My experience with “locker room banter”…and how I’ve learned to shut it down.

This is not intended as a political post.  This is about my experience as a woman and how I have learned to deal with — and shut down — sexual harassment.  It so happens that the media provides some ample examples recently.  I have purposely left out the names of candidates so as to avoid alienating any reader.

Every once in a while, examples of sexual harassment make the national media.  It is interesting to see people respond to them.  Sometimes the examples caught on tape or relayed in court are so shocking that they impact our collective consciousness.  These are the times when a sea change can occur.   I think news like this is a good thing.  Why?  Because when bad behavior becomes so public, sometimes it makes real change.  We can only hope.

Anita Hill, 1991
Anita Hill, 1991

There was Anita Hill. When Clarence Thomas was a candidate for the Supreme Court, a brave woman named Anita Hill came forward to testify about how Thomas had treated her in the workplace.  It was troubling to hear her relay how Thomas had treated her. It was tame by comparison to some of the recent news caught on tape, but it was equally disgusting.  Anita Hill was very brave and told her story.  She took enormous criticism.  I can’t imagine how much courage it took for her to  take action. This was before the days of sexual harassment protections or workplace training.  I remember many people condemning her. Clarence Thomas still made it to the Supreme Court, but I think men everywhere realized that their “workplace banter” could cause offense and could be considered wrong and harassing.  Some reading this post might not have been born yet, so you should read more about her story if you have a moment.

Photo credit: Daily Beast
Photo credit: Daily Beast

High profile examples of bad behavior sometimes can teach larger lessons. Let’s hope this is one of them. I’ve had my own experiences which I’ve endured over many years, but for the first time a few years ago, I took action.


Like many women, this is part of life in the workforce.  A high profile person came out this week saying, “If women can’t handle sexual harassment in the workplace, they should get another job… they should go teach kindergarten”.  Sadly, it even happens in elementary schools, so there really is no relief.

Mid-1980s.  In College, I was fortunate to attend a woman’s college.  There I could focus on my academics during the day and had plenty of fun outside of class.  There were male colleges near us where we had friends and went for social occasions.  I had few bad situations; however, surrounded by a rather polite group of men,  there were usually a few “big brother” like friends who immediately set the person straight.  We (my friends and I) also traveled in packs.  We didn’t leave anyone alone anywhere and made sure when we left that all were accounted for.  We looked out for each other. I was lucky, it seems there is a worse culture in some colleges now exposing women to very harassing behavior.

Late-1980s:  When I was first out of college in the late 80s, I had frequent challenges in the workplace and just living my life.  This was before the days of legal protections and there was (and is) a culture of harassment.  I remember typing and having someone’s hands slide from my shoulders to down the front of my blouse.  Not just once, many times (even after trying to lean forward, turn myself around, ask the person to stop).  I positioned a mirror on my desk so that I could see if someone could come up behind me and I would snap to attention facing anyone who arrived.  I remember being called to an office only to find no one there and all of the windows covered (I’ll spare you what happened after that).  I remember being asked to sit a particular way while taking notes in an office so that the supervisor could “get a better view of my legs”.  And so on and so on….

Photo credit:
Photo credit:

I remember speaking to my parents about it and they made suggestions about dressing differently, not being the last one in the office, and everything they could think of to help. This was the Laura Ashley fashion period where high-neck lace blouses were actually in fashion, so there wasn’t much more I could do to dress conservatively.   Some people said to me to “not take it personally” or “this is what happens working in a ‘man’s world'” or “boys will be boys” and so on.   It wasn’t what I was wearing, I now realize, it was the mindset of the person who thought he could treat me that way.

1990s Laura Ashley fashion.
1990s Laura Ashley fashion.

At that time, there were no avenues (at least that I knew about) to make it stop.  There were no workplace trainings (as is now customary) to let me know what I did not have to tolerate and to put harassers on notice.   In some cases, I did change jobs.

1990s:  When I had my first fundraising job, I stayed with a woman in New England at a charming home on the coast.  Somewhere in the middle of the night, I realized someone was in my room.  Then, the person actually leapt onto my bed (it was pitch black) and began groping me.  I grabbed whatever I could find (an alarm clock) and started hitting him with it which made him stop.  Shaking violently to the point that I could hardly zip my suitcase or hold my keys, I left in the middle of the night and left a note for the person.  I got a note later saying, “I want to apologize to my son.  He was drunk and went into the wrong bedroom.”  Funny thing about that, he didn’t live there and knew I was staying there as he had stopped by earlier during our visit.

I began to see that some men just assumed that their attentions would be received — or didn’t care what the recipient thought.

Mid-1990s:  Working for a large association in Washington, DC as a meeting planner, I traveled often.  On one trip to Colorado, the Broadmoor, I had just returned from a work reception late and heard the sound of a key.  In walked a bank president who had attended the meeting with a big grin on his face and holding a bottle of wine and two glasses.  “I got the key from the front desk,” he exclaimed.  The assumption that I would be open to such an intrusion bothered me as much as having to deal with the situation to begin with.  I had experienced countless incidents of groping, fondling, comments over the course of that job, but never this far of an extreme.  I managed to get him out of the room (I led the way) and back to the lobby where I confided in a colleague who helped me.  I changed rooms (and now I travel with a small rubber wedge which I stick under the door in addition to closing as many latches available).

As many women faced in this situation, I worried that I would actually have some negative job repercussion for not being responsive to the harassment.  At that time, as with most women, I went about my work and remained silent.  There was no ear to listen.

The Girls Choir at the National Cathedral (I am honored to have raised the gift that created the girls choir); and grateful that they protected me in a time of need.
The Girls Choir at the National Cathedral (I am honored to have raised the gift that created the girls choir); and grateful that they protected me in a time of need.

