We Deserve Better.

A little over a week ago, The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team published an investigative piece on thirty-one educators accused of sexual misconduct with students, all of whom were able to secure positions at academic institutions after allegations were made. This article hits home for many of  us at Let’s Be Clear — not just because it depicts how cycles of sexual violence are perpetuated in places of learning, but also because it reveals that our alma mater, Wesleyan University, hired one of these thirty-one individuals. The sense of betrayal and hurt is overwhelming, as we are forced to realize that a space we fought so hard to make safe was anything but. We know that many of you are grappling with the reality of this horrific news, whether as a survivor, ally, activist, or community member, and to you we say  — this is awful, this is terrifying, and you do not have to face this alone.

For those that haven’t heard: “Vermont Academy fired an assistant dean in 2007 for allegedly propositioning a 16-year-old female student in lewd text messages. Yet the boarding school still produced three recommendations for its former employee, and he landed a job months later at Wesleyan University in Connecticut — overseeing student sexual misconduct hearings.”  Wesleyan hired an alleged sexual predator to preside over cases of sexual misconduct and assault. His name is Scott Backer.

According to Wesleyan administrators, the incident was not uncovered in a background check when the University hired Backer in 2007. And while that may be hard to believe, what’s even more difficult to comprehend is the University’s claim that the lawsuit that ensued in 2011 went completely unnoticed (despite alumni that suggest otherwise). Even after that point, Backer quickly rose through the ranks during his eight years at Wesleyan, and he became Associate Dean of Students in 2013  — a position that granted him the authority to oversee all Title IX cases involving the student body.

Although there has been some controversy over whether the administration ever knew about Backer’s past, one thing is unequivocally clear: the actions taken by Wesleyan in the wake of this situation were by no means enough.

Within 24 hours of being contacted for The Globe’s investigation, Wesleyan fired Backer; however, the only mention made to the Wesleyan Community was in an all-campus email about “Staff on the move”. Wesleyan then hired Pepper-Hamilton, a law firm, to review the sexual misconduct cases Backer oversaw. In just two months, the University reported that, “The auditors completed their review and reported no concerning issues or impropriety.” Legally speaking, the university was covered. And to President Michael Roth and Title IX Officer Antonio Farias, that was enough.

Let this be a message to Roth, Farias, and other members of the administration at Wesleyan: Your students deserve better. You need to hire educators that have the utmost moral integrity. You need to make it university policy that a thorough background check is performed for anyone handling sexual misconduct cases. More than that, individuals who hear cases need to receive comprehensive training not just about the law, but about trauma, sensitivity, crisis, and advocacy.

You need to provide a platform for students to provide feedback on the Title IX reporting and hearing process. You need to create a system that enables students to easily report concerns over the way a case was handled, because the current appeals process is inadequate and painful for survivors.

You need to show us that you genuinely care about the issue of sexual violence, and everything that comes with it  — victim blaming, emotional trauma, and violation of due process to name a few. You need to be open and honest with our community. You need to think about the impact your actions have. When you mess up  — and you will mess up again  — you need to apologize. And not only when an apology is demanded, but when one is due.

Most importantly, you need to listen. Hold yourselves accountable and take action. You need to make this right. Use this experience to be better, to set an example. Be brave and stop worrying about covering your ass(ets). Be the leaders we know you’re capable of being.

Moving forward, we urge not only Wesleyan, but every university nationwide, to take a close look at the individuals in the administration that are responsible for the safety and welfare of thousands of students. And we urge students to take matters into their own hands and tackle the root causes of sexual assault. Show your schools how important this is.

Practice consent.

Practice bystander intervention.

Listen to survivors.

Call out your friends when they make rape jokes.

Join organizations to address sexual assault.

We will not be silent. We will not allow individuals like Scott Backer to govern the level of safety on campus. Now, more than ever, is the time to work together to create, protect, and defend safe spaces.

To the Wesleyan community: our hearts are with you. Our commitment is to you and every community who has said “enough is enough”. We will work to support you in any way needed. You deserve better. We deserve better. Every student, every person deserves better. We will do our part in finding and achieving that better. Let us know how we can help.

With Love,

Let's Be Clear

Social Media, Summer Interns & More!

We’ve been very busy this past month! We launched our social media pages on Monday, May 23rd. It has been awesome to see so many people engaging with us online, and we’re really excited to continue growing our audience. As of writing this post, we have 636 likes on Facebook. Many thanks to those who have shared our page and invited their friends! To check out our pages, and to give us a like (if you’d like!), click the links below.

