As part of the 2022 Year of Willowbrook at the College of Staten Island, the Willowbrook Legacy Project presented “Inside the Cages”: Jane Kurtin and the Staten Island Advance Break the Willowbrook Story on Wednesday, May 18. The signature event of the month, held virtually on Zoom, focused on Kurtin’s groundbreaking work, which exposed the many horrors at Willowbrook State School and the role that local journalism played in bringing the story, and subsequent activism, to a national level.
After opening remarks from Willowbrook Legacy Project Committee Co-chair Nora Santiago, both Kurtin and current Staten Island Advance Editor Brian Laline joined the event to talk about their experiences and the role the paper played in telling the Willowbrook story, facilitated through interviews by Willowbrook Legacy Project member Diane Buglioli.
The 90-minute Webinar chronicled Kurtin’s initial entry into Willowbrook, and how she approached the story as a young journalist. Both she and Laline shed light on the Advance’s sense of responsibility when covering the people of Willowbrook and the injustice they experienced. Kurtin reflected on the impact that telling the story has had on her life these many years later, while Laline emphasized the exposé’s place as one of the biggest news stories in Staten Island’s history.
While much of the discussion centered around the events of the time, the group pivoted to the role that local journalism still plays, especially against the backdrop of a changing media landscape. They spoke of the responsibility it serves in making sure the atrocities at Willowbrook are never again repeated and ensuring that advocacy for the disabled remains strong.
Following reflections and comments from the panelists, Willowbrook Legacy Project Committee Co-chair Dr. Catherine Lavender led a question-and-answer segment with questions pulled from more than 200 registered attendees.
The Zoom event was captured on video and is available for viewing through the Willowbrook YouTube channel.