A team of journalists whose coverage of sexual assaults at Utah State University won them a Pulitzer Prize has been disinvited from one of the school’s premier speaking events because of what university officials called an unfortunate scheduling error.
Reporting by Salt Lake Tribune reporter Alex Stuckey led to an internal investigation that concluded USU’s sexual assault policies “fell short” of national standards.
Stuckey and her colleague, Jessica Miller, were both slated to speak at the university-organized event about their coverage of sexual assault at universities throughout the Beehive State. But it was coverage at two Utah universities that won the Salt Lake Tribune its 2017 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting – those universities: Brigham Young University and USU.
In early July, TEDxUSU organizers invited the Salt Lake Tribune reporting team to speak at the Oct. 27 event, giving the team three days to respond to its invitation because they were “on a tight timeline and under pressure” to assemble the speaking roster. But on Friday, that invitation was revoked.
The invitation outlined the “dry runs” and the dress rehearsal leading up to the event and acknowledged the improvements that were made at USU and throughout the state because of the newspaper’s reporting on sexual assault. To Stuckey, it seemed like sharing what she knows about sexual assault reporting procedures at USU was a foregone conclusion.
“The recent development with the Tribune reporters is a result of a process error in planning and scheduling, due in part to being overloaded by big changes we’re making to our event this year,” TEDxUSU Director Anna McEntire said in an email Monday.
In a move to accommodate growing interest in the event, USU changed the venue this year from a performance hall that seats around 400 people to the newly-renovated Newel G. and Jean C. Daines Concert Hall, which seats about 1,700 people.
The USU campus was rocked in 2016 after revelations that former linebacker Torrey Green had allegedly sexually assaulted four women who didn’t know one another. Since the report, the school announced sweeping changes to its sexual assault reporting and advocacy procedures. It updated its online reporting system, hired a sexual misconduct information and outreach coordinator, changed reporting processes and ran several awareness campaigns. Green currently sits in the Cache County Jail awaiting trial on charges involving seven women that include rape, object rape, forcible sex abuse and aggravated kidnapping.
“I just think it is interesting that all of a sudden we were pulled out of this event, given the reporting we did on Utah State,” Stuckey said. “This is a missed opportunity to be able to share the knowledge we have.”
McEntire said in an email to Miller and Stuckey that it was just a planning mistake.
According to McEntire, one speaker who originally had a conflict is now able to speak. But this change, she wrote, meant two speaking sessions from external participants had to be canceled. While a member of Ballet West will talk, a structural engineer from the University of Nevada-Reno, Stuckey and Miller “will no longer be able to fit” in the schedule.
“This is not normal standard of operation for TEDxUSU, and we typically develop great and enduring relationships with those we work with,” McEntire wrote.
Stuckey said she was initially impressed by the university for inviting her and her colleagues to talk about sexual assault at USU.
“I was very excited to share my knowledge with the campus; the students are really interested in this topic,” Stuckey said. “I thought it was great,” she added, “since [USU] continues to say they’re making changes and taking sexual assault seriously – but actions and words are different.”
Stuckey pointed to USU’s recent campus climate survey as evidence that students are interested in learning about the impacts of sexual assault. Around 45 percent of the school’s 23,000 students responded to the survey, which is meant to assess prevalence and perception of sexual assault on campus.
According to the TEDxUSU website, “TEDxUSU is meant to push attendees and online viewers to think outside of their comfort zone by engaging them in new and different subject matters.”
TEDxUSU is a conference-type live recording session that is in partnership with TED, a nonprofit organization that hosts speaking conferences around the world and shares the talks online. Universities can host their own events, which are independently organized by university administration, faculty or students. This is the fifth year for the event at USU.
McEntire said she wishes there were more room to include external speakers, but the event’s primary focus is to feature diverse voices from the USU community.
“Even among our USU auditions, it’s agonizing to choose fewer than 10 each year,” she wrote, “just because we can’t fit every voice we’d like into our event doesn’t mean we don’t view them as valuable and important.”
Photo courtesy of TEDxUSU
Note: This post was updated to clarify the role Alex Stuckey had in sparking the investigation into the sexual assault reporting process at USU.