Editorial Board: Students deserve a voice

Investigation written over span of three months to bring concerns to light



Layout editor Jayce Carral, left, and deputy news editor Cody Schoeler review the front page layout for the newspaper during production on Thursday night in the Evergreen newsroom.

EDITORIAL BOARD, The Daily Evergreen

In late July, The Daily Evergreen published an investigative article detailing sexual harassment by professors in two different departments at WSU. One day later, we received two separate news tips concerning the WSU Department of Psychology.

“Your recent article ‘A Beautiful Setup for Predators’ was only released today, but has already spread like wildfire through the Psychology department,” the news tip began.

The writer continued to say that the stories published the day prior mirrored allegations within the psychology department that students had spoken about to the Office of Civil Rights Compliance & Investigation, then known as the Office for Equal Opportunity. The original accuser was not willing to go through the interview process they said, and the inquiry was then closed.

Another wrote the same day:

“OEO opened an investigation and numerous graduate students came forward to detail inappropriate or uncomfortable behavior they had experienced or witnessed,” they wrote. “Many of the graduate students subsequently received lectures from their major professors on professionalism and the spreading of rumors.”

The Daily Evergreen requested public records regarding issues outlined by the two news tips and waited. On Aug. 20, a third news tip arrived informing our staff of a department meeting scheduled by the chair.

“Students are concerned that this meeting is retaliation for speaking up,” they wrote. “If you can be there, or nearby, it would be appreciated to have outside accountability for what this meeting will entail.”

Two Daily Evergreen reporters attended this meeting originally planning to cover it the same day. After reaching out to several of the students that attended, however, they felt there was more to cover than could be done right in the span of a few hours.

And so, for the next three months, our reporters emailed, called, texted and talked to students in person within the department. They pored over a 374-page report by the then-OEO and attempted to contact as many people involved in the inquiry as possible, both students and faculty members.

In total, our reporters received four news tips, talked to six graduate students and three undergraduate students in a series of ongoing messages and interviews. They also reached out to over a dozen other sources within the department for comment.

They also heard from students who were not directly connected to the inquiry but worked with the faculty member in question. They included both positive and negative feedback regarding the involved professor from these students in their article.

Multiple graduate students the reporters talked to said they felt issues were being swept under the rug, that their experiences were being dismissed and silenced and that they were being discouraged from speaking to their support network on the premise of not “spreading rumors.”

Some expressed frustration that they felt the need to speak to the newspaper — they wanted to be heard, they said, but told our reporters they felt their concerns were not, and would not be addressed without external pressure.

Some students, although not all, said they felt the university had chosen to protect the administration, faculty and itself above the students it serves.

Because graduate students are often highly dependent on their faculty and mentors to be able to successfully finish their graduate program, some sources closest to the issue asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation.

It’s important to note that several other students expressed enthusiastic support of the involved professor. The Daily Evergreen recognizes our reporters’ coverage of allegations against him does not invalidate their experience.

Despite this, the individual faculty member’s alleged actions were only one part of our story.
The reason our writers wrote this article was not to drag one person through the mud, but to bring light to what multiple students described as a larger, systemic issue: Alleged attempts to bar students from expressing worries or criticism in an effort to maintain department credibility.

As the student newspaper, we felt it was our journalistic obligation to bring these concerns to light. Our tagline says, “The student voice of Washington State University since 1895.” We could not continue to make this claim if we ignored the voices of the students who reached out to us.

During the layout process for this article, our reporters specifically stressed that a photo of a professor involved in the story should not be included because allegations against that one person are not what the heart of the story was about.

The article also went through multiple revisions and scrutiny by our staff to try and eliminate possible bias, unfair language or factual errors. While no article is ever perfect, we as the editorial board feel our reporters and editing staff did their best to ensure a fair, clear and accurate article.

All allegations mentioned were backed up by public record inqury, and our reporters specifically did not make claims of any individual’s guilt — both because it would be unethical to do so and because we believe in our readers’ ability to read the article and draw their own conclusions.

The Daily Evergreen stands with our reporters and the students of this university. We will continue to work for public accountability and transparency. We will continue to seek and report the truth.

Editor’s note: This editorial board was amended to accurately label the OEO’s involvement in the case as an inquiry. A previous version referred to the inquiry as an investigation.