1. Call or email your alma mater to find out what's going on on campus. Start with these questions:
- What are you doing to prevent sexual harassment and gender-based violence? A good answer will include mandatory, in-person bystander intervention training and consent education for all students, throughout their time in college (not just during first-year orientation).
- What services and accommodations are available for student survivors of violence? A good answer will include changed dorms, no-contact orders, mental health services, and academic support services (such as tutoring, academic extensions, etc.) -- all at no cost to the survivor, and available to all students regardless of the type of violence (e.g., dating violence, rape, stalking) and genders of the parties.
- How does the school hold accountable perpetrators of violence and stop them from re-victimizing classmates? A good answer will include not only a willingness to suspend or expel students who pose a threat to campus safety and equity, but evidence that they have done so. A school committed to transparency will make public a (non-identifying) list of the actual sanctions assigned in sexual misconduct cases each year.
Reaching out to administrators is an important step to get a sense of what's going on on campus, but remember to take the administration line with a grain of salt -- after all, it's administrators' jobs to reassure you about how well the university is doing, not to give you the real talk you're after. The best way to get a sense of what's going on on the ground is to talk to the people on the ground: students, and especially student survivors.
2. Reach out to student groups on campus pushing for change to see how you can be helpful and what specific changes students are fighting for. (If you have trouble finding the appropriate group, contact us for assistance.)
- Be a source of institutional memory by connecting past iterations of this movement to the way schools are handling sexual violence now. Spot a familiar administrative PR response or stalling tactic? Tell a student activist about it.
- Use your resources to support students, whether it’s by refusing to donate, redirecting a donation, or donating time, energy, and mentorship to current students.
- Share any expertise you may have that could help the movement, whether it’s legal advice, offering to host a support group, providing media training, or sharing tips on how to crowdfund or raise money for student activism on campus.
3. If students are unhappy with the school's policy and practices, connect with other alumni and pledge to divert donations to a survivor assistance or student-activist group until the school improves its policies.
4. Consistently read coverage of sexual violence on your college campus in your campus newspaper, student blogs, and alternative media. If you can’t find stories about this issue, that’s a problem. Write a letter to the editor urging student journalists to cover the issue on an ongoing basis.
5. Be mindful of how you treat survivors in your personal life or in situations that have not been politicized in the same way. Think actively about how the same rape culture on your alma mater’s campus is perpetuated at your workplace or in your current community.
6. Share articles, especially ones that highlight the experiences of survivors whose stories are typically not featured (e.g., survivors of color, queer and trans survivors, disabled, fat, low-income, and/or undocumented survivors), with your fellow alumni, family, and coworkers.
7. Email these action items to all friends and colleagues.
As an alum, you have significant power to shape your alma mater's response to sexual and dating violence. Leveraging your financial power is one such way to demand change. If students are unhappy with the university's policies and practices, connect with other alumni and pledge to divert donations until the school improves.
Below are some tactics alumni have used in the past. No matter which strategy you choose, remember that your efforts will be strengthened in numbers... so challenge your alumni class year, any alumni affiliation groups to which you belong, your old athletic team or Greek life chapter, or your personal alumni network to take action with you! The more calls, emails, and letters your alma mater receives from alumni demanding change, the more pressure it will feel to shape up.
Refuse to donate until the university makes particular changes to its sexual misconduct policy. If you opt for this route, make sure to let your university know why you're not donating, and what it'll take for you to resume contributions in the future. For instance, you might send a voided check that reads "Not a dime 'til you comply with IX," or a letter listing your desired policy changes.
Designate contributions for particular programs on campus that are working for justice and equity, such as the campus Women and Gender Center or the sexual misconduct prevention office. Keep in mind, though, that often these offices are complicit in the abuses student survivors experience and that, as such, your donation may support the very structures and individuals by whom survivors have been mistreated.
