Fed Up Alumni Withholding Donations Until Colleges Address Rape Crisis


Being asked for a donation by a college with millions in its endowment is obnoxious enough for a graduate who is still at least a decade from paying off her student loans. It’s downright insulting when the organization holding out its hand for no-strings-attached money is in the news for mishandling rape cases. And so some alumni are fighting the college sexual assault with their pocketbooks.

Sixty colleges and universities are currently being investigated by the Department of Education over their abject inability to handle rape on campus that respects both the accused and the accuser. Even more have been in the news in recent years for failing to prioritize students’ safety over their reputation (and, by extension, their ability to convince alumni to cough up donations). Unfortunately for colleges and universities’ desire to sweep this sort of thing under the rug, it’s a lot harder for them to keep students quiet in the age of social media.

Alumni of at least three schools facing an avalanche of bad press from students who say they were treated poorly after being sexually assaulted are responding by telling administrators that words aren’t enough, and until concrete evidence exists that schools are serious about keeping students safe from sexual assault, they won’t be donating money.

Columbia’s perhaps the most recently prominent of the rape schools, as over the last couple of weeks, someone began scrawling a “rapist list” on women’s bathroom walls and distributing flyers that contained the names of four male students who had been found “responsible” for sexual assault by Columbia but faced no major consequences. One of the women who says she was victimized by a person on the “rapist list” has since filed a police report accusing her classmate Jean-Paul Nungesser of rape. Nungesser is currently studying abroad in Europe, and Columbia’s PR disaster was featured on this Sundays This Week with George Stephanopoulos.

In light of this latest flare up of bad news about Columbia’s administration, one alumni sent the note back with the donation card shown above.

In other places, the effort to withhold alumni funds until the administration gets it the fuck together are more organized. At Tufts, some alumni have started a Change.org petition stating that until sexual assault policy is handled in an appropriate manner, dropping in notes characterized by sadness over the state of affairs.

Tufts provided me a world-class education, some of my fondest memories, and the most welcoming of homes for four years. Furthermore, it provided me all this at a cost that I could reasonably take on, allowing me opportunities my financial background would not have otherwise afforded. Because of all this I have felt a great debt to Tufts, one I consider myself obligated to repay. However, if the administration does not start taking the issue of sexual assault seriously, I will no longer be able to support Tufts (financially or otherwise), much less speak about it with pride.

And at Williams college, alumni were so disturbed by the story of Lexie Brackenridge that two of its fundraisers have suspended activities until they’re confident that the issue has been addressed. One of the fundraisers admitted publicly that when she was an undergraduate, she had been a victim of gang rape and was herself ignored by Williams’ administration.

Stories of college administrations fumbling of sexual assault cases are so commonplace that it often seems that rather than writing new articles about every new incident, we could just go ahead and recycle old articles with key word and place names replaced. And while university administrations are experts at churning out “this is serious and we promise we’re working on it!” press releases by now, very little has changed in decades. But maybe — just maybe! — if alumni collectively decide to give a shit about students currently attending classes at their alma maters by stemming the flow of donations, real change might happen.

Until then, I’ll be working on a College Sexual Assault Mishandling Mad Lib for future journalists.

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