Instagram: @weareletsbeclear

Facebook: facebook.com/weareletsbeclear/

Monday was also the first day of work for our incredible new summer interns, Madeleine & Lex! We’re stoked to have them onboard, and to have met so many amazing folks along the way. Thanks to all those who applied!

As we continue building out our team, we’re looking for a graphic designer. If you’re interested, or know someone who might be, you can check out the posting here! Similarly, if you dabble in graphic design or drawing, take a peek at our logo competition and consider submitting an entry! The winner will get some free Let’s Be Clear swag, including a t-shirt with the logo they designed on it. And a final note on the design-train, we’re getting ready to share our first set of apparel designs! We’ll be rolling them out on our social media pages over the coming weeks and would love to hear what you think.

On the business side of things, we’ve been spending a lot of time trying to sort out what legal structure is best for us. The first decision to make was non-profit versus for-profit. We spoke with a number of advisors, did a ton of online research and debated the pros and cons as a team. In the end, we decided that we wanted to be a for-profit company. We believe this can be a profitable business, and we believe that we can use those profits to do more good. The next decision to make is what kind of for-profit company we want to be. Our plan had been to register as a B Corp, but after speaking with a lawyer, we realized that we might not have the resources to do that quite yet. Instead, he suggested we register as an LLC or C Corp. Next step is talking to an accountant to figure out which makes most sense for us. Simultaneously, we’re working on outlining some company bi-laws that will help us keep our social mission – to normalize sexual consent – at the core of all our operations and our decisions. More on that in the next post! Beyond that, our core focus moving forward is on getting ready to launch our Kickstarter campaign – we’ve got to start working on our video, doing some comprehensive financial run-downs, figuring out our backer levels, and scaling up our marketing efforts. Speaking of which, we’ll also be making an appearance at the Boston Pride Parade on June 11, with some awesome bracelets and buttons that our interns designed (photos to come)!

And with that, I hope everyone enjoys the long weekend – Happy Memorial Day! 

We finally have a name!

Spring has finally come to Boston and, as we sit at our array of desk jobs throughout the city, the marathon has begun. I think we have all realized that developing this company as an idea, a brand, and a business is a marathon and will not happen overnight. As a team we have been increasingly working to better our website and social media presence, learn the ins and outs of business operations, and stretch outside our comfort zones to engage with people and make connections in the name of the business.

Speaking of the name of our business… With the help of a fantastic advisor, the creative brilliance of Barefoot Brainstorming, and the naming geniuses at fussfactory, we were finally able to decide on a new name for the business: Let’s Be Clear!!! Changing our name was a difficult (surprisingly emotional) process, but we believe the name Let’s Be Clear really captures who we are as an organization and what we stand for – it encompasses the individuality of experience, emphasizes the importance of clear communication between all parties, and highlights the need for constructive conversations about consent within our society. With our new name and solidified brand identity, we’re ready to start participating actively in the (inter)national conversation about consent, and help break down the stereotypes around sex and consent.

So what’s next? Well, we’re entering the final week of interviews for our summer internship and have a big team meeting coming up this Sunday. We are also just about to start a logo competition (more details to come!) and are on the hunt for a graphic designer, and we’re just about ready to launch our social media pages, so keep an eye out for those!

Cheers and Happy Marathon Monday!

Will Fetchko 

Update #3

Well, I set a few big goals for Assk in the last blog post. I wanted to have a team, a new name, a fashion/graphic designer, a website, and a social media presence by now. I wish I could say that all those items have been crossed off (one of) my (many) to do lists, but I'm slowly learning that's just not how start-ups work. Here’s a look at what Assk has been up to since the last post was published:

1.     Forming a Team

For a long time, this was Assk’s biggest hurdle. It was just me trying to drive the daily operations, and that wasn’t sustainable. So, when I moved to Boston, I started chatting with friends (new and old) about what I was doing. I knew a few people were interested, and was excited to receive a couple emails from people who had read my last post and wanted to get involved. There are now 7 of us working on various aspects of Assk, and I can’t wait for you to meet them. I asked everyone to write up short bios, which you can check out here: http://www.assk.ca/aboutus

 

2.     A New Company Name

No matter how hard I try, some things just take time - in this case, coming up with a new name is taking what feels like eternity. After many failed attempts at creativity, I called up my step-mother, Marilyn Barefoot, who runs a brainstorming business (Barefoot Brainstorming). She designed a workshop based on the principles of convergent and divergent thinking. In other words, we got to make collages (officially called “brand boards”, I’m told!), go on a scavenger hunt, play with Play-Doh, and eat bubble gum, all of which helped us come up with name ideas. We made some really good forwards progress, and are planning another workshop for the coming weeks. That said, if you’ve got any name ideas, I want to hear them! Just shoot me an email at hello@letsbeclear.com.

