Keating Competition 2020

Franklin, IU And Purdue Students Win Top Prizes At 34th Annual Keating Writing Challenge

We handed out $5,500 in awards to seven students in our 34th annual, but socially distant, Thomas R. Keating Writing Competition.

Our 2020 contest was different because we could not host an in-person event over the course of two days. Our “re-imagined” competition asked students to submit their best published writing on the past year’s most pressing topics: the pandemic, social justice, the election or campus news.


Winner: Mary Claire Molloy, Indiana University

“Mary brought you to a place where you felt present in both stories,” the three judges said. “The ledes, dialogue and arresting sentences in both Mary’s stories stood out and made them compelling reads.”

Runner-up: None


Winner: Mary Claire Molloy, Indiana University

“These stories were expertly paced and vividly depicted, even as they were tragic and difficult to read for the losses suffered,” the three judges commented. “They were truly feats of the ‘show, don’t tell’ approach to newswriting.”

Runner-up: Emily Ketterer, Franklin College

“This reporting was well done, factual yet emphatic,” the judges said. “These are important stories to share, in year full of them.”


Winner: Jordan Smith, Purdue University

“We loved the piece about the neighbors in Lafayette with different political views,” the judges commented. “We could tell that Jordan helped the characters in the story feel comfortable sharing personal perspectives on the election. Jordan used great photos and picked up on small details that added a lot of visual elements to the story.”

Runner-up: Erica Irish, Franklin College

Erica’s style of writing kept us interested as she mixed facts and statistics in with personal anecdotes and stories of the people she profiled,” the three judges said. “Erica’s reporting on issues was in-depth and she used a number of sources to give perspective on the hot-button issues facing Hoosiers.”


Winner: Erica Irish, Franklin College

“Erica displayed a masterful ability to write about challenging topics and make them easy to understand and digest,” the judges said. “These were complicated to write, but Erica made them compelling, which is a sign of a great writer and talented journalist.”

Runner-up: Emily Isaacman, Indiana University

“These stories were about sensitive topics and vulnerable sources and Emily handled all of it with great care and journalistic integrity,” the judges commented. “They displayed a deep level of reporting and showed how Emily can establish trust with people whose stories would not be told without her.”



Mary Claire Molloy — Winner

As the sun sets on 44th Street, the people take to their porches and driveways. It is time to come out of self-isolation and see the faces of their neighbors.

“Are we going to do this thing?” one asks.

Designated Neighbor-In-Charge Jenny Forsee nods. She sets her wine glass on the ground and turns up the volume on the speaker in her kitchen.

Last Tuesday, they belted out Bon Jovi.

Woah, we’re halfway there! Woah, livin’ on a prayer!

A few days before that, it was Journey.

Don’t stop believin’! Hold onto that feeling!

Now, the night belongs to Neil Diamond.

As the guitar and trumpets build to a joyful chorus everyone in America knows, children and adults run out into the street. They maintain six feet apart as best they can.


“Elbows!” someone shouts, for holding hands is no longer allowed.

Touching hands, reaching out…

“No reaching out!” another yells. “Six feet!”

Touching me…

“But not touching you!” the street shouts together.

Sweet Caroline!

Bah! Bah! Bah!

Good times never seemed so good

“So good! So good! So good!” the neighborhood ad-libs as they throw their hands in the air like they can touch the sky.


The idea to have a neighborhood sing-along each night in the midst of a pandemic was executed by a team effort, as most things on 44th Street are.

Residents of one of the most social streets in Indianapolis, nestled between Washington Boulevard and Pennsylvania Street, weren’t sure how to live in the time of the coronavirus. After all, they’ve planned block parties together every summer since 1978. Don’t even get a 44th Street resident started about Halloween — the 20-house block attracts around 500 trick-or-treaters every year.

This is a place where people live on their porches, traditions thrive and neighbors are more like family.

Now, they face their biggest challenge: How can they be together, but apart?

Forsee, 53, was lying in bed one morning when inspiration struck: She would arrange for the neighbors to come together and say the Pledge of Allegiance every night at 7:30 from their porches.

