Keene State College’s Dr. Marianne Salcetti was the 2020 recipient of the Nackey S. Loeb First Amendment Award for her efforts in a three-year legal battle that started as a class assignment.
The ceremony was held on October 2 outside of the Loeb school in Manchester, New Hampshire. Salcetti said those present were all socially distanced and wearing masks, but the unique circumstances did not change how she felt.
“I’m still amazed and will always remain humbled and inspired to be part of a group of people whose efforts to fight for the truth have been acknowledged,” Salcetti said.
Salcetti’s journey to receiving the award began in fall of 2017, when she instructed her journalism students to file Right-to-Know requests with public entities in the city of Keene, seeking information on topics of public interest. Each student in the class filed requests on their chosen topics, but five students were denied either in full or in part.
Keene State College class of 2018 alumna Meredith King was one of the students in Salcetti’s class. She and classmate Colby Dudal requested restaurant inspection records, but were denied by the city of Keene. She said she and the four other students who were turned away were shepherded by Salcetti in a struggle to access the public records. According to King, although several of the students including herself have graduated from Keene State since 2017, Salcetti held it together and pushed forward.
“Without her, I don’t think we would have gotten as far with the case,” King said.
King added that she is glad Salcetti was recognized for her efforts.
“I feel like there has never been a more deserving person that I’ve ever met to have won that,” King said. “She is an exemplary person who fights for what is right. She truly lives by what she believes, and I am glad she was recognized for that.”
Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell said she was very proud of the work Salcetti put in throughout the three-year process.
“She has been a champion for our students and I am super proud of her,” Treadwell said. “She believed and pursued it.”
The First Amendment trophy Salcetti received was in the shape of an eagle. Salcetti said she named the eagle Ida after two of her personal heroes, journalists Ida B. Wells and Ida Tarbell.
“For me the eagle represents the First Amendment in practice.
King said Ida was a fitting name for Salcetti’s award. King added that like Wells and Tarbell are role models for Salcetti, Salcetti has been a role model for her.
“She helped me with my career and I’m glad I could experience a mentor like that in my life,” King said.
Salcetti said there were points during the three years of work where she does not think she would have made it to the supreme court without First Amendment Gregory V. Sullivan. Sullivan, who represented Salcetti and her students in the New Hampshire Supreme Court said he thinks Salcetti was very deserving of the award, and that he is very glad the judges recognized her perseverance.
“Handling a case in court as she did is no small task for a lawyer, nevermind a non-lawyer,” Sullivan said.
Salcetti said that winning the First Amendment Award, especially in today’s climate, is a victory for journalists.
“To receive this in 2020 — at a time when the press is verbally and physically attacked, journalism is dismissed as fake news and journalists are demonized for doing their jobs — is a reminder that journalism still matters,” Salcetti said.
King added that she thinks it was not only a victory for journalists, but a victory for the average citizen as well.
“Just because you don’t have the power of the city behind you, that doesn’t mean you can’t stand up to a public entity and win,” King said. “I knew [Salcetti] hoped this would set a precedent so that people in the future would not have to face the roadblocks that we did.”
According to Salcetti, it is important for people to fight for their right to know about their government.
“Law is what gives people leverage to force the government to tell the truth and be held accountable for their actions,” Salcetti said.
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