Thirty Years In, the Clery Center Continues to Combat Campus Sexual Assault and Violence

Motivated by tragedy, one Main Line family is teaching colleges and universities around the country how to properly address and report sexual misconduct.



Connie Clery with her daughter, Jeanne, at a 1984 tennis tournament. The Clery family in 1980: Howie, Connie, Howard, Jeanne and Ben.

So long as Hope Brinn remains on a college campus, she knows she’ll never be able to shake the stigma. In 2013, Brinn helped put Swarthmore College on the front page of the New York Times after she and campus acquaintance Mia Ferguson made sexual assault allegations against a fraternity. She also alleged an institutional cover-up and retaliation against the whistleblowers, filing Title IX and Clery Act complaints against the school on behalf of 22 Swarthmore students, all nameless except for her and Ferguson.

Brinn graduated from Swarthmore College in 2015, and she’s now in law school at the University of Michigan. “At Michigan, the exact same patterns repeat, leading me to believe the problem is universal,” she says from her first-year living quarters near fraternity row.

In our area, campus sexual assault and harassment—and what it now entails for school administrators—is sadly old hat. That’s largely because of the pioneering work of the Main Line’s Clery family. In 1986, Jeanne Clery—who wore her hair like Farrah Fawcett and was a ranked Middle States tennis player—was brutally raped and murdered her freshman year at Lehigh University. Now advocates carry Jeanne’s torch at Clery Center in Strafford. Under its parent company, Security on Campus Inc., it began as a legislatively focused watchdog group and clearinghouse responsible for 1990’s federal Jeanne Clery Act, along with 20 state laws and five amendments geared toward ensuring accurate campus crime reporting and improving student safety.

Rebranded in 2012, the center’s new focus is on better services for victims through educating and training colleges and universities to employ best practices in responding to campus crime and violence. Every year, eight Clery Center conferences reach 1,500 professionals. The nearest this year was at Swarthmore College in mid-June. Other involvement includes online training, webinars and phone consultations.

The nonprofit celebrated its 30th anniversary in April with a sold-out gala at Merion Cricket Club that raised $70,000. The Main Line has always been supportive—and that includes Jeanne’s alma mater, Agnes Irwin School. Thirty-year donors still provide 20 percent of the operating budget. Success is measured in lives saved and anything that increases institutional transparency. Now, the victims file the complaints—not the organization.

The evolution began with Jeanne’s parents, Connie and Howard Clery, in the early years of the campaign. Connie recalls the game-changing sequence in the late 1980s. The first victim who joined her on television had been raped at two Pennsylvania schools; she was a speaking silhouette. Two other victims, one from the University of Pennsylvania, followed; both wore sunglasses and wigs. Months later, a fourth appeared on TV without a disguise.

Back then, it was unheard of for victims to come forward in that way. “But today it’s protocol,” says Connie from her home in Newtown Square.

Connie recently received an honorary doctorate from Drexel University. After several attempts to retire, she has assumed emeritus status at the center. “We were the first to articulate the courageousness,” she says. “It’s been such a journey, but we know students are much better protected.”

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It could easily be argued that the grassroots Clery Center spawned a nationwide revolution in reporting sexual predators. In one of the highest-profile examples of its reach, Penn State was slapped with $2.4 million fine in 2016 when it was found that the university failed to comply with various aspects of the Clery Act. Violations included the case of former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who’s now in prison on child sexual abuse charges.

It’s why the Clery Act exists—accountability. “Rape isn’t the scarlet letter anymore,” says Ben Clery, one of Jeanne’s older brothers, who lives in Wilmington, Del., and remains board treasurer.

Clery Center executive director Alison Kiss arrived in 2005 as a volunteer. She’d begun her career working in domestic abuse in Delaware County, where she struggled with the glaring discrepancies. In Chester, intervening in schools was easy. In Radnor, she was told, “That’s not happening here.”

Kiss met Connie and felt a calling.