Late-1990s:  When I was six months pregnant with my second child working at the National Cathedral, I had a particularly egregious situation with a supervisor who had scheduled my performance review (conveniently late in the day after most people had left).  After shutting the door and placing himself between me and the exit, he physically approached me and pushed me down onto a sofa – and then onto the floor – and started kissing me.   I was so horrified that I couldn’t even move initially, but managed to push him onto the ground and bolt for the door.  He tried coming after me and actually grabbed a hold of a cardigan sweater I was wearing that I recall stretched so much that it never regained its shape.   In that case, I confided in one of the priests who was a friend of mine. Within hours the leader of the Cathedral, Dean Nathan Baxter, had phoned me at home and assured me the matter would be dealt with (it turns out, this wasn’t the perpetrator’s first infraction).  The (former) supervisor never returned to work.  I didn’t know such protection was possible, but I was grateful.

 I began to find my voice.  I realized I did not have to take it.

1998:  The year America firmed up its definition of power dynamic.
1998: The year America firmed up its definition of power dynamic.

1998 was the year of the Monica Lewinsky scandal when the intern in the White House had a relationship with the then President Bill Clinton.  We heard about her blue dress, her underwear, and heard things on the national news for many weeks that most had never heard discussed in workplaces, much less on national television.  What this situation really emphasized is that even if a relationship is consensual, when one person has authority over the other, it is inappropriate.  This wasn’t something discussed at the time. This power dynamic became something more workplaces discussed and it began to make its way into workplace policies.  It is inappropriate for someone in a position of authority to exert his or her control over another — even if consensual: A boss over a subordinate, a teacher over a student, a coach over a player, a president over an intern….

What this situation taught America is that even if a relationship is consensual, when one person has authority over the other, it is inappropriate.

Eventually, in the 1990s and early 2000s, sexual harassment suits started being filed and men finally started realizing that this “locker room banter” and “joking around” wasn’t something they could do without consequence.  Anita Hill’s testimony at the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings suddenly thrust workplace harassment into the spotlight.  Unfortunately, in my observation, those who most needed this training – the executive level staff – lead attorneys in law firms – the ones who thought they didn’t have to attend such things – were the ones who needed it the most and then continued to behave as they had before. My theory is that some people, particularly senior, high-level people have not ever had formal sexual harassment training – or diversity training – etc. and so they truly don’t realize how offensive they are being. It just seems “normal” to speak about a woman sexually.   You can read a post I wrote on this here.

What I learned from these trainings is that I DON’T HAVE TO PUT UP WITH IT.  And, most importantly, supervisors now had a DUTY to report such behavior or they faced consequence.

Current time.  Once it happened in front of my children, I had to act.  I took legal and professional action seeking relief from sexual harassment. I was successful.


The harassment took place over many weekends.  High above the playing field and the locker rooms of the university where I work, tailgating is its own sport.  Most people go to have fun with their families and share the collegial college spirit that accompanies games.  Most people don’t go to these events and expect to be harassed.  Unfortunately, that was my experience. It began with suggestive comments (which I always brushed off and tried to ignore), it progressed to making lewd comments in front of this person’s friends and in front of my husband (we both asked him to stop numerous times), it progressed to commenting about my outfits, my body parts, etc. (which I again asked him to stop and that neither my husband nor I appreciated it). Then, one weekend, with my children with me, the harassment resumed. This time, he actually came up behind me blocking me from moving between him and my car and he made a disgusting comment about what he would like to see me do — while my younger son sat in the back seat overhearing this. My husband and I both reached out limit.

This time, I decided to do something.


I asked the University (athletics) that this person be moved from where he parked for tailgating and they said they couldn’t do anything “without proof”.  It was a classic case of “your word against his” (even though I had my husband as a witness with dates and times of the incidents).  They said I would need to obtain a police report for them to do anything (in retrospect, I’m glad they didn’t assist right away as I probably wouldn’t have followed through with a legal solution).  So, I went to the University police who directed me to go to the nearby courthouse to obtain a peace order (which was granted). At the hearing, the individual admitted to his behavior, wanted to apologize, said “he’d been drinking” (as if this excused the behavior), and said that he was just “kidding around” (a.k.a. “locker room banter”).  It was obvious he didn’t find much wrong with what he had been doing. He agreed to the terms of the peace order.  Then, the criminal charges were served (you don’t get a peace order without a criminal justification, so simultaneous criminal charges are filed, but that is between the State and the individual).  I got calls from someone representing him imploring me to drop the issue because “he is a senior executive at a bank” and “can’t afford to have this on his record”. I told them he should have thought about that before he spent his weekends harassing me – and that the call the person was making violated the terms of the peace order (I filed another peace order in the county in which I lived so that the breech was on record).  The call emboldened me to continue, knowing that his behavior was probably not isolated to the weekends.  The whole process wasn’t easy and it was time consuming.  Upon investigating the incidents, my University workplace deemed that this was harassment and responded in a professional manner which I appreciated.

At this point in my life, I believe I have a duty to speak out when harassment occurs and make sure that I set the person straight.  If I don’t, I know there is a woman after me who will suffer as a result.


My husband, Lyn, and me. Lyn has taught me many things, one of which is standing up to harassment.
My husband, Lyn, and me. Lyn has taught me many things, one of which is standing up to harassment.

Thankfully, I have a respectful husband who defends me.  I’ve learned a lot from him.  He doesn’t tolerate men joking around him about women.  I’ve watched him shut down “locker room banter” many times.  He doesn’t even like hearing it in a movie or on television (he’ll change the channel).  He has empowered me to draw a firmer line in what I will tolerate and has helped me take action when I decided I had reached my limit.

Fortunately, there are laws to not only protect women from such behavior, but also show them the path forward to obtain relief (particularly if their attempts have failed).  Sometimes you have to take action in order to stop someone.  Hopefully the threat of such actions can keep other people in line (who behave as if they can speak or act any way they wish).

Harassment is common. Image courtesy of
Harassment is common. Image courtesy of

I don’t buy the “boys will be boys” comment.  I don’t buy “locker room banter”.  I’ve shared stories about these things with my sons so that they know how women feel — and so that they can shut down this type of discussion when they hear it.  It isn’t just women who are insulted by hearing sexist comments….

Insisting that it is normal to joke about sexual assault and harassment is also insulting to men.

