By Padmini Parthasarathy
Commencement signifies the end of an academic career. But it's also a beginning. It is an induction into a society of alumni, lauded and influential, whose successes commenced, in some way, at their alma mater. Most alumni feel some responsibility to their universities and the students in them.
So what happens when they see students suffer from sexual violence on the very campuses they once called home? What happens when they want to take a stand against the negligent actions of an administration, financially or otherwise?
Alumni are using their leverage to raise awareness of rampant sexual assault on college campuses nationwide. They are withholding donations from their alma maters, choosing to give to alternative donation platforms that pledge to use the money to end sexual assault. They are using their significant numbers and influence to raise their voices against the current sexual assault policies. And they are building out networks to take a stand against sexual violence on the campuses they so care about.
“Sexual violence is a community issue and that’s why we felt compelled to get involved. It requires an entire community to acknowledge its collective fault and get involved,” says Hannah D’Apice, co-founder of Columbia Alumni Allied Against Sexual Assault (CAAASA) told VITAMIN W in an interview.
Coalition For Solutions
CAAASA held a panel about sexual assault on campus during Columbia’s alumni reunion weekend. It covered actions that have been taken so far and how alumni can get involved. In addition to the panel, CAAASA members engaged in education and recruitment by passing out ribbons, information and sign-up sheets to the alumni on campus.
CAAASA is also participating in a multi-university alumni coalition against sexual assault. “We had a multi-university phone call last week. It’s sort of an informal network. It’s a horizontal structure to collaboratively address problems,” D’Apice says. “No university is doing this perfectly, but that’s why we’re collaborating. Collectively, we can create the ideal solution.”
Many alumni are getting involved with the multi-university network. Currently, 15 college and universitiy alumni groups are participating in the network. Notably, the group includes Dartmouth College, Harvard University, Occidental College, the University of Southern California, Amherst College, Swarthmore College, and the University of Chicago, all of which have open Title IX Sexual Violence investigations.
Elizabeth Amini, a 1995 graduate of Occidental College, is spearheading the effort to aggregate the alumni effect.
“I was going to donate to the school and then my friend sent me a link to an article about this rapist who had basically been assigned a book report and allowed to stay at the school. I sent the link around, and the circle widened,” says Amini. “What’s really interesting about us is that we have a lot of diversity in our group, which means lots of innovative ideas. We have men, baby boomers, Gen. X-ers, and millennials. Having the three generations cooperate with each other makes us an unstoppable force.”
Students are also making waves on many college campuses by speaking out about their experiences, holding demonstrations and vigils, wearing red tape to protest current sexual assault policy, and filing Title IX complaints against their universities.
But they leave in four years. The support of alumni and faculty brings them much-needed resources and attention.
At Brown University, college seniors have established an alternative donation platform called Brown Gift for a Sexual Assault-Free Campus in Honor of the Class of 2014. All Brown seniors are encouraged to donate money as a class “senior gift” but many do not want to give in light of the sexual assault grievances that have rocked the campus. The organization's target goal is $37,300. They have suggested that the student advisory bill allocate the funds like this:
- Prevention. $28,000 will go towards established programs addressing issues of sexual health, bystander intervention, peer education, and a residential peer leader program
- Counseling and Advocacy. $9,300 will be used to provide trauma recognition and sensitivity training for University staff, create a student administrator position, establish a Sexual Assault Peer Educator's Program, and to coordinate education and advocacy efforts across campus.
Though it doesn’t amount to much—the senior gift ends up being between $22,000 and $25,000 annually—it does send the message to the university that young alumni want to see change. The class gift is a funnel into the tradition of donating to the university. Tapping these young alumni now might mean larger donations to the cause in the future. Imagine Rape 0, the larger campus group overseeing the alternative donation platform, also aims to receive donations and support from more established alumni. Alumni donations accounted for $34 billion dollars in 2013.
“The best leverage alumni have aside from the money is their status as successful people and graduates of the university. Having prominent alumni would be a boon to the cause. I don’t know why some alumni, who are prominent activists and have spoken out about similar issues before, haven’t taken a stand on this issue thus far,” says Katherine Long, co-founder of Brown Gift for a Sexual Assault-Free Campus in Honor of the Class of 2014.
The real test of a group’s efficacy is its leverage. Alumni, with their large numbers, deep pockets, and loud voices, have quite a bit.
“The biggest strength that alumni have relative to students is longevity. Students graduate after four years. It’s easier to avoid addressing student concerns because they’re going to leave,” says D’Apice. “Alumni don’t graduate. We will be alumni for the rest of our lives and if we’re invested, the problem isn’t just going to go away.”
Image via flickr cc