Her husband, Peter, had a better idea.

“Maybe we should sing?”


With the help of her next-door neighbor, Forsee began to organize.

She alerted the rest of 44th Street on the neighborhood Facebook page. Soon, kids were choosing the songs, ones every generation on the block could sing. The list included “God Bless America,” “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” by Fred Rogers and “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

In Dallas, neighbors sang “Lean on Me” from their apartment windows. In Chicago, they sang “ABC” by the Jackson Five. Images of Italians singing their national anthem and banging pots and pans have inspired neighbors in cities around the world, including this one.

“We miss each other, and we can’t hug or touch,” Forsee says. “To come out and see the faces of everyone on the street makes you feel safer.

“I hope this pandemic can be contained and a vaccine is found really soon so we can get back to our glorious lives that we take for granted.”

Until then, the street will sing.


On one of the first nights, they chose “Amazing Grace.”

They braved the cold with winter coats, hats and pajama pants. Three young girls sat on a porch, clutching a cell phone between them so they could read the lyrics.

I once was lost, but now am found

T’was blind, but now I see

Dave Cross, 68, is the designated grandfather of everyone on the street. He cried.

“It’s a funeral song,” he said, eyes welling. “I’m one of the people that’s going to potentially die from this.”

Cross, who has lived on the street for 44 years, paused as the wind rustled his white hair. Turning toward the porches of his third generation of neighbors, he took in their faces.

“If I do die, as long as the rest of them don’t, I’ll be OK.”


Mary Claire Molloy — Winner

INDIANAPOLIS – He knelt in the back alley, one hand steadying, the other scrubbing. As he worked, the bristles of the plastic brush turned red.

Blood washed down Vermont Street, mingling with a puddle by the yellow curb. The stain left in the alley was stubborn.

It was the stain of two nights of rioting and police confrontation that overshadowed daytime peaceful protests. It was the stain of one of two killings Saturday night near the protests in Indianapolis, both by bullets. There were flames in Minneapolis, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, New York City. People died in St. Louis, Chicago and here on this patch of concrete downtown.

Ben Jafari didn’t know whose blood he was scrubbing, or whether the person was black or white. He knew George Floyd had died at the hands of police officers in Minneapolis, the economy has left millions of people out of work, 100,000 people in the U.S. were dead from COVID-19 and that the country was a tinderbox.

Jafari, who lived a few blocks away, didn’t know who was supposed to clean up the mess. On a Sunday morning in a week where it felt like the world was erupting and it was hard to say or do anything to make it better, he figured he could do this much.

“Somebody had to,” he said.

Only later would Jafari learn that the blood had come from Chris Beaty, someone he knew. It didn’t matter to him then who it was, he would have done it for anyone.

Jafari, 36, is a real estate developer and the managing partner of the nearby Colonial Apartments. He does not consider himself a political person, but he had marched in the peaceful protest downtown Saturday afternoon. He’d never cleaned up after a death before.

“So, he got shot over there,” Jafari said, pointing to Talbott and Vermont streets. He traced the blood, which spread across the alley for at least 40 feet, and gave his best hypothesis.

“Then he ran here, wounded, and must’ve circled back,” he said, eyes following the red splotches as they increased in size. The metallic smell was overpowering.

“He must’ve died here,” Jafari said, pointing to the biggest stain at his feet.
“I really don’t know what to say.”

The Circle City was waking up. The morning sunshine tinted the destruction golden. The shards of shattered windows winked in the light.

Jafari scrubbed.

People, mostly white, were out on Massachusetts Avenue getting their Starbucks fixes and ordering Sunday brunch. A woman, pointing at her menu, said, “Oh, maybe hash browns? Let’s do that!”

Graffitied buildings declared, “I can’t breathe.”

Jafari scrubbed.

Further down on Mass Ave., a couple held hands with their little boy and little girl, the daughter’s pink dress a splash of color against the plywood that covered the windows of a looted Walgreens.

In the alley, a discarded protest sign demanded justice for George, Breonna, Ahmaud, Philando, Sandra.

