Amherst Regional High School Named Finalist for National Award for Investigative Journalism

Last spring, an article exposing transphobia among counselors at Amherst Regional High School published in the school’s newspaper led to protests and the resignation of the superintendent. This fall, its author was named a finalist for an award from the Student Press Law Center.

Amherst Regional High School Named Finalist for National Award for Investigative Journalism
An article exposing transphobia among staff at Amherst Regional High School resulted in the ousting of the district's superintendent and three staffers. Photo courtesy of John Phelan.

Talvin Dhingra, a high school student from Amherst Regional High School (ARHS), and Sara Barber-Just, the journalism advisor at ARHS, were finalists to receive the Student Freedom of Information Award for an article in the school’s newspaper, The Graphic, about anti-LGBTQ discrimination by counselors and staff in the district.

The award is given by The Student Press Law Center, a non-profit organization that promotes the First Amendment rights of student journalists and their advisers, to a “student journalist or team of journalists for outstanding and tenacious use of public records in reporting that promotes transparency and brings important issues to light in their school or community,” according to the organization’s website.

The award was won by Riya Vyas of The Union at Milpitas High School. Her use of public records revealed that two teachers with sexual harassment allegations resigned quietly rather than being formally dismissed. The other finalists were Alexandra Cohen and Caitlin Kuhlmann of The Globe at Clayton High School in Missouri reporting on the significant mismanagement of the St. Louis County animal shelter. This was the award’s inaugural year.

“It is nice to get recognition,” said Dhingra, who is the son of the college’s associate provost and associate dean of the faculty, Pawan Dhingra. “I am grateful that the work The Graphic is doing is being seen on a larger scale. I think it’s great [that] high school journalists’ work is leading the town and helping fix the administration.”

Dhingra’s story was picked up by bigger news outlets such as MassLive and The Boston Globe, bringing to light the repeated incidents of misgendering and general transphobic attitudes of three student counselors and increasing transphobia from the student body at the Amherst Regional Middle School (ARMS).

As the lead reporter for the article, with help from Barber-Just, Dhingra collected public records in order to bring to light the lack of action from the ARMS administration. Their work helped stop the “quiet firing” cycle that enabled those who were fired to work elsewhere without consequences.

For now, Dhingra is working on a few new articles. Just a few weeks ago, he wrote another article following up on the district-wide unrest called “Newly Elected School Committee Members Reflect on Past Wrongs, Future Goals.”

In recent weeks, Amherst Indy, a local publication, also approached Dhingra about working on more investigative pieces. Dhingra said that he is working with them on articles surrounding the Title IX report, referring to his article on the ARMS administration.