(Editor’s Note: I’m a huge believer in student media and the benefits it has for student journalists as well as campus audiences. When a big story breaks on a campus, I like to chat with the students who made the story happen to get the “backstory” on the piece.
Today’s conversation is with Aidan Quigley, a senior journalism major from Trumbull, Connecticut and the editor-in-chief of The Ithacan at Ithaca College in New York. He has worked on the paper since his freshman year, and has served as managing editor, news editor, assistant news editor and staff writer. He has also interned at Politico, Newsweek, the Christian Science Monitor and the (Waterbury, CT) Republican-American. If you or your staff has a big story and would like to shed light on how you made it happen, contact me and we can take a look-see at it.)
The Ithacan’s EIC Aidan Quigley published a magnum opus Wednesday on the school’s new president, shedding light on a story about her conviction for sexual abuse in 2001. The piece has drawn national attention, with Fox News, The New York Daily News and the Chronicle of Higher Education all publishing follow-up pieces on the Ithacan’s story.
Shirley Collado, the school’s president, and the school’s board of trustees issued statements on both the incident itself and Collado’s fitness to run the school in advance of the story they knew was coming. Quigley said this move prompted the Ithacan to publish the story a half hour after the president released her statement, although it had been in the works for more than a month.
“President Collado released a statement on Tuesday night that pre-empted the publication of our story, which was planned for the next day,” he said. “After we were aware that she had sent her statement to the community, I thought it was essential that we release our story, which included the patient’s side of the story — the allegations made against Collado — to add context and information to President Collado’s public statement.”
Quigley said the paper received a package of material from an anonymous source in December regarding the Collado case. He then got the full case file from the Washington, D.C. Superior Court and began digging.
“Winter break provided me an opportunity to really dive deeply into the reporting, in identifying and speaking with sources, filing public records requests and continuing to do research into the legal and ethical issues involved,” Quigley said.
The university was also helpful in getting information from key sources, he said.
“We received no push-back from the college while pursuing this story, and the college helped arrange interviews with President Collado, Tom Grape (chairman of the Board of Trustees) and Jim Nolan, who led the search committee,” Quigley said.
“An unexpected twist we ran into was Collado’s decision to pre-empt the story with her statement,” he added. “We were planning on publishing the story the next day, so while the pre-emption caught us off guard, we were able to react quickly and publish the story shortly after the release of her statement.”
The statements painted a more benign picture of the situation, with the board’s statement noting that all of this had been disclosed to the university community almost a year earlier in a published interview where Collado described the situation this way:
[O]ne of my former patients who struggled with significant psychological disorders and had been in and out of treatment sought me out for help. She didn’t have anywhere to go, and I went out of my way to help her. But it backfired when I decided I wasn’t in a position to help her after all and that I needed to focus on getting through my grief. She ended up making claims against me. Unfortunately, this is the risk that many therapists and practitioners face when working with trauma patients or individuals challenged by serious psychological disorders. I fought the claims for a while, but I didn’t have the resources, social capital, or the wherewithal to keep going. I was in my 20s, and I had just tragically lost my husband, so I decided to take steps to end the legal action so that I could focus on taking care of myself and moving on with my life. It was a very difficult decision, but it’s the kind of decision that young people face daily when they feel they have no options, no resources, and no outside support.
Compare that to some of the revelations the Ithacan published:
Prosecutors argued Collado took advantage of a vulnerable, sexual-abuse survivor with mental illness by entering into a monthslong sexual relationship that started when Collado was the patient’s therapist. Collado denies having any sexual contact with the patient.
The patient was receiving therapy for post-traumatic stress at The Center, as she had previously been sexually abused by a doctor — who was convicted for the abuse — and as a child, according to the prosecution. The patient, who was 30 years old at the time of the court case, was diagnosed with having bipolar disorder and a dissociative identity disorder and had experienced lengthy periods of deep depression and suicidal thoughts, Marcus-Kurn wrote.
The patient alleged that she began a sexual relationship with Collado on May 20, 2000, which lasted until October 2000, according to the prosecution. Marcus-Kurn wrote that the patient recorded encounters with Collado in a journal that was submitted to the court but is not included in the case file.
The patient alleged that she had participated in a three-way sexual encounter with Collado and an adult male on Sept. 9, 2000, according to the prosecution. The patient alleged Collado told her it “would be psychologically helpful for her.” The man and Collado denied that the interaction had taken place.
The patient did express her feelings to Marcus-Kurn over the telephone. Marcus-Kurn wrote that the patient said the following:
“It brings on such immense pain and it is very, very intense feelings of confusion. I start hearing her calling her name, I start smelling her, I start remembering her telling me that it would be good for me to sleep with (name redacted) , and I remember being raped, and I have blocked that all out and I’m afraid that it would kill me if I start dealing with it right now. She has hurt me beyond belief and it’s like so bad that I can hardly touch it because it hurts so bad. I have to take it really slow. I know that I feel a lot inside but I’m not really sure what all of those feelings are because I try really hard not to feel them but I know that they are painful as hell. I literally feel that I will fall apart every time I think I’ll deal with it. And it hurts too much. And I’m really angry that she slept with me and that she convinced me to sleep with her boyfriend and I feel that I was raped and that there is nothing I can do with it because I believe it isn’t against the law in D.C.”
In the wake of the story, the discussion on the Ithaca campus has been centered around The Ithacan’s approach to the story and how it came about, Quigley said.
“While the initial reaction has centered around our decision to publish the story and the identity of the whistle-blower who sent us the information, I’m hopeful and optimistic the community will engage at a deep level with the complicated issues the story presents,” he said.
As for the “big take away” he and his staff had after working through this story, Quigley said he found it is important to dig deep on stories that matter to a publication’s readership.
“I think it’s important to write these type of difficult stories in a straightforward, nuanced and balanced way. It’s important to write stories you can stand by and let the reporting speak for itself,” he said.