Jafari was still scrubbing.

“I wipe it down,” he said, pouring more ammonia. “But it never goes away.”


Death was not familiar to Jafari. He’d only ever been to a single funeral. He typed “How to clean up blood” into Google. The internet suggested bleach. The grocery store down the street didn’t have any. The coronavirus pandemic had depleted the shelves.

The next best and available option was ammonia. Jafari made his way back to the crime scene with two bottles and the plastic brush, along with a broom.

“I felt like it was my duty to clean it,” he said. “Out of respect for the victim, out of respect for the city and the people.”

He didn’t think twice about it, he said. The realization would hit him later — he was cleaning up what had spilled from somebody’s son, who nine hours earlier had been alive, right here. It’s one thing to see the violence on TV, another to hear it in your own neighborhood, and something else altogether to kneel in someone else’s blood.

“George Floyd can’t happen again,” he said. “We’re all just trying to put things back together.”

When he gathered his things to go home, the stain was lighter, but still there. He looked down and saw that he’d carried the dead man’s blood home with him, on his shoes.


That Sunday night, he got a text from the property manager at Colonial Apartments. A tenant was missing.

Jafari, lying in bed, read the unit number and knew, right away, who it was.

Chris Beaty was an Indiana University football player and one of the program’s most supportive alums. In Indianapolis, he became a well-known business leader and entrepreneur. He and Jafari had attended IU at the same time. Jafari had been to plenty of football games, so he probably saw Beaty play, but they never crossed paths until later. They met at an Indianapolis nightclub and learned how many friends they shared. Beaty had a huge smile and a million friends, and Jafari became one of them.

Whenever they saw each other, they’d greet with a shake up, asking about each other’s lives, family, work.

“Hey, what’s good, Brother?”

Jafari teared up. The stain he’d been cleaning was not the blood of a stranger, and he could not leave a drop of it in the street.

He set out Monday at 7 a.m.

He returned to the grocery store and bought a heavy duty brush with thicker bristles. He picked up a bouquet of daisies. He knelt again beside the stubborn stain.

He started to scrub.


Jordan Smith — Winner

91-year-old Claire Brigham had two Trump signs planted in her yard, one in the front and one
out back, heading into last weekend. By the end of the weekend, she had only one.

“I did have a Trump sign, but it was stolen last week,” said Brigham, who lives just south of Lindberg Road in West Lafayette. “I’m very sorry that someone took my sign and didn’t accept my opinion. If they wanted to make a point I would have been happy to talk about it.”

Brigham said she has voted for Republican candidates since Dwight Eisenhower won the presidency in the 1950s. She’s lived in West Lafayette since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. She walks hunched over with a cane, watches C-SPAN religiously and Fox News often, and regularly attends a Methodist church.

“Something that really upset me a lot after Trump was elected, the first Sunday back at church, the minister we then had had us sing, ‘We shall overcome,’” she said. “I thought that was a bit weird.”

Her Trump-Pence yard sign now sits on her porch, almost out of sight of passersby in a neighborhood predominantly filled with Biden-Harris, Black Lives Matter or traditionally liberal political signs. Even during an election year fraught with partisanship, she said, she doesn’t suspect her neighbors stole the sign.

Brigham was one of 30,768 voters in Tippecanoe County who chose Donald Trump for president, according to historical data kept by the Board of Elections. Brigham originally voted for former Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 Republican primary. Trump surpassed Hillary Clinton by nearly 3,500 votes in the county, joining 88 of Indiana’s 92 counties in choosing the Republican candidate.

Brigham said she considered voting for former president Barack Obama in 2008, when turnout was roughly 10,000 votes higher than 2016 in Tippecanoe County, according to the data. Indiana flipped to Obama that year, its first time having chosen a Democrat since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

“Had the Democrats put up a different candidate than Hillary Clinton, I might have voted Democrat,” she said. “I didn’t like Trump so much. There was no way in this world I would ever vote for Hillary.”

Conversations with Democratic voters, however, reveal an apathy toward Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and a burning urgency to remove Trump from office.