The Clerys have met with resistance, too. Both Ivy League grads, fellow alumni shunned Connie and Howard, even though they were transforming campus safety. “We lost good friends,” says Connie. When schools resisted such scrutiny, Connie was labeled a pitbull—“a pitbull with lipstick,” according to Ben. Today, schools have no choice.

Connie also has another son, Howie. Her husband died in 2008. He played “bad cop,” crunched numbers and loved to debate. Connie remains more personal and overtly emotional. “We made a good team,” she says. “God put us together for 51 years. But he was so angry. I was afraid that I’d lose all three of my men if Josoph Henry didn’t get the death penalty—though I opposed it. I believe in forgiveness.”

Henry was the 20-year-old Lehigh student who snuck into Jeanne’s dorm room in the early-morning hours of April 5, 1986. After her murder, Howard—whose father died early on and whose own life would be affected by polio at age 15—turned to theology for answers. Visits with Sister Miriam Najim from Saint Thomas of Villanova Parish helped him cope. An “escape hatch” to Florida helped them both, Connie says.

“It was the ’90s, I think, before he smiled again,” Ben says of his father.

It wasn’t until 2002, when Henry traded appeal rights for life in prison, that the family felt some peace. “We knew that he’d never hurt anyone else,” says Ben.

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Hope Brinn claims that she was also sexually harassed in her second year at Swarthmore College—and subsequently cyber-stalked and harassed in retaliation. She was a target of horrible social media posts, threatening inter-campus mail and random verbal attacks on campus, one of which led to a police report. “I asked for protection, but I didn’t really get any,” says the Delaware native, who, for legal reasons, can only say so much. “One letter told me to stay out of the gym.”

She came close to transferring. “[But] I wasn’t letting anyone push me out of school,” says Brinn, whose problems began at a party her third week at Swarthmore. “It still impacts me. I’m in a better spot now, but I’ve also accepted that I’ll never get over it.”

At Swarthmore, Brinn’s case prompted administrative shifts, the departure of president Rebecca Chopp and an overhaul of the Title IX office. In 2012, 11 incidents of sexual assault were reported to Swarthmore’s public safety department. By 2013, that number spiked to 91, according to published accounts. Perpetrators have been expelled.

This past spring, current Swarthmore president Valerie Smith put it best in a campus-wide message designed to instill a commitment to needed and improved staffing, programming, training and the incorporation of new policies. “More remains to be done, and we must continue to evaluate and reevaluate our practices based on our community members’ experiences,” she said. “Together, we will continue to strive toward our goal of a violence-free campus where all community members can thrive.”

The national uptick in reporting such crimes is tied to a series of legal changes set forth in 2011 that reinforced enhanced compliance with Title IX, the 1972 gender equity law. It now holds federally funded educational institutions accountable for any claim of sexual misconduct. Students soon began mobilizing and filing Clery and Title IX complaints, de-stigmatizing victimization and leading to the White House Task Force to End Campus Sexual Assault.

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 followed. It codified some of Title IX, linking it to the Clery Act by requiring an additional level of campus transparency with policies, procedures and education regarding sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking. The intersection of Title IX and Clery now provides additional tools for victims, while also guaranteeing a fair process for all parties.

Sexual violence statistics are tricky. If numbers are up, they may indicate that systems and supports are in place, policy is trusted, and current administration may have “a different view,” one source says. But a dip in numbers raises suspicions—like when an American Association of University Women’s analysis of 2014 data revealed that 91 percent of 11,000 college campuses disclosed zero reported rapes that year.

More telling is a Chronicle of Higher Education report that, as of April 2018, there had been 458 Title IX investigations at over 200 colleges, 337 of which were still open. According to the Office for Civil Rights, the number of sexual violence complaints at colleges and universities increased from nine in 2009 to 102 in 2014—a jump of more than 1,000 percent. Meanwhile, the number of reported forcible sex offenses nearly doubled, from 3,264 in 2009 to 6,016 in 2014.