Redirect financial support from your university to student anti-violence organizations until your school shapes up. You might work with other alumni to create a fund to direct funding to young organizers on your alma mater's campus (like this one at Columbia), or you might donate to a local service provider, or national student group. If you opt for this route, make sure to let your university know why you're not donating, and what it'll take for you to resume contributions in the future. Check out a sample email* below to send to fellow donors to redirect financial support from your school to student anti-violence organizations until your college shapes up:
We know you care about [SCHOOL], and we do too. That’s why we want to make campus safer for everyone, and help end sexual and domestic violence in our community. Ever since [SCHOOL] has been criticized for failing to address sexual and domestic violence on campus, we’ve heard from donors that they want to make sure their gifts are supporting solutions. That’s why we’re launching an effort to allocate gifts from supporters like you to community initiatives to prevent violence, support survivors, and make meaningful changes in our community.
There are so many opportunities for community education, violence prevention, and survivor support, but they require funding to be implemented. That’s where you come in. Will you give a gift of $50 to [ORGANIZATION] -- and send [SCHOOL]'s fundraising office a note at [EMAIL ADDRESS] to let them know? With your support, we can grant funding to much-needed programming that is actually driven by the needs of students. If we all chip in, we will be able to invest in high-impact and culturally relevant resources that bring us closer to a culture rooted in consent.
And that’s something we should all be working towards.
Please, join me today with a gift that is meaningful to you.
All the best,
*This email is based on that sent by Columbia alumni as part of their successful Fund for a Safer Columbia campaign. Columbia donors set up a dedicated fund specifically to support student activists on their alma mater's campus, and encouraged alumni to donate to that fund, from which grants are made to Columbia student working to create a safer campus.
Alumni can support current students and survivors by seeking out and sharing information about the movement as it develops and changes, keeping other alums informed about the issue, providing institutional memory to activists, debunking administrative spin or PR efforts to cover up the issue, sharing any expertise we may have that could help students or survivors, and using our resources to support the movement. Our role in this movement is not to speak for or over students, but to hear and amplify their experiences, actively seek out the voices of those our schools have failed to support, and offer our support if and when it is needed.
Transitioning from a Student to Alum
First things first: If you were an activist in school, a lot of things will change as you transition into alumni organizing. Your meetings will probably be painstakingly scheduled Google Hangout sessions rather than late night meetups in dorms after classes. You will be juggling time zones, work schedules, and different cities as you organize yourselves, which usually means the pace of organizing will be much slower. Instead of meeting around your class schedule, you’ll be meeting before or after work, and often you’ll have to miss meeting with your group because your paid work comes first. But you’ll also find that you might have more built-out professional networks to tap into and new communities to spread the word and ask for help. Depending on your profession, you might have more financial resources to contribute to organizing than time or energy.
Recognize that, as an alum, your relationship to your school – and, accordingly, your role in organizing – has shifted. While your own experience of student activism and survivorship may very well inform your interest and drive to participate, remember that your role today is to support and amplify the voiced needs of survivors on the ground right now and to support their vision for a safer, more just campus. It’s absolutely critical that you center current student survivors’ experiences, concerns, needs, and demands in your efforts, rather than alumni experiences from four – or forty – years ago.
Whatever form of involvement you choose, remember that alumni voices matter, albeit for problematic reasons:
- School administrations care about our donations, the free labor we provide to interview applicants, and the relative position of status, power, and privilege we may have as college graduates.
- Our alma maters’ ability to attract more students depends on perpetuating a positive image of the school, and alumni speaking out against their actions threatens that image.
- Schools are also counting on us to check out of the conversation, move on, and lose track of the debate, which allows them to repeat the same tactics of making empty promises to students who will graduate before they can hold administrators and policies accountable.
It is our responsibility to stay engaged so this issue doesn’t die out and resurface again in five years.
Challenges of Organizing as an Alum
- Finding the time to meet, much less to plan and take action, can be a real barrier to organizing as an alum. It can be discouraging to feel the pace of organizing slow to a trickle, especially for those who are used to fast-paced on-the-ground activism. But, since your role in the movement is changing, so too will your tactics, pace, and methods.
- Alums span many generations, and different age groups may have different vocabulary, frameworks, and experiences surrounding sexual violence. Uniting alums of many ages is hard, especially since many alums may not accept rape culture as fact, may have other ways of approaching this issue, or may feel like their age trumps current students’ lived experiences. Remember: you have wisdom and skills you can share when students need it, but your role is to support, not steamroll, their work.
