Brechner Student Freedom of Information Awards Honor Student Journalists Who Effect Change
The Joseph L. Brechner Freedom of Information (FOI) Project at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications partnered with the Student Press Law Center to launch the 2023 Student Freedom of Information (FOI) Awards. The two inaugural recipients in the college and high school divisions received cash awards of $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.
In the college division, student journalists from The Citizen, a student-run publication at Laney College in Oakland, California, were recognized for their extraordinary persistence in using public records to investigate their community college district’s campus safety program. Public records requests revealed the college’s security guards weren’t licensed or local. They also found that the public safety director, who faces criminal charges, resigned at his previous job while under investigation for misconduct. The award was presented on Oct. 30 at the Fall National College Media Convention in Atlanta.
In the high school division, Riya Vyas, a student journalist for The Union newspaper at Milpitas (California) High School, used public records to acquire police reports and resignation agreements that showed the school had allowed teachers accused of inappropriate behavior to resign quietly, rather than pursue formal dismissals. The practice is a national issue that can permit offenders to find jobs at other schools, which The Union noted can continue the cycle of harassment and abuse. She received the award on Nov. 4 at the Fall National High School Journalism Convention in Boston.
“This amazing journalistic work demonstrates the power of public records, and that the tenacity of students can make the world better,” said David Cuillier, director of the Brechner FOI Project. “This journalism deserves to be awarded and spotlighted.”
The student awards build on Brechner’s annual FOI award, which has been given to professional journalists since 1986.