Watching the recent news that has become public this week doesn’t surprise me at all. It just was one of millions of conversations that go on day in and day out.  However, this time it was caught on tape — and America was horrified. Hopefully, the women subjected to this will speak out and take action. The legal system, it seems, is about the only thing that gets the attention of people set in their ways. There are some good things that could come out from this week — one of them is a sea change in how men speak about and behave around women.

Thanks for reading.


P.S. To dismiss sensitivity about sexual harassment as “political correctness” is to perpetuate behavior that is offensive and illegal.


Stop harassing behavior (scripts and behavior suggestions).

Your rights if sexually harassed.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE
Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE

Stacey brings over twenty-five years of fundraising and nonprofit management with organizations in higher education, independent schools, faith-based organizations, social services, and the arts.   She currently serves as Senior Director of Development for the University of Maryland.  Enthusiasm, innovation, and passion are hallmarks of her work resulting in over $100 million raised for annual operations, capital campaigns, comprehensive campaigns, endowments, planned gifts, and special events. Responsible for raising the largest gift in the history of the University of Maryland to establish the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.  Stacey graduated from Sweet Briar College and has completed graduate work at University of Maryland University College.



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Don’t be (color)BLIND! SEE DIVERSITY!

Don’t be (color)blind!  Instead, SEE diversity.  And other lessons I learned after inadvertently insulting people.

A few weeks ago while watching the Republican National Convention, I listened to Ivanka Trump give her speech introducing her father. I’ll spare you my opinion of her father as I don’t intend for this to be a political message. I’ve admired Ivanka Trump over the years as someone who seemed to be able to both work and raise her children. I found myself nodding along until she started to go down hill.

No. She. Didn’t. She didn’t just use the term “colorblind” in a positive way.

Yes. She. Did. How sad.

For many reasons which I will explain further if you care to read, I am sensitive to language that can be offensive to others. The term “colorblind” is an offensive term. For many years I used the term “colorblind” as a badge of honor to explain that I was a person who valued race and diversity. Little did I know how troubling that term was and how many lessons I had to learn. This, my dear friends, is a story about just some (of the most painful) lessons I’ve learned. Hopefully, you’ll be nodding along with agreement. If not, perhaps I might spare you the embarrassment I had to face.

So, I posted a note on Facebook about my disappointment at Ivanka Trump’s statement and the (to me) obvious lack of formal diversity training this kind of statement said to me. Then,at some point, I retired to bed with memories of my own journey learning about diversity, tolerance, racism, and more over the course of my career. .

I woke up to a sh*tstorm. Many people I knew agreed with me and added their thoughts to the concept. Several of my well-respected friends took offense to my comments and asserted their own “colorblindness” and simultaneous commitment to diversity, etc. Some of my friends argued with the others (though they don’t know each other). I felt badly for those who were getting a firehose of new information which they considered to be insulting their intelligence (these are very smart people, mind you). Everyone probably has now and again a post that takes on a life of its own. That one became one of those posts.

A few brave souls sought me out over the next few days by phone, email, and one in person to ask me to explain the concept further and admitted that they hadn’t realized that their use of the term could be offensive to others. I thought I would share the thoughts here to spare others possible embarrassment or unintended offense. It is surprising to me in today’s world how people do not come across diversity training either in their reading, workplaces, schooling, places of worship, or elsewhere. I shouldn’t assume that people would access information like this I now realize (another hard lesson), but it doesn’t mean that I should stand aside and not correct it.

I learned the hard way. Let me help you fast-forward your learning.

It was in the early 1990s when I first had formal diversity training. I have always considered myself a progressive person, open minded, and definitely not racist in anyway; however, what I was ignorant to were my own biases and privileges that I didn’t even see as a result of being born a white female. I’ll never forget the day when a family sat down in my office at Grace Episcopal Day School.

“How is it in this school that you can buy access to a teacher?” I replied, somewhat dismayed, “Of course you can’t buy access to a teacher.” “Yes you can”, the family replied, “Right here in our school at the school auction rich families can buy a bike trip or an afternoon with their favorite teacher.” I began to wince. This was, sure enough, one of the most popular silent auction items. Every year it got some of the biggest donations — and I had been not only proud of the dollars raised, but advocated in the teacher’s lounge for teachers to volunteer. It so happens that this family (a family of color) had banded together with Aunts and Uncles and a Grandmother to pull together funds to buy the bike trip with a favorite teacher for their daughter for her final year of school. They even took out a short-term loan to get it. They attended the silent auction and bid. They bid some more. When the bidding went over $1,000 for a half-day with the teacher, they backed out. Their daughter was devastated. So was I.

The important thing is that this family would never even come into my office if it weren’t for the fact that we had done some formal diversity training in our school over the course of the past year. As a result of an amazing woman who passed away, Sherryl Talton Gerald, parents in the school banded together to raise funds in her memory. Sherryl was known for bringing all of the different months alive, especially black history month. She created amazing activities during that month enriching the curriculum for all students. When she tragically died suddenly, the parents wanted to keep her work alive. I never had the honor of knowing Sherryl, but I am forever touched by her.

A few months after being on the job as Director of Development for Grace Episcopal Day School, a friendly woman came to my office to say, “What are we doing with the Sherryl Talton Gerald funds?” At the time, I wasn’t sure what fund they were talking about. “It’s December”, my parent said, “We need to plan something with the funds for this coming February”. Thus the work began. In a small school where there aren’t too many people to do extra things, the job fell to me and a band of parents. We launched a lecture featuring Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). It was wildly successful. I became the defacto Diversity Coordinator while serving as Development Director.

It was also confronting. Some of the families who came to the lectures asked difficult questions of the speaker during the question and answer period — questions that hinted at subtle and overt racism in our school and problems they faced. These were systemic problems. Problems every school, workplace, and institution faces. I heard things like:

“My child doesn’t get invited to birthday parties.”
“We were invited to a birthday party at a private club and turned away by the valet driver.”
“My child’s teacher uses the term “colorblind” like it is a badge of honor… doesn’t she realize my child would rather be SEEN and appreciated?”

