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“The Liberty Way” Wins Education Writers Association Award

The Education Writers Association announced this week that “‘The Liberty Way’: How Liberty University Discourages and Dismisses Students’ Reports of Sexual Assaults” won its National Award for Education Reporting in the category of investigative reporting (larger newsroom). The investigation by Hannah Dreyfus, an Abrams reporting fellow at ProPublica, examined Liberty University’s handling of sexual assault on its campus — finding that the evangelical Christian school ignored reports of rape and threatened to punish accusers for breaking its moral code.

“This reporter’s deeply layered and careful reporting exposed the disregard Liberty officials seemed to have for victims and the great lengths they would go to hide any problems,” contest judges said. “The level of trust gained through careful interactions with victims is clear and that hard work resulted in a shocking body of work.”

Dreyfus unearthed the stunning injustices faced by victims of sexual assault through months of detailed interviews, careful evaluation of corroborating evidence and the methodical collection of photo evidence, school records, medical records and police records. After reviewing what Dreyfus found, one of the authors of a federal law on universities and sexual assault told her, “I do not believe Liberty has a conception of sexual assault that is consistent with criminal law, and certainly not with federal civil rights and campus safety.”

Dreyfus tried to get Liberty to respond to what she was finding, but the university never did. Shortly before the story was scheduled to publish, however, she received a text from Liberty’s former vice president of communications. He had just been fired after encouraging the school to respond to ProPublica and grapple with Liberty’s record on sexual assaults. He described “a conspiracy of silence.”

When Dreyfus’ story was published, three senators called on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Liberty’s handling of sexual assault claims, citing possible violations of federal law. In April 2022, the department began an investigation into Liberty, whose students received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid. The school pledged its full cooperation with the investigation, while its board voted to open an “independent and comprehensive review” of the school office tasked with handling discrimination and abuse.

See a complete list of winners here.

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