Stephen Hoffman, 48, lives a few houses down from Brigham and is the assistant head of Purdue’s Department of Chemistry. A Black Lives Matter sign is posted to his front door. A sign from the left-leaning Unitarian Universalist Church, of which he is a member, signals “No
human is illegal” and “Science is real.”

Missing as of Saturday, however, was a Biden-Harris sign. “Joe Biden is fine. I have no concerns about him,” he said, sitting in a lawn chair as his 8-year-old son Simon stared out the front window. “With Trump — I disagree with almost everything he does. I can’t abide by his cruelty to immigrants. And his cruelty to people who don’t agree with him. And his bullying of people who don’t agree with him.”

Hoffman said he favored Kamala Harris, now the Democratic vice presidential candidate, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar in the June primary election.

When Biden selected Harris, then, did Ho􀃠man warm up to the presidential ticket?

He shook his head. “It didn’t matter,” he added. Whichever Democrat is on the ticket has his vote.

“What I’m hearing a lot of this time is just the total frustration with the current leadership,” said Heather Maddox, the chair of the Tippecanoe County Democratic Party, who was born and raised in Lafayette. “The frustration with the lack of decency, decorum. We’re definitely in a time where they’re not seeing that kind of leadership we’re used to in an American president.”

A political mirror

About a half-mile south in the neighborhood, there are two blue houses less than the length of a football field apart. Each has a red, white and blue banner tied to two white columns hanging above the front door. One reads “Biden for President 2020,” and the other asserts “Trump.”

In one house, the resident was moved to tears recollecting Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016. In the other, the tenant said he hasn’t doubted Trump since the businessman announced his candidacy.

“Maybe they did it in this neighborhood to irritate people,” 78-year-old Andrea Williams said, adding that her Biden banner had been up for over a month. “It’s their right to do it. And I feel very sorry for them in their beliefs.”

Williams, a retired professor, said hanging the banner made her uneasy because someone might “egg our house,” a historic home built during World War One which she has lived in for nearly three decades.

Trump jeopardizes the nation’s democracy, she said, and she fears political violence following the election. Williams and her two sets of conservative friends entirely avoid the topic of politics because the disparate worldviews are dizzying, she said.

“I’m not frightened — I’m terrified with what’s going on,” she said. “And what really stuns me is how people don’t stand up to Trump.”

The tenant who hung the Trump banner preferred to remain anonymous. He’s a 22-year-old Purdue student double-majoring in engineering and history. He said he’s comfortable displaying the sign in his neighborhood, where fewer college students reside.

But he fears having his name in the student newspaper because of potential retaliation, he said.

“If I lived in a dorm I wouldn’t put up a sign showing any non-mainstream political views,” he said. “People are really stressed out with the coronavirus and stuff. And if you pay attention to the news a lot, you’re going to be living in this nightmare reality, where you think everyone on the left is gonna try and burn down your store and you think everyone that’s on the right is a

Born in the Middle East to American expatriates, the student said “America First” holds a different connotation for him. Policies that advance the U.S. on a global level matter most, he said, while hot-button domestic issues mainly function as media distraction.

Trump’s dealings with Eastern European countries and North Korea, as well as his announcement in August of a peace deal between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have all impressed the student. The nation has not entered a war since Trump took office, the student noted, another plus.

Regarding immigration from Latin America, the international issue Trump touted during his 2016 run by broadly labeling Mexican migrants “killers and rapists,” the student said he finds it normal for leaders to view their countries as superior.

“I’ve seen racism like you would not believe,” he said. “I don’t think there’s no racism in America, but I think that a lot of the racism that gets called out is pretty superfluous stuff.

“There are serious issues that could be addressed, no doubt. But I think the credibility of those serious issues is severely affected by everyone getting upset over name-calling.”

To the student, Trump’s often crass delivery pales by comparison to the execution of those ideas.

“In terms of delivering promises, in terms of delivering your platform, I’m 100% ideas, 0% presentation,” he said. “I think it’s much better to present your ideas and clearly and maybe offend people than it is to worry about the perception of your ideas to the point where it impedes you from delivering your message.”