It was clear we had work to do. The head of school, Carol Franek, and I worked with families to choose a consultant to do some formal training with faculty, staff, and eventually the community. We hired Randolph Carter of East Ed. It was a very interesting process.

In classic form, many people in the majority (over)reacted to the notion of offering diversity training.  Some parents made wildly inappropriate statements (not unlike some things heard on the campaign rail this year).  Most felt they didn’t need it. Many said things like, “I raise my child to be color blind. She doesn’t need to learn about diversity, we practice it all the time.” These were the same people who questioned why we needed a “Parents of Children of Color” group. Questioning ethnic or racial groups choosing to sit together or share common experiences is often seen as threatening in some ways and critiqued. Beverly Tatum in her best-selling book, “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria” is suggested reading on this concept. Here, I’ll save you time and give you the cliff notes: White people affiliate all the time. Tatum writes, “Is this self-segregation a problem we should try to fix, or a coping strategy we should support?” Answer: No and yes.

What I learned about families of color wanting to share common experiences is that many needed to share ideas about how to manage the racial discrimination already impacting their children at the youngest ages. Far be it for me to question this need. I learned the concept of “Affinity groups” and I learned to appreciate their importance. I started to become an ally.

Side note – we don’t question religious groups meeting together on Sundays or at other times. Why would we question groups who wish to share a similar experience at another time?

When the faculty went through their diversity training, a similar range of emotions and reactions unfolded. Some reactions surprised me, particularly from those who considered themselves to be very unbiased and open minded. As they heard from their colleagues and parents from diverse backgrounds, they had the privilege of seeing how their unintended biases and statements hurt people. They learned that terms like “color blind” offend people of color. They learned that appreciating diversity of all kinds enriches relationships, a school, a workplace, and a community. Trying to see past it, not talk about it, or question other people’s adaptive behavior is part of being in the majority. Some call this “white privilege”.

Side note – yes this is a loaded term. Yes this makes people feel uncomfortable. No, I will not try to find another term. If you find it uncomfortable, that’s the point. White priviledge is real and it is something every white person (in my opinion) should learn about as a citizen of our planet. If you don’t like it, get over it.

White privilege is not a term that was born in this election cycle. I was introduced to it in 1988 while attending Sweet Briar College by our Chaplain, The Rev. Susan Lehman. She shared Peggy McIntosh’s research which later became an iconic article, “Unpacking the invisible knapsack”.

This concept of whiteness was a revelation to me — being responsible for it; recognizing the benefits I have by being born white; recognizing my role as an ally to those who face discrimination on the basis of the color of their skin. I got a great education at Sweet Briar College, but it was this concept introduced to me by our Episcopal Chaplain that is one of the best life lessons I took away. This was 1988 folks. I am simply astonished that in 2016 there are people who haven’t heard this term nor haven’t participated in formal diversity training.

Side note – if you haven’t done any formal diversity training, get some. Need some suggested reading?  The links in this article. Should it make you feel uncomfortable? Probably. The truth is, we all have biases. Learning about those biases will make us better people in all situations. If you don’t like it, get over it. Life isn’t about being comfortable. Life also isn’t about unseeing.

So, back to the parent sitting in my office. Even after two years of diversity work, we still had our blinders on. While we had made some very good changes in terms of respecting racial, ethnic, religious and other types of diversity, we had major blinders on when it came to socioeconomic diversity. As the parent sat with tears sliding down her face, I felt horrified and embarassed. Of COURSE it was wrong to auction off a teacher to the highest bidder in a small community. I hadn’t seen it. My desire to raise funds and the wild success of rapidly-increasing special teacher outings blinded me to how it would feel to those who couldn’t afford them.

Then I spoke to the teachers.

It turns out, the teachers HATED these special outings. They were embarrassed to single out one or two children for a special outing and felt terrible when those children returned to class raving about it in front of the other children. They admitted they felt conflicted when it came to grading and disciplinary actions knowing a parent had paid so much for a simple afternoon for their child. With this, I visited the Parent Teacher Organization and the practice was immediately stopped. We still did teacher outings, but the teachers did something with their whole class and parents could contribute any amount for the special activity. Some of our best field trips resulted from this change.

Fast forward to this election cycle, it is stunning to hear elected officials, their family, and their supporters saying things that in a school, workplace, religious institution (at least some), or household sound and are deeply offensive. In some places, these statements would be grounds for disciplinary action, termination, or legal action. A frightening number of hate groups rally behind a leader who speaks in these terms.

Somehow decades of work, suffering, and laws to achieve social justice is now being lumped into a category of “political correctness” — as if it should be undone.

The person speaking this way is glorified for “speaking their mind”.

For me, the lessons learned about treating people fairly and with tolerance is an ongoing journey. I know I still have my biases and blinders and blindness. The difference is, I am not proud of it. And I certainly don’t speak of these things as a badge of honor. Imagine if I said, “I’m sexual orientation blind”, “I’m ethnic blind”, “I’m age blind”, etc. Sounds strange, right? Why, then, do we think it is okay to say, “I’m color blind.”

As Chair of the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee for the University of Maryland Senate, I have worked with many people to create policies for nondiscrimination, against sexual harassment, and advocating for LGBTQ rights. I am constantly learning lessons by hearing stories of people who daily experience discrimination in their lives. It is gut wrenching.

As a white woman in today’s world, I see one of my most important roles beyond being a wife, mother, daughter, and friend is being an ALLY. I now use my privilege to advocate for those who may not have the same ability to navigate the world as I do. I stick up for the underdog. I stand up against the bully. And, I call out racism — subtle or unintended — when I see it. I do the same for sexism and other isms. I especially try to do this for those I care about to help them avoid insulting others unawares.

These are my crib notes. These are the things I wish I’d learned earlier in life and I share with you now.

Don’t be colorblind. See color. See race. See ethnicity. See religion. See sexual expression. See diversity.

Then, appreciate it.