Not having a name is incredibly frustrating. It often feels like we can’t make do anything because we don’t have a name. At the same time, though, the process of trying to come up with a new name has forced us to think critically about our brand identity. We’ve thought about our essence, our personality, our values, even what colours most accurately illustrate who we are and what we stand for. And while we may not have sold any t-shirts yet, we have a really good idea of who we are.

 

3.     A fashion/graphic designer

We don’t have a fashion/graphic-designer-by-training on the team, but I’m feeling really good about where we’re at with clothing design. We’ve come up with some awesome design ideas (shout out to Dara’s mom for the “I’m the boss of these parts” concept!), and can’t wait to hit the streets with them.

 

4.     A Website & Social Media Presence

This one is huge for me. Every time I have talked to someone about Assk over the past few years, I haven’t had anywhere to send them, or any way to collect their information. I’ve dropped so many leads, and that’s just unacceptable. Thankfully, we finally have a live website! It’s just a landing page at the moment, but that’s all it needs to be right now. Check it out, and sign up for our mailing list, at www.assk.ca.

No social media presence yet, mainly because we don’t have a name. That said, we’ve got a social media strategy meeting coming up, and have been doing lots of research on best practices.

 

In the coming months, we’ll have our hands full with a number of projects: developing a website (and maybe an online store!), producing our first pieces of clothing, selling our first pieces of clothing, building our social media presence, hosting events in the Boston area, and getting ready for our Kickstarter campaign. If you haven’t already, please do join our mailing list – we’d love to keep you posted on our progress!

Update #2

Since writing the last blog post in June, I’ve embarked on an incredibly unexpected adventure. I managed to secure a job, meaning that I’m legally allowed to stay in the country for at least another 8 months. My fortune in securing that job was, in large part, due to Makaela Kingsley, the Director of Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center. My visa restricts me to work related to my major, which I interpreted to mean doing research at a hospital or university, but Makaela hooked me up with an incredible Cambridge-based start up. I’m now doing neuroscience and psychology research, and cannot imagine a better fit, or a better learning environment. Makaela helped me do what seemed impossible: pursue my love for neuropsychology and my love for entrepreneurship at the same time. Unfortunately, the process of securing that job and getting set up in a new city has completely sidelined my efforts with Assk (as evident by this month-and-a-half-late blog post). My big task now is getting back on track. It’s time for another set of “To do’s”: 

1. We need a new name. There’s another apparel company called ASSK. They’re based in Paris, so I was hoping it wouldn’t be an issue, but after talking to a handful of advisers and lawyers, I’ve been successfully convinced that moving forwards with the name Assk is a bad idea. I’ve been using that reality as an excuse to not work on the business. If I don’t have a name, how am I supposed to make a website? How am I supposed to sell clothing? I was so obsessed with the name Assk that I felt like we wouldn’t be able to succeed without it. Assk encapsulated the brand – it promoted sexual consent while breaking down all gender roles and stereotypes. But the reality is, particularly right now, the name doesn’t matter – and that’s not a realization I came to on my own. I received some great advice from a co-worker who didn’t even realize he was giving it to me. He told me that one of the two main reasons start-ups fail is because they take too long to make a decision. He said it didn’t matter if you made the wrong decision, so long as you made a decision and tried your way down that path. That’s what we need to do. We need to pick a name and run with it. Who cares if we change it for something better later, so long as we give ourselves a place to start. Yes, rebranding will pose its own challenges – but those aren’t challenges we’ll have the opportunity to face unless we start somewhere. 

2. I need a team. This has been obvious from day one.  While I was at Wesleyan, I tried to build a team around myself, but sadly, graduating has seen that team fall apart. I need to find some folks in Boston who are eager to apply creative solutions to social problems. I need to find people to help hold me accountable. I need to find people who want to shift this culture as badly as I do. I’ve been obsessed with finding the best and brightest, but the reality is, none of us have any idea what we’re doing. I just need people that are as motivated as I am, so that we can fumble our way through this together. 

3. I need to stop making excuses. This is probably the hardest thing to admit, and the hardest thing to do. It’s really easy now that I’m working a full-time job to put my own projects on the back-burner. But now that I have a job, an apartment, and the necessary furniture, I just need to stop making excuses. I need to get to work, because if I don’t try, I’m going to regret it.It’s time to hold myself accountable. Here’s hoping that publishing an ambitious timeline will help me do that. 