But from the moment Williams saw Trump berating contestants on “The Apprentice”, she said, she was in awe of “what a wretched human being he was.” The president draws a stark contrast to Obama’s kind and respectful demeanor.

Her disdain for the president extends beyond personality: “I noticed he didn’t have a plan for his presidency. He just wanted to destroy the previous administration’s programs.”

Williams acknowledged the fault in Clinton denouncing a portion of Trump’s base as “deplorables.” And as the former professor ticked off the houses with Purdue affiliations around her own, she described a bubble of support for Democrats in university towns that can seem to distort political realities.

“When you have a university, you are pretty isolated, and you forget that people grow up differently, have different ideas,” she said. “And you tend to think that you’re right and everybody else is wrong.”

Do opinions translate into votes?

The student who displays the Trump banner was one of 15,093 Purdue students who voted in 2016, though not all in Tippecanoe County, according to data from the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement.

The Purdue Votes Coalition outlined goals this summer to increase the overall student voting rate from 47.8% in 2016 to 55% this year. Turnout in the county primary was subdued by the coronavirus, County Clerk Julie Roush has said, finishing below 20% among only registered

Around 4,000 new voters have registered in Tippecanoe County since the June primary election, according to Roush, bringing the total to more than 118,000. The county had 113,548 registered voters during the 2016 presidential election.

The local Democratic Party canceled door-to-door canvassing efforts because of the coronavirus, Maddox said. The party also had to forgo any large political rallies. Fundraising dollars would surely dry up, Maddox thought.

A clear contrast between the two candidates, however, has proven to motivate Democrats and swing voters, she said. People have spontaneously walked into the campaign office to write checks worth hundreds of dollars. Michelle Richardson, the party’s treasurer, said small donations from individuals have also increased.

The 250 Biden signs the party initially ordered “flew out of here” after three days, Maddox said, and several hundred people are on a waiting list for the next order.

The Tippecanoe County GOP did not respond to multiple requests for comment about its fundraising efforts or other ways it has gauged excitement leading up to the election.

A record 1,024 early voters cast ballots Tuesday, the first day Indiana voters were able, the county clerk said. Combined with nearly 4,000 absentee ballots that have already been returned, last week’s few thousand early voters indicate a turnout likely to be higher than 57% among those registered in 2016.

Seeing lines of voters outside of polling sites won’t help Maddox to relax until she sees which name is earning more check marks, she said. “Another thing that happens when you’ve been in it as long as I have is you get a little jaded,” she said. “But I’ve also learned that doesn’t always mean what I think it’s going to.”


Erica Irish — Winner

STURGEON BAY, Wisconsin — Former Franklin College President Thomas Minar argued the dating app Grindr was social media, not a hookup site, and that he engaged in sexual conversations with someone he believed to be 15-years-old on the app in an effort to become a mentor.

New records released by the Sturgeon Bay Police Department add new context to previously shared law enforcement reports. They include footage of a police interview and the fired president’s Jan. 6 arrest outside the McDonald’s where police say he intended to meet someone he thought was a child.

Some of the released footage show police arresting Minar late at night in the McDonald’s parking lot and questioning him in a squad car on the way to a local jail. An officer can be heard in the video asking Minar who he intended to meet at the McDonald’s where he encountered police.

“A man,” Minar replied. The officer then asked, “who’s Tyler?”, referring to the alias an undercover officer used to speak with Minar over Grindr prior to the meeting. Minar said he believed Tyler was “a young man that lives in Sturgeon Bay.” He added he understood Tyler to be 19 from his profile on Grindr, though Tyler later claimed to be 15.

A separate video spans more than an hour of Brandon Shew, a police officer with Sturgeon Bay’s Internet Crimes Against Children, or ICAC, unit interrogating Minar in a Door County jail. Shew went undercover to investigate Minar while posing as a 15-year-old boy named Tyler.

In the first minutes of the video, Minar appears visibly shaken. He asks Shew for water before they begin the interview and as the officer reads him his Miranda rights, which includes assurances he can stop the interview at any time or ask that a lawyer be present.