It isn’t political correctness. It isn’t politics. It is SEEING our fellow humans on this precious planet earth.









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Shared Governance: Roses Emerge from the Briars – Stakeholder Engagement after the Attempted Closure and Resurrection of Sweet Briar College

shared governance

This spring my Nonprofit Management course assigned a research project on critical trends facing the nonprofit sector.  There is nothing more critical than governance.  The success of Sweet Briar College surviving a closure attempt by its former board provides ample inspiration for research on governance.

As an elected member of the University of Maryland Senate, I have a new appreciation for shared governance.  I chair the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the University Senate.  As a staff member, I have never been engaged in shared governance until now.  It is quite amazing sitting alongside students (undergraduate, graduate and post-gradate); faculty (tenured and professional track); staff (hourly, professsional and managerial); and ex-officio members from key departments.  This spring, we worked on four new policies for the University including a policy on Nondiscrimination, Sexual Harassment, and Disability.  Our original policy will have to wait until next semester for action, but it is very important (a policy on students who change their name or gender and need consistency with University databases).  Shared governance works extremely well at the University of Maryland and I can see how it would benefit any institution.

I chose to focus my research paper on shared governance as it is a topic very near and dear to many stakeholders of Sweet Briar College.  The attempted closure of Sweet Briar College resulted in multiple law suits seeking to stop the closure.  The mediation brokered by the Virginia Attorney General allowed each party to the suit to appoint three members of the new Sweet Briar College board.  Students, alumnae, faculty and the Commonwealth of Virginia suit (funded by alumnae) were able to appoint new members.  This new board ushers in a new era of governance at Sweet Briar College more inclusive than past boards. The new board of Sweet Briar has expressed a commitment to engaging stakeholders.

This annotated bibliography and research paper focuses on best practices for shared governance examining the key stakeholders responsible for the saving of Sweet Briar College:  Students, faculty, staff, community, and the founder.

My abstract follows:

Higher education is in crisis. In March, 2015, the President and Board of Sweet Briar College, whose symbol is a rose, attempted to close the 100-year-old institution in rural Virginia.  Stakeholders revolted, filed suits and ultimately control of the College was handed to a new board.  The circumstances faced by Sweet Briar are not unique and point to trends in higher education. The suits filed and the saving of Sweet Briar provide examples of engaged stakeholders fighting for their rights.  This paper examines each stakeholder’s role in the attempted closure and examples from other institutions practicing shared governance.  Shared governance can be a path through crisis. References provide trend data on higher education and examples of shared governance at other institutions.  Sources also provide glimpses into the trends of higher education faced by governing boards and stakeholders, including where there are breakdowns in communication and governance. Reference sources highlight stakeholder groups including student, faculty, staff (administrators and support), alumni and the wider community.  Sweet Briar College must reinvent itself and its governance.  Lessons learned from other institutions can be considered for the future. The collective voices represented in shared governance yields more roses than briars.

Annotated Bibliography:   Saving the Rose – Stakeholder Engagement at Sweet briar College

Research Paper:  Roses Emerge from the Briars — Stakeholder Engagement after the Attempted Closure and Resurrection of Sweet Briar College

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Lessons learned from a phoenix and a vixen: Examining the attempted closure of Wilson College and Sweet Briar College

Fox in flames (credit: Fur Nation)

I am currently in graduate school pursuing a Masters in Business with Nonprofit Management concentration.  This semester, I am taking Organizational Theory and Nonprofit Management.  Each course required me to prepare an annotated bibliography and an individual paper.  With my instructor’s permission, I chose Sweet Briar College, my alma mater, as my focus (normally, you cannot pursue the same research subject in different courses).

My first assignment came in the Organizational Theory course.  We were to take a case study covered in an academic journal and use it as a basis for our individual paper.   This seemed daunting at first.  However, as I began my research, I found many case studies with similarities to Sweet Briar College.  The attempted closure of Wilson College has startling similarities to the attempted closure of Sweet Briar College.  The annotated bibliography provides a “deep dive” in issues facing higher education and the lessons available to learn from Wilson College.  You may find a link below.

Annotated Bibliography:  Phoenix rose emerges from the briar fire (annotated bibliography comparing Wilson College’s attempted closure to Sweet Briar College).

Research Paper:  Lessons learned from a phoenix and a vixen.

fox and flames

As the paper came together, the title changed and some sources fell away in favor of others.  The lessons learned from the attempted closure of Wilson College are relevant for many colleges.  The abstract follows:

Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, whose mascot is the phoenix, survived a closure attempt in the 1980s. Sweet Briar College, in Amherst, Virginia, whose mascot is a vixen (fox), faced attempted closure in 2015 and was saved by its stakeholders six months later. This paper explores case studies and articles reporting on Wilson College and Sweet Briar College.  Other articles elaborate on trends faced by the Colleges and the broader sector of higher education.  Reviewing these colleges provides valuable lessons on challenges facing higher education, particularly for private, single-sex institutions.  The case for this research is Wilson College with comparisons to Sweet Briar College. Both colleges are small women’s colleges with enrollment under 1,000.

Keywords: Sweet Briar College, Wilson College, stakeholders, shared governance, students, faculty, staff, exempt staff, non-exempt staff, alumni, alumnae, minority, president, board.





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THIS I BELIEVE: Sailing Teaches Life Lessons

I have left the safe harbor of a BA in English and Psychology from Sweet Briar College and have embarked on graduate work. My first paper in graduate school was assigned by my Orientation to Graduate Studies course.  It was an essay designed to prepare students for academic writing. It has been a LONG time since I have done academic writing.  it is very different than blogging!  I had fun writing it and was touched by Dr. Beth Cook’s feedback, “Beautiful job. I loved your use of metaphor and sailing terminology throughout. Your essay shows an unusual sophistication with writing. Great job.”  This put some wind in my sails….so I thought I would share.

