Brown Alumni to Stop Assault, an emerging alumni group, aims to keep alums engaged in sexual assault policy reform and to harness the power of the alumni community to hold the University accountable to lasting change, group leaders said.
The group’s founding members have been following sexual assault activism and reform on campus since graduating from the University, leaders said. Last April, Amy Littlefield ’09, Allison Pappas ’08, Lily Shield ’09 and Amelia Plant ’10 wrote a Herald opinions column about their activism following the formation of the Sexual Assault Policy Task Force.
After the editorial, the authors wanted to “formalize” their efforts, Littlefield said. “I really felt like we needed a centralized organization to bring together different alumni voices,” she added.
In November, Littlefield contacted several other alums who were concerned about sexual assault, including Catherine McCarthy ’12 and Madeline Ray ’10. The group created its name, developed a website and promoted itself on social media. BASTA currently has more than 50 alums on its listserv and looks to add more.
“Hopefully we’ll be a growing percentage of alumni who watch to make sure that the University is following through and is letting us know how they are following through,” Pappas said.
BASTA sent a Jan. 26 email signed by 29 alums from the classes of 2008 through 2013 to President Christina Paxson P’19, Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn and Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06, asking that members of its listserv be included in all future communications about sexual assault on campus.
“We felt like we were being left in the dark,” Littlefield said, noting that administrators did not directly notify alums of the recent sanctions on Phi Kappa Psi and Sigma Chi following two separate sexual misconduct reports filed by students who attended separate unregistered parties at the fraternities. Rather than relying on communications from the University, Littlefield and Shield often received news from emails forwarded by Shield’s mother, Renee Shield ’70 PhD ’84 P’03 P’09, clinical professor of health services, policy and practice.
“I am glad to know that as alumni they’re as committed as they are to sexual assault and that they care as much as they do about improving the policies and services on campus,” Klawunn said. A Jan. 31 email to BASTA members, signed by Klawunn and Carey, informed members that they would receive future emails. “Longer term, we would like to have better permanent mechanisms for informing alumni about campus issues and will develop some options to accomplish that goal,” Klawunn and Carey wrote in the email.
The University also plans on sending a survey to alums to solicit feedback on the Task Force on Sexual Assault’s interim report, Klawunn and Carey wrote. The survey, which is currently being developed, will most likely be sent out in the next month, Klawunn told The Herald.
“We were thinking of (the emails) as most relevant to the people who are on campus now,” Klawunn said. “Certainly we weren’t hiding them in any way,” she said, noting that they were available on the University’s Title IX and Campus Life websites. “We’re happy to have alumni informed on these issues and to include them in those messages,” she added.
One of BASTA’s main goals is to work with student groups to provide “backup, support and memory,” Littlefield said. BASTA can give student groups “strength in numbers,” she said, adding that she has been in touch with several current students involved in sexual assault activism.
While group members largely agree that students should take the lead, “I would like for us to be a force to help current students keep up the pressure and the momentum even when waves of public interest die down,” Shield said. “Our role should ideally be to follow their cues and to provide some guidance, some advice, from just having been through similar things, having fought similar fights,” she said.
Members pointed to alums’ potential to ensure lasting change as a major reason for the group’s formation. “
It’s very easy for the administration to respond to student activism in a way that pays lip service to their demands, while brushing it under the rug a little bit because they know that every class of students is only temporary at Brown,” Shield said. “But the alumni network can be much more long-lasting.”
While student body turnover often results in “a wave of activism that lets up over four years,” alums have the potential to take action that lasts over “a period of multiple years,” Littlefield said.
While student activism comes in waves due to student body turnover, alums can “keep the University accountable over a period of multiple years and not be a wave of activism that lets up every four years,” Littlefield said.
Alums can put pressure on the University in ways students cannot, such as by withholding donations, group members said. Littlefield did not donate to Brown last year or attend her five-year reunion because she “wanted to protest the University’s handling of sexual assault cases,” she said.
Donating to specific organizations on campus, such as the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, is an alternative that ensures the recipient of the funds will use them in a manner that meets the donor’s approval, Pappas said.
The University’s frequent requests for donations made the lack of updates on sexual assault especially frustrating, BASTA members wrote in their email. “We receive near-constant communications from the University soliciting funds for Brown, yet we have been left off of updates regarding an issue that many of us will take into account when considering whether to donate,” the members wrote.
“Aren’t we part of the Brown community? We are when they want a donation from us,” Littlefield said.
Though members praised the recent recommendations from the Task Force on Sexual Assault, some expressed concern over how the proposals will be implemented.
“Even if steps are taken toward implementing the changes, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be lasting,” Pappas said. “The longterm follow-through is more challenging than setting the individual momentary goals.”
Many members who feel they made an impact during their time at Brown were discouraged by the University’s handling of Lena Sclove’s ’15.5 alleged rape last spring.
“We’re hearing the language in the disciplinary code that we thought was going to … make sure people like her got what they needed from the disciplinary system, and in fact the system had failed again,” she said, adding that it felt like the issue had moved “back to square one.”
Holding the University accountable and preventing any backsliding is central to the group’s mission, members said. “What we most want the University to know is that we’re watching its progress very closely,” Littlefield said.
The input from alumni voices will likely “have an impact,” Klawunn said. “We pay attention to alumni — I think they have a lot of important perspectives on these issues.”
BASTA members are considering creating a timeline of sexual assault-related activism that would be featured on the group’s website, Pappas said. The timeline would give multiple generations of alums the chance to tell the story of what was happening when they were on campus and offer current students a stronger sense of history on which to build their activism, she added.