Shew begins the interview by asking Minar who he is, where he is from and other details about his life. Minar says he is from Chicago. His voice cracks and he folds his hands, averting his eyes from Shew, as he says he is a college president.

Minar said the conversation with Tyler began mostly “out of boredom” and “for entertainment” while he was taking care of his 93-year-old mother, who lives in Sturgeon Bay. He said he wasn’t sure why he kept talking to the child when he learned Tyler was underage.

“I don’t know. Curiosity, boredom. Probably boredom as much as anything,” Minar said. “I think he kept talking too.”

Minar added he initially thought Tyler was a “young man, or college-aged man.” Chat records show Tyler told Minar he was 15, but his bio on the app listed his age as 19.

“It became clear it was a high school student when he said he was a high school student,” Minar said. “But when it started, I presumed he was over 18 years old.”

Shew asked Minar what he thought of Grindr, a dating app geared towards the LGBT community. Minar said he saw the app as a way to meet other people and have conversations, not sex.

“Obviously there are people who use it for sex…they could identify it as that,” Minar said. “But, I, I use it principally for chat, as you know, a married man,” he added, referring to his husband, a doctor at Northwestern University.

Shew walks Minar through specific points in the Grindr conversation, asking, among other details, why Minar thought it was appropriate to ask a child if they wear a condom or “go bare” when having sex during a sexually charged conversation. Minar argued he tried to be a “fatherly figure”
by discussing condom use, adding he wanted to educate the child about safe sex.

Near the end of the interview, Shew asks Minar if anything sexual would have happened if a 15-year-old child did show up at the McDonald’s. Minar said he “would’ve drawn a line” before there was any “physical contact.” Shew questioned the answer, pointing to the sexually explicit
conversation in his possession.

“I’m not attracted to children, to be clear,” Minar said, explaining he’s attracted to younger men and that he may have been with 18-year-olds in the past.

During the police interview, Minar’s black iPhone is visible on the table between him and Shew. Shew asked Minar if he would provide his phone’s passcode, which he did. Shew then asked if there was any possibility police would find explicit material involving underage children —including search terms, photos, videos and more.

“It’s conceivable but unlikely,” Minar said after a pause. He explained anything on his phone of that nature would’ve appeared there without his knowledge. He admitted to watching pornography on the popular website Pornhub, but denied visiting other websites for pornography.

Separate records obtained by The Franklin also add new details to messages, photos and videos Sturgeon Bay police found after searching his personal iPhone. The police used this search to add 12 counts of child pornography possession to their case against Minar in March.

In addition to locating photos and videos that depicted children involved in sex acts, the officer who conducted the search wrote he found an extended conversation between Minar and an unnamed man who appears to live in the United Kingdom. The officer writes the man from the United Kingdom “might have had sex with Minar when he was 16 years of age,” and that Minar “had expressed interest in photographs” of the man “from when he was 13 years of age.”

The officer wrote in the report he exported large parts of the conversation between Minar and the man. While the chats did not contain child pornography, the officer said it did include graphic imagery of bestiality.

The new records confirm several law enforcement agencies have investigated Minar in addition to Sturgeon Bay police, including the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Minar faces a range of charges related to alleged child sex crimes, including child pornography possession, using a computer to facilitate a sex crime, child enticement and exposing a child to harmful materials and narrations. All are felony crimes in Wisconsin.

An attorney for Minar did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But attorney Brett Reetz has previously said Minar maintains his innocence.

Soon after police arrested Minar, the Franklin College Board of Trustees fired him. College officials confirmed this week they continue to work on an internal investigation into Minar, but declined to discuss the investigation until the criminal matters are resolved.

Minar waived his right to preliminary hearings for the charges Thursday. An arraignment, where Minar is expected formally enter a plea on the charges, is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. CST Oct. 6.

For this year’s winners, see the main Keating Competition page.  The annual writing contest pays homage to the late Indianapolis Star journalist Tom Keating, a beloved columnist who told the stories of everyday people.