedom of online speech and for open government on campus. The SPLC provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them. The SPLC is based in Washington, D.C. Learn more at www.splc.org.