When the 2018 fall semester began, sophomore Sammy Sussman was just like any other hard-working student in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. He focused on his instrument (the bass) and his major (music composition). But by Christmas, Sussman was a nationally recognized investigative journalist.
Michigan Alumnus gleaned the following in a conversation with Sussman.
> SUSSMAN WROTE A NEARLY 7,000-WORD article for The Michigan Daily that ran on Dec. 10, 2018, and subsequently led to the resignation of U-M professor Stephen Shipps. The Columbia Journalism Review, The Detroit Free Press, and Fox News praised Sussman’s exposé for its in-depth reporting—which revealed a 40-year history of sexual harassment and misconduct at three different institutions by the former chair of U-M’s strings department.
> BEFORE THE SHIPPS STORY, SUSSMAN HAD ONLY WRITTEN for The Michigan Daily’s arts section. He was comfortable writing stories on people like Pierre Boulez, a 20th-century French composer, but not filing Freedom of Information Act requests. Yet when he received a tip about Shipps via the Whisper Network (an online information chain where women privately share stories about sexual harassers and abusers), it piqued his interest. “I had to look into it,” he said. “The only problem was, I had never written a news story before.”
> SUSSMAN STARTING PLAYING THE BASS in third grade and, soon after, the cello. In high school, he successfully auditioned for the New York Youth Symphony Composition Program. Living in the suburb of Bedford Hills, New York, it was a stretch for him to participate in the Manhattan-based program more than an hour’s train ride away. He remembers skipping lunch and missing classes to get to his music classes on time. “I had a hard time in high school staying engaged and interested in what was going on if it wasn’t about music.”
> IN DECIDING WHICH COLLEGE TO attend, Sussman had to choose between the New York Conservatory of Music and U-M. He chose U-M, knowing it would allow him to follow other interests and pursuits. “If I went to a conservatory, my focus would be solely on music, and I love taking English and art history.”
> WHEN NEW YORKER JOURNALISTS Ronan Farrow and Ken Auletta visited the University on March 19 to discuss their behind-the-scenes reporting on the Harvey Weinstein sexual misconduct story, the director of U-M’s Wallace House, which hosted the event, asked Sussman to introduce Farrow because of his reporting on the Shipps story.
> SUSSMAN IS NOW COLLABORATING with a friend on writing and composing a musical. “Living in Ann Arbor, I can go to a play and know everyone involved in it. That is amazing and very different from the scene in New York, where you would need prestige or connections to talk to the cast and directors.”
> IN THE LAST TWO YEARS, SUSSMAN has won two prestigious awards, including the NextNotes High School Composition Award from the American Composers Forum and the Robert Avalon International Competition for Composers Award from the Foundation for Modern Music. “My degree is less about getting a career in contemporary classical music and more about learning about the compositional process and myself as a creative individual and composer.”
Senior Catherine Nouhan is an editorial assistant for Michigan Alumnus and a news reporter for The Michigan Daily.