Dr. Marianne Salcetti and her former students were recognized by the New England First Amendment Coalition in a virtual ceremony on April 21.
Salcetti and her students were honored at the 11th annual New England First Amendment awards for their efforts in a more than three-year battle against the City of Keene in a Right-to-Know lawsuit. This led to the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruling in their favor on several points last June.
The story began in 2017 when Salcetti instructed her public affairs reporting class 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.
“I never would have thought when filing the lawsuit in December of 2017 that I would be here in April of 2021 being so recognized,” Salcetti said. “For them to recognize the students and my efforts in this quest was wonderful.”
The five students honored alongside Salcetti were Colby Dudal, Alex Flemming, Meredith King, Grace Pecci and Abbygail Vasas.
“For the students this likely represents life lessons more than class lessons about being persistent, committed to the truth and fighting for what you believe,” Salcetti said.
Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell congratulated both Salcetti and her students on being awarded.
“I was really proud that she and our students took this case and went all the way that they did with her just saying ‘this isn’t right and we’re going to fight for it.’ So I’m really proud that we know about it and that other outside parties are actually acknowledging the significance of it because of what it means for getting the facts out there,” Treadwell said.
Dr. Salcetti mentioned that the very last piece of public information regarding the students’ requests came during sunshine week of March 2021.
Sunshine week is a week in March which coincides with the birthday of James Madison, a historical figure also known as the father of open government. Madison believed that a democracy without an open government is “but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy.” Sunshine week is held to celebrate the public’s right-to-know.
“For this long journey to end on sunshine week was ironic,” Salcetti said. “James Madison would be pleased.”
Salcetti added that the first amendment means a lot to her.
“It’s the most important amendment and it’s always worth fighting for,” Salcetti said.
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