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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Rowan University investigative journalism class investigation show insensitivity

    Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey gives a new meaning to “hands-on curriculum.”

    A fall 2011 class at Rowan involves 10 students, one professor, and a real-life murder investigation. The investigative journalism class plans to discuss and write stories about a student who was murdered almost four years ago.

    Donnie Farrell, a 19-year-old sophomore at Rowan, was murdered by a group on a rainy Homecoming night in October 2007. The details about the murderers and motives were left unanswered and the students of the class are eager to put their “Law and Order” skills to use.

    According to the professor, Amy Quinn, the class will have more of a storytelling focus rather than mystery solving. The class will ultimately give students the experience of a real journalist seeking information and trying to tell a full and accurate story. However, is the class pushing boundaries and tolerance of the campus community? The professor doesn’t seem to think so.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Rowan administrators were wary of the class because it is a campus tragedy. The crime scene, a convenience store where Farrell was robbed and attacked, is in mere walking distance from the journalism classroom.

    If any of the 10 inquisitive students of the class personally knew Farrell, the semester will be both overwhelming and emotional. Reporting about public crime becomes an entirely different game when the victim is a friend or even a familiar campus face.

    University of Arizona students experienced a similar campus tragedy with the death of Wilson Forrester in early April 2011. At 19, Forrester died from an accidental overdose of alcohol, painkillers and Xanax, according to the autopsy results. When he passed, the UA community was left with a deep wound. The morning after his death, more than 300 students attended the memorial at Forrester’s fraternity.

    The deaths of Farrell and Forrester were truly tragic events that should be remembered with the utmost respect. While Farrell’s death differes — it was a murder and more time has passed — it will always be too soon to become an academic assignment.

    The idea of this investigative journalism class is incredible for gaining experience in the field. However, student deaths are much too grave of an issue to be studied for classroom purposes. If the UA allowed toxicology or pathology students to investigate Forrester’s death, our community would be outraged. Whether four years or four months after a student’s death, the idea of involving students in a campus tragedy is insensitive and unethical.

    The cause of Forrester’s death was not determined by the Pima County Medical Examiner until the end of May 2011. UA students could have received the best hands-on experience possible for careers in toxicology or pathology by helping the medical examiner with the autopsy and lab results, but they didn’t. Perhaps Rowan University is proud of the investigative journalism students for being so proactive in their curriculum but not even that makes it acceptable to investigate that campus tragedy. It is commendable that the department is serious about training real and dedicated journalists, but it is risking bringing back painful memories to the Rowan campus.

    The deaths of Donnie Farrell and Wilson Forrester were devastating losses to both campuses. Their deaths should be considered traumatic events and respected, not sensationalized as classroom projects. There is no defiend time for how long a community needs to heal and gaining hands-on experience does not justify desensitizing a campus loss.

    — Caroline Nachazel is a junior studying journalism and communication. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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