Bob Wood was a Title IX officer at Valley Forge Military Academy and College. Upon leaving in 2015, he filed his own complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, claiming that VFMAC tried to impede his investigations. “You do your best to prevent [crime], but what you do when it occurs makes the difference in your reputation as a school and in your ethics as a human being,” says Wood, who is now a Title IX officer at Gwynedd Mercy University. “Police look for evidence to put someone in jail. I look to protect people on my campus.”

Professionals like Wood have little job protection—never mind the “thankless nature of the work,” says Michelle Issadore, senior associate executive director of the Association of Title IX Administrators. Since forming in 2011, the Berwyn-based organization has grown its membership to over 3,000. “We’ve always seen these cases and stories, but they may not have had the attention they deserve,” she says. “They’ve come out of the shadows.”

Currently, Clery Center is working on REACH (Report and Educate About Campus Hazing), an amendment that would add hazing to the Clery Act. Ironically, a leading proponent, Pennsylvania Congressman Pat Meehan, has seen his role diminish after allegations of his own sexual misconduct.

David Tedjeske is the director of public safety and chief of police at Villanova University. Before the Clery Act, he says, the mindset was that a “college is a business—and crime is bad for business.”

Gradually, schools have trudged toward transparency. “When the Clerys started, campuses didn’t want to talk about it,” says the center’s Kiss. “Institutions were in denial. Now, they’re not. We couldn’t continue to be the enforcer. We had to become a friend.”

Even if not everyone reads the annual Clery reports, everyone benefits from emergency notifications and resources devoted to improving campus safety. “The Clery Act threw sunshine on the issue,” Tedjeske says.

Villanova, he maintains, is a safe suburban campus with over 300 security cameras and thousands of doors controlled by card access. “[But] we’re not immune to crime,” he says.

Villanova provides online Clery Center training for its Campus Security Authority members and resident assistants. “Our goal is making sure we all wake up in the morning,” says Tedjeske.

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With the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., just a week old, Connie Clery has granted what’s a rare interview these days. Such tragic events resuscitate memories of her daughter’s attack, the criminal and civil trials, the death-sentence appeals, and the couple’s tireless toiling for other campus crime victims. “This happened to Jeanne, so I knew it had to be happening to someone else somewhere else,” Connie says.

Clery Center hasn’t found the time and resources—nor overcome the resistance—to extend its reach into secondary and elementary schools. The center has 12 full-time employees, 10 part-time instructors and 11 board members. Its limitations prevent proactivity. “We often get involved after someone has already been severely harmed and hurt,” says Kiss.

The center remains a clearinghouse for resources, partnering with other organizations like Safe and Sound Schools and the Koshka Foundation. It was also involved in the online film We Don’t Haze.

At home, Connie’s family photos and mementos sustain her. There’s the 1984 trophy plate from the Equitable Family Tennis Championships that qualified Connie and Jeanne for the mother-daughter portion of the USTA National Championships. Her favorite is a 1983 birthday card that Jeanne made for her. A framed tri-paneled sequence of drawings and words, it’s signed “Pipe Squeak.”

“We called her ‘Pip,’” Connie explains. “She wasn’t a great speller—but she was our greatest joy.”

“She was the sweetest girl,” adds Ben, who is working on a book to honor his sister and parents. “Her life deserves it,” he says.

Ben and Howie had gone to Tulane, but after a brutal murder there and wary of the school’s proximity to New Orleans, the Clerys sent Jeanne to Lehigh to be safe. They still describe her attack as “a lightning strike and an aberration.”

Ben acknowledges that administrators still enable a chaotic system of freedoms—but schools are far more vigilant. “We’re keeping score,” says his mother, who still breaks into tears telling Jeanne’s story. “I just knew in my heart of hearts that, even after it happened to Jeanne in what would appear to be the safest of places—her bed at 6 a.m.—that there had to be fortune in our misfortune.”

Kiss has two of her own young daughters to provide additional inspiration. But each weekday morning, she arrives at work, which is incentive enough: “We see Jeanne’s portrait every time we walk into the office.”

Visit clerycenter.org.

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