  • By October 20th, I will hold a meeting with people in the Boston area that are 
  • interested in the project. 
  • By October 26th, we will pick a company name. 
  • By November 1st, we’ll find a graphic designer/fashion designer.
  • By November 9th, we’ll have built a website and a social media presence.

And with that, I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Update #1

I find myself seated on the floor of a house in New London, CT. My good friend is house-sitting for a Connecticut College Professor, both of whom were generous enough to allow me to stay. My laptop is perched on a footrest that has been stripped bare of its pillow, and just like this footrest, I have been stripped of the very thing that made me comfortable: Wesleyan. I am no longer an undergraduate, surrounded by endless creativity, passion, encouragement and excitement. I am an alumnus, plagued by responsibility, bills, taxes, and politically incorrect people. I don’t have a source of income. I don’t have a place that I can call home. Luckily I had a few points left over at the end of the semester so I was able to stock up on food, but I eat a lot, so that surely won’t last long. I am a scared shitless, soon-to-be-hungry alumnus. How am I going to make this work?

When I first started Assk, my objective was to diversify the conversation about sexual violence. Never could I have imagined that two and a half years later, I would have an Assk business card in my hand, with my name followed by “Founder & CEO” on the back (Note to self – the business card may be thin enough to eat, if the situation becomes dire). Today, Assk Apparel and Education is a company that strives to tackle sexual violence by normalizing consent. Through apparel, we are attempting to shift normative influences, and encourage consumers to adopt consent as a core personal value. Through education, we seek to give people the tools necessary to build healthy sexual relationships, support survivors, and understand the ways in which gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation and religion impact sexual assault, consent, and rape culture.

 

So what now? Here’s a condensed version of my “Assk To Do List”:

 

1.     Stay in the country

As silly as it may sound, the biggest struggle I’m facing with Assk right now is staying in the country. I’m a Canadian citizen, and unfortunately, it’s not easy to establish myself in the US as a broke, I-graduated-from-college-a-week-ago entrepreneur. After a handful of conversations with immigration lawyers (thanks to Wesleyan’s parent listserv for hooking me up!), I’ve decided that best plan is to look for a full-time position that will secure my legal status in this country, put some money in my pocket, and allow me to pursue Assk on the side.

(For any potential employers that have Googled me and are reading this right now – I promise, I really do want to work for you! And I really do intend to pursue graduate work in psychology/neuroscience!)

 

2.     Get more funding

Since receiving the $5000 Seed Grant from the Patricelli Centre, Assk has been fortunate enough to secure an additional $1800 in funding from other sources, including an incredibly generous private donor. Nevertheless, we’re hoping to obtain additional funding in preparation for our Kickstarter campaign (more on that in the next blogpost!), so we’ll be applying to several grant-givers over the course of the summer.

 

3.     Legal stuff

A sobering reality of trying to start a company is that there’s a whole bunch of legal stuff that needs to be done, which currently looks like trademark and company registration. One of the big questions Assk is facing right now is what our legal structure should be: do we want to establish ourselves as a non-profit, for-profit, or hybrid? I’ve got some more research to do before making the final decision.

 

4.     Networking

Networking can be simultaneously fun and daunting. I’ve had the opportunity to speak with so many incredible people, including several Wesleyan alumni, who have all offered fantastic advice. One challenge – beyond squeezing myself into the very hectic schedules of successful business professionals – is figuring out which strengths of each individual align best with Assk’s current needs. Is their background in apparel, production, distribution, education, or marketing? By narrowing the focus of every conversation, I’m able to make the most of everyone’s time. To date, I’ve gained insight on the wild world of social entrepreneurship, starting a clothing company, ethical manufacturing, launching a Kickstarter campaign, just to name a few. Moving forward, I’m looking for advice on my business structure, my financial plan, and my operations plan.

 

5.     Build an online presence

Assk needs a website and Facebook page, and we could likely use a Twitter account as well. I’ve started to play around with Square Space, but I’d really need a week of just focusing on the website to produce something that I’d be comfortable publishing. On top of that, we need to develop some content for the site itself. We do officially have a domain, though!

(In all honesty, I was so embarrassed that we don’t already have a Facebook page that I started to make one before writing this blog post. Then I stepped back and reminded myself that the quality of the page was more important than its existence.)

 

Here’s hoping my next up-date will be filled with a brand new set of challenges!