2023 Student Journalism Winner

Alex Walters, The State News

About the Winner:

Under Title IX, universities are empowered to investigate and discipline campus sexual violence to create educational equity. At Michigan State University (MSU), that work is done by the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE). Outside investigators and consultants have described the staff of that office as “mission-driven” and “highly dedicated” to their work, but unable to do it well because of persistent understaffing, constant leadership turnover, and outside interference from the administration. 

Alex Walters explored the consequences of those challenges. Doing so required constant ingenuity. At MSU, the majority of documents and information relating to the OIE are withheld from public records requests, all under the guise of protecting survivor privacy – a defense many advocates have criticized. 

Alex had to work around that secrecy by building trusted source relationships to either get documents and information from someone directly involved in the case, connect fragments of information in multiple heavily redacted documents to each other, or get access to a tightly guarded, privileged document in an orthodox way even outside investigators couldn’t figure out.

Comments From the Judges:

“This is very good reporting that has had a significant impact. The three stories are connected by the themes of sexual misconduct and MSU official indifference and misbehavior, and the reporting is consistently excellent and thorough.”

“These stories display dogged reporting: acquiring confidential records, building deep sources, understanding complex issues. The stories uncover important details. The level of difficulty couldn’t be much higher for a student news story.”

Photo credits: The State News/Audrey Richardson