Stacey Sickels Locke

UCSP 615 9063 Orientation to Graduate Studies at UMUC (2162)

Dr. Beth Cook

15 February 2016

sailing 1

This I Believe: Sailing Teaches Life Lessons


I learned a lot from having a sailing captain as a mother and an Olympic athlete as a father.  As a girl living in the Midwest, I sailed only small boats on little lakes. As I grew older and moved to the East Coast, I learned to sail larger bodies of water.  Sailing has been a constant theme throughout my life from which I have learned many lessons.

sailing chart

In sailing, charting a course is essential.  Without navigational charts and obeying markers on the water, I learned the hard way that I would run aground or miss a destination completely.  In my career, the “destinations” were positions in fundraising with progressively greater responsibilities.  The  “markers” in my life were key people who advised me and helped me navigate.  Without a course charted over the years, I am sure I would be floundering like a boat lost at sea today.

sailing tacking

When sailing, winds and strong seas will constantly take a boat off its course.  Yet, by adjusting the sails, a boat can tack from side to side while still making forward progress.  Growing up, I moved fourteen times and had four high schools.  I got very good at changing tack.  Moving so many times makes me a very flexible and adaptable person.  I know that I can weather any issue if I just adjust my attitude like I would adjust a sail in the strong wind.

sailing waving

There is a practice when sailing to wave at passing vessels whether it is a speedy powerboat, a gorgeous yacht or a small canoe with a couple.  As a fundraiser, I work with extremely wealthy people.  At the same time, I rely on people at all levels of the organization to get things done.  Respecting diversity and keeping myself humble has led to a regatta of valued colleagues and friends.

sailing wake

When sailing, a good sailor leaves a clean wake.  This includes not  throwing trash overboard or leaving a sheen of oil on the water from a dirty engine. It has always been important to me to do the right thing.  When I leave a job, I give double the notice time so that I leave things ready for the next person.  I take care to return borrowed items either with a special treat or cleaner than I found them.  Leaving a clean wake is a goal in life and on the water.

sailing adjusting

It wasn’t effortless sailing through life, in fact, it was often stormy and difficult.  Having a clear destination in mind and guides along the way has kept me on track. Adjusting my attitude like the sails on a boat keeps me pressing forward despite occasional setbacks.  Respecting diversity allows me to set sail in life or work with any group of people and be successful.  Finally, treating people well and doing the right thing leaves me with a “clean wake” in life.  My next voyage is a Master’s degree from UMUC.  The lessons of the sea will guide me along the way.


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Giving Tuesday: Give WHERE, WHY, HOW, and to WHAT Inspires YOU

#GivingTuesday - support your favorite organization.
#GivingTuesday – support your favorite organization.

Giving Tuesday

Black Friday.  Small Business Saturday.  Cyber Monday.  Giving Tuesday.

For professional fundraisers, every day is “Giving Tuesday” – we go through our weeks with Giving Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday (and, for many Saturday and Sunday).

Don’t get me wrong.  I love #GivingTuesday.  On this #GivingTuesday – I encourage you to make a gift that feels FANTASTIC and it EXACTLY what inspires YOU.  The organizations you care about are undoubtedly sending you numerous appeals to join the masses and be counted.  If that inspires you, great.  But I encourage you to think a little deeper.  Think about giving in honor of someone who inspired you such as a coach or college professor.  Think about giving to an organization you see doing good work in your community.  Choose a special project you think could use a little boost.  If you are a loyal tither or have an existing pledge with your organization, consider doing something outside of that in an area you’ve been curious about.

Give to Inspire

As I enter my 25th year of raising funds for a living, I truly feel honored to work in my profession.  I get to work with generous people making the world a better place – through giving to students, institutions, projects, religious organizations, and environmental causes.  Donors make music come alive; buildings come out of the ground; dancers take the stage; athletes competing on the field; ideas creating movements; save animals from extinction and uplift social justice.  Engaging donors to fulfill these visions and dreams is truly inspiring.

But we don’t make it easy for them.  Donors, that is.  As fundraisers, we don’t make giving easy.  Instead, we use terms that disenfranchise or uninspire and we put out materials that act as a funnel for creative ideas which, I believe, leads to a smaller gift at the other end.  We create big campaigns which sometimes make people feel their impact is a drop in the bucket.  We create challenges and deadlines that are sometimes self imposed.  We have paper forms to complete, long memorandums for gift agreements, complicated reports, and our giving “opportunities” either read like diner menus or a one-item-only blue light special.

Even on #GivingTuesday, I find myself rather uninspired by the messages from the charities I care about.  The plea is to give.  Very few say why or the difference that it would make.

We need to interrupt these practices, take a step back, listen longer, encourage dreaming.  The largest gifts I have helped to usher in were from donors passionate about something.  The reason I give is when I know someone is sharing their passion and invites me to help make a dream come true.

“Unrestricted” Giving vs. Partnership

Early in my career, I was responsible for raising “annual gifts”.  While I had the same eager donors with whom to work, the “menu” I was able to offer them was much narrower.  I had a bucket to fill for my organization and gifts outside of that bucket were not only not welcomed, sometimes I couldn’t even accept them.  Or, gifts below a certain dollar range automatically went into an unrestricted fund.

Consider the term “unrestricted giving”.  It is one of the least inspiring terms in the fundraising lexicon, yet we use it all the time. Every organization needs budget-relieving gifts.   But instead of breaking the operating budget into pieces that might appeal to donors, we try instead to induct the dreaming donor into the dreary world of “need” and “keeping the lights on” and spend a good deal of time on the “how” of giving (monthly, annually, via credit card, etc.) rather than the WHAT of giving.  We save the big projects, big ideas and gifts for special things for those with the largest resources (or those who are smart enough to ask).

Just this evening I was invited to a conversation with a group working on their College reunion.  The eager volunteer had been asked to be a Class Agent and she was excited!  What I found interesting (and helpful as a fundraiser) was hearing the dialogue from her peers who had held the role previously.  Their “lessons learned” read like a “DO NOT EVER DO THIS” to me as a fundraiser.  One of the key points was how little room for creativity and designation there existed for the volunteer as well as the donor.  The experienced volunteer gave advice we all should follow, “Inspire people!  If they cared about English, let them give there.  If they loved soccer, let them give there.”  Getting people started giving where they care and have a personal relationship is the best way to inspire philanthropy.  By building that relationship, there is a greater possibility of guiding someone to a project that might need investment.

