On May 17, 2017, American University’s first female, African American student body president, Taylor Dumpson, was set to take office.
That morning, a banana was secured by a miniature noose with racist messages scrawled on its skin was found on campus. According to the University Police, it was a hate crime.
The crime shook many students on campus. But for one student the crime presented a different kind of challenge.
Courtney Rozen, a senior journalism student at American University School of Communication (AU SOC), had just become Editor in Chief of the campus newspaper, The Eagle. Now, it was on her to decide how the paper covered the crime.
She had been working on the newspaper for two years, drawn to The Eagle by the comradery of the newsroom and her own desire to improve the content the paper produced.
She had assumed editorial control for the 70 student journalists who contributed to the paper just a month before the incident. If anything went wrong with the way the paper covered it, ultimate responsibility now fell on her.
It was stressful, Rozen said. She describes the period as the most difficult of her entire tenure as editor. She was managing a student newsroom through an event that brought even national news organizations to campus.
When she graduated at the end of the year, the time she spent covering the crime stuck with her.
Rozen decided to start a long-term reporting project looking at how the event had affected the student body and how it changed how they and others looked at the school.
Over the next few months, Rozen used everything she’d learned in her undergraduate career to dig deeper into the story.
She talked to Dumpson to find out how she felt about being the target of a hate crime. Rozen also looked into how the University and Metro Police had handled the investigation.
She dug into admissions data to understand how the event affected the number of African American students applying to the university, and she followed the wave of campus activism that grew in response to the incident.
“It’s very exciting to be recognized for something that I am passionate about. I really admire their work as an organization and how they present the news in a creative and compelling way,” Rozen said.
This year, Rozen is pursuing a master’s degree in journalism through the investigative reporting track at SOC.
She made the decision early in her undergraduate career; she decided that she wanted to pursue a master’s at SOC in 2016.
Her experience as an undergrad helped convince her it was the best place to continue her education, Rozen said, citing the relationships she’d built with the faculty who she said were always willing to go the extra mile to help her reach her full potential.
It was important for Rozen to study in a place where she could get hands-on experience dealing with breaking news instead of just sitting in a classroom and taking notes. She found that place at AU, Rozen said.