- Other alumni groups may choose to remain “neutral” on this issue, thus actively supporting administrators who have been unsupportive of survivors and focusing their energy on networking and happy hours. Your challenge is to invite them to the table and encourage them not to remain silent about injustice.
- Outreach to alums who don’t actively use social media can complicate sharing your message with a variety of audiences. Mix it up! Reach out to your fellow alums by email, on Twitter and Facebook, and at in-person events.
Organizing Tips for Your Group
A good way to find other organizers is to reach out to current activists on campus and see if they can put you in contact with other alumni who have reached out to them. You can also post in general alumni Facebook groups to see if others are interested in organizing around the issue. Recent graduates, especially those who were involved in campus activism, are great candidates for alumni organizers, but many alumni who have never been activists before may be passionate about the issue as well, so don’t limit your outreach to the usual groups you expect to be interested. Video chat platforms and collaborative file platforms like Google Drive, Google Hangout, Skype, and Hackpad are all incredibly useful tools for coordinating a base of alumni organizers. Once you’ve started a group (and come up with a name!), try to share the info through as many mediums as possible to access alums. Here are a few options:
- Facebook group: One of the first things you might want to do is create a Facebook group. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s a good way to build a community of alums around the issue of sexual violence. There, you can share information and articles, suggest actions alumni can take, and advertise events or protests they might want to attend.
- Facebook page: You may also want to set up a public Facebook page for your group, but it’s important to share resources on as many different mediums as possible to access a variety of alums. A Facebook page can seem impersonal for some, and having organizers continue to provide updates through their individual Facebook accounts is a way of preserving trust and interest.
- Email listserv: You can send out action calls or longer messages about important developments on campus through an email listserv. This may be especially useful for keeping non-Facebook alumni in the loop (or even alumni on Facebook who are not connected to activists or the general pulse of the movement, and therefore may not be aware of your group’s page). Since alumni span many generations and connect in different ways, it’s important to reach out to as many communities as possible in a way that is convenient for them to connect to your group. Google groups is one free platform that you could use for this purpose.
- Physical presence: Besides maintaining a digital presence, making appearances at your alma mater’s organizing events — rallies, panels, demonstrations — can be helpful. Doing so can both help indicate the scale of the movement and remind students that they can become alumni organizers after graduating. Just because people graduate doesn’t mean they forget or let administrators off the hook! During these events, be sure to provide alternatives, if possible, for alums who don’t live near the alma mater, or those who are otherwise unable to attend a protest or rally. Offering the option to call in for events via video or providing livestreams and/or minutes is a great way to keep alums across the nation (and even globe!) engaged.
A reminder: Whatever way you decide to organize, remember to amplify the voices of current students, particularly student survivors. Don’t speak for or over them. You may have decades of professional experience, specialized skills, a graduate degree, a prominent reputation, and even your own personal experiences with campus sexual violence, but you are not experiencing the day-to-day life of a survivor on campus right now. Listen and lift up their ideas into other spaces.
Columbia Alumni Allied Against Sexual Assault (CAAASA) has been working to support and amplify the voiced needs of current student survivors and organizers at Columbia. Check out a summary of their organizing tactics below.
1. We grew our CAAASA membership base to over 800 alumni in the past year. There were notable jumps in recruitment after the school experienced broad media coverage of survivors and heightened scrutiny of their sexual assault policies. The setup of a Facebook group also made it a simple and easy process for alumni to join our group.
2. We developed an Alumni Action Toolkit for organizing and informational purposes. It includes form letters to administrators (including one responding to requests for donations), contact lists of administrators and allies, a compilation of historical media, and other resources.
3. We held an on-campus discussion for alumni, with alumni, current students, and administration represented among our speakers. We coordinated with a prominent young alumni group and invited speakers to share their viewpoints on the campus sexual violence movement, allowing us to gather and inform local alumni on the issues and provide an alternative viewpoint to the school administration’s messaging.
4. We coordinated an alumni “Mattress Carry” with campus activists. Alumni participated in a display of solidarity with survivors and anti-sexual assault activists by “Carrying That Weight” with Emma Sulkowicz. Like our alumni panel, this was a good way to reinforce a physical reminder that alumni care. And that we’re still watching.
Contact us to share your organizing victories and tips.