Every organization needs valuable donor partners who trust the organization enough to give a gift where it is most needed.  We need to inspire this type of giving, not demand it.  We need to treat our donors so well that a gift to our organization feels like one of the most special they give.  We also need to give choices, even if those choices are within the budget categories that keep our organization running.

Micro Campaigns

The greatest innovation in philanthropy in recent years is the movement towards micro giving and micro campaigns.  With these campaigns, donors can choose to fund projects.  The interesting thing is that donors often give multiple times throughout the year and enjoy participating in these grass roots campaigns with clear goals and exciting outcomes.  An example at the University of Maryland is a campaign for the program to restore bee populations and train bee keepers:

These types of campaigns get people excited about giving.  I’ve seen some of my University’s major donors and board members give to these micro campaigns throughout the year.

Giving doesn’t have to be a day.  It doesn’t have to be annual.  It doesn’t have to be obligatory.  It should inspire.

Inspired #GivingTuesday 

Make this #GivingTuesday your own micro campaign.  Choose something that inspires you.  If it is becoming a partner for an organization, do consider a gift without restriction; however, don’t be bashful if the thing you want to support isn’t on the “list” or check box.

And if you are a fundraiser, take a moment to make your own gift to something that inspires you.

Want some ideas?

Consider investing in the College that was saved by its alumnae and features some of the most loyal students in the country!  Give to the Sweet Briar College Fund.  You can read about their story here. 

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  Stacey is a Senior Director of  in the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences.  She is working with the Department of Computer Science on a campaign for a new building, the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation made possible by  the largest gift in the history of the University of Maryland, $31 million.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

#GivingTuesday - support your favorite organization.
#GivingTuesday – support your favorite organization.
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“The Little College that Could: Saving Sweet Briar College” — link to my article in CASE Currents


CASE Cover photo with students and alumnae (photo credit:
CASE Cover photo with students and alumnae (photo credit:

The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) prints a monthly magazine for professionals working in Advancement.  I’ve had the honor of writing for them twice this year about two significant fundraising experiences I’ve had.  The first was writing about the Largest Gift in the History of the University of Maryland from Brendan Iribe.  While this was an amazing experience personally and professionally, the saving of my College is right up there among my proudest moments.  Below is a link to this month’s magazine:

Full Magazine Article Link (scroll down to page 20):  “The Little College that Could… How Alumnae Saved Sweet Briar College”

Online version (without photos):  

 Link to the Digital Edition (for CASE members this may take you to the login screen; for non CASE members,  you can email me [staceysickels @ – remove spaces first] for a guest password, but I can’t print it here).

I’ve written at length about the amazing success story of Sweet Briar College here in my blog.  This article is written from my perspective as a professional fundraiser working – as a volunteer – to help save my College. It answers the questions I am often asked by colleagues, “How did you do it?” and “How can I learn from this?”

CASE Cover Photo with Tracy Stuart and students (photo credit:
CASE Cover Photo with Tracy Stuart and students (photo credit:

I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve on the Major Gift Committee for saving Sweet Briar and have been asked to serve as a regional representative for the new Alumnae Alliance for Sweet Briar.

CASE Cover photo with students (Photo credit:
CASE Cover photo with students (Photo credit:

The team at CASE:  Ken Budd, Toni Coleman and Angela Carpenter do an amazing job every month pulling together ideas, authors,  photographs and creative graphic design.  So glad that Becky Johnston-Lambert and Russell Harrison’s photo credits are included.  I will share comments below with the CASE editorial staff so thanks for sharing!

Enjoy!  PDF link:  “The Little College that Could… How Alumnae Saved Sweet Briar College”

 Please consider supporting the amazing students, faculty, staff and community at Sweet Briar College.

CASE Cover photo (Seth Meyers photo bombed!). Photo credit:
CASE Cover photo (Seth Meyers photo bombed!). Photo credit:

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  Stacey is a Senior Director of  in the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences.  She is working with the Department of Computer Science on a campaign for a new building, the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation made possible by  the largest gift in the history of the University of Maryland, $31 million.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

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Sweet Briar College debuts at Technica, the First All-Women’s Hackathon at the University of Maryland


What is a Hackathon?

First, let’s dispel a common misconception:  A hackathon is not about cyber crime, hacking into companies or personal information or anything illegal.  Let’s break it down:

“Hackathon” doesn’t (yet) exist in Webster’s Dictionary, but the best way to understand it is how it breaks down.  “Hack” refers to the old fashioned use of the term to create, break something down, a project.  “Thon” refers to an extended collective effort just like a “dance-a-thons”.

Technica, University of Maryland’s first All-Women’s Hackathon

This past weekend, Technica, the University of Maryland’s first all-women’s Hackathon launched at Ritchie Coliseum with over 400 participants.  University of Maryland’s Terrapin Hackers have been national leaders since their inaugural “Bitcamp” hackathon in 2013.

I had the pleasure of witnessing Sweet Briar College’s first visit to a hackathon.  I was particularly delighted to welcome this group as they come from my alma mater which is undergoing a resurgence after nearly facing closure by the prior administration in March of 2015.  Sweet Briar has one of only two accredited Engineering programs at a woman’s college, the Margaret Jones Wylie `45 Engineering Program.

Sweet Briar College students attend their first Hackathon, "Technica" at the University of Maryland.
Sweet Briar College students attend their first Hackathon, “Technica” at the University of Maryland. Left to right: Alicia Wooten, Erika Stepel, Des’Rae Davis, and Ashton Reid.

“This year over 50,000 students will participate in over 150 official Major League Hacking sanctioned hackathons around the globe. The student hacker community has been doubling in size every semester since 2013 and it is clearly here to stay. Hackathons are growing at warp speed,” — Major League Hacking.

Many describe hackathons as tomorrow’s classroom, career fair and even the rebirth of America’s economy.   In this article in the Chronicle of Education (which also features my son, then a high school student), Brian Matthews describes his first experience at a Hackathon being the “frontier of education”.

Hackathons are a movement taking hold across the country bringing together people and ideas.  They can take many forms from technological to social justice to artistic.

“Hackathons have grown to become a global student movement. By fast-tracking the software and hardware development process, hackathons provide students with valuable technical skills they will need in their future careers. Students learn by doing and finish with a final project that has the potential to turn into a real business. Collaborating in a high-stakes environment, students learn how to work effectively on a team. Students meet like-minded peers from around the world and also have a chance to interact with professional engineers and recruiters. Their new motivation and creativity remains after the hackathon, as hacker culture grows and a more diverse array of students travel to other collegiate hackathons to make new friends and win prizes.”

Students arrive at hackathons by car, bus, plane and other forms of transportation (including their parents driving them if they are in middle or high school).  Some hackathons even reimburse for transportation, but all are free to participants.

Sweet Briar College students arrive at their first Major League hackathon.
Sweet Briar College students arrive at their first Major League hackathon.
A view of a hackathon from above.
A view of a hackathon from above.

Students select their “home” for the weekend, a spot at one of many folding chairs and tables.  After some introductory remarks including shared values for a positive group experience, participants have many choices.  Workshops kick off right way offering many opportunities to learn new skills from coding to design to  fun activities.  When I left the Sweet Briar College team, they were in a class to learn python.  Many of the strongest candidates for jobs in higher education today are learning skills outside of the classroom.  Hackathons are a great way to add skills to one’s resume.

Hackathons don’t just offer coding, there are many things to learn. Some teams come in with ideas.  Others arrive as individuals and form teams over shared interests.  Some come out of the weekend with projects including the germination of a business while others are happy to learn new skills and return home.

Hackathons are great for Colleges and Universities because they do not require new resources.  Skills taught at hackathons add to student’s skill sets and make them more employable.   Technology changes so quickly, it is very difficult for academic institutions to prepare curriculum to keep pace.  With hackathons, students have access to the latest technology that some institutions may not be able to provide.

Companies interested in students also become more connected to the Colleges and Universities sending students and hosting hackathons.  These corporate-college relationships often expand into support for other programs, professorships, scholarships and even capital projects.

What is delightful is to see the joy and fun participants have through organized games and shared experiences.


Sponsors make hackathons accessible to anyone.  Cost is not an obstacle as most are free (some even reimburse for transporation costs).  Sponsors linger through the weekend providing mentorship and getting to know participants personally.  Sponsors also offer feedback on projects during demonstrations on Sundays.

In my work I have the opportunity work with University Relations recruiters from some of the nation’s top companies.  More and more I am seeing them select hackathons as their “student engagement” of choice.

Sponsors of hackathons are able to have informal and formal interactions with participants.  Most hackathons offer a resume database at the end to match interested students with potential companies.  What makes hackathons “tomorrow’s career fair” is that companies can mentor students over the weekend and watch both student’s intellect at work as well as their personal skills.  One recruiter told me, “You get to see their brains at work.”

Showcase vs. Competition

At the end of a hackathon, students have an opportunity to showcase their work over the weekend.  Not everyone participates.  The environment is one of showcasing over a competition.  Prizes are awarded for categories.  Sponsors have the latitude to create categories or to provide special recognition.  Major League Hacking even has a category called, “I see where you are going with that…” and “Punny-ist Web Name”.

When I arrived on Sunday, the vixens were going strong.   Wrapped in blankets, they had smiles on their faces and declared, “WE DID IT!  IT WORKS!”  I was impressed!  Many teams don’t finish the weekend and a large majority do not actually come out with a finished project.  What is even more amazing — and speaks to the quality of the education provided over a weekend — the girls pursued learning a new computer coding language and never dreamed they would have a finished project by the end.  As an alumna knowing the importance of enrollment, it was incredibly gratifying to see their project:  An app for prospective students.

An Alternative Homecoming

At the University of Maryland, my colleagues in University Relations are embracing hackathons as an alternative to homecoming.  We find our alumni (I work in the sciences) relish the opportunity to attend an event exploring technology, the arts, and bringing together students, faculty and corporate leaders.  Hackathons are also a family-friendly opportunity for alumni to bring their children and introduce them to the world of technology.

Finish Line – “Demos” (Demonstrations)

Every race has a finish line and every hackathon has a closing ceremony.   The feeling is more of a campfire than a formal ceremony.  Participants sit in a large circle and sponsors share feedback on the projects they particularly liked.  Industry leaders offer their personal stories and encouragement.

The Sweet Briar College team tidied up their table of water bottles, leftover snacks, notes and laptops and cleared the way for their demonstration.  They created an account on DevPost, a site dedicated to showcase digital portfolios.  A DevPost entry is also the portal to officially representing your college or university at a hackathon and earning points.  Sponsors streamed by their table and the students worked out their pitch.  One described what they had learned, another pointed out the features of their app, another talked about the benefits of a hackathon, another pointed out the benefits of their college.  By happy coincidence, the kit I had used at a recent college fair was in my car and the students put the materials to good use decorating their table.  They were even interviewed by WTOP — Washington’s largest radio station.

The creativity around the room was inspiring!  Participants came up with creations with laser printers.  One team even came up with a way for children to make 3D printable furniture for their stuffed animals, dolls or barbies.

As I have raised money for Technica and the students know me, they were kind to allow me to take a moment in the program to tell the Sweet Briar College story and to acknowledge the students.  I donned a pink “alumna” shirt over my University of Maryland polo for the occasion. The Sweet Briar College vixens earned loud applause and left with trophies wrapped in pink and green (the school colors).

Technica wrapped up with students hugging one another, paying final visits to sponsors and then streaming out to the awaiting buses and their cars.   The Sweet Briar College team had a four-hour drive home, but they said their excitement would keep them awake.  WTOP aired their story on Technica with Sweet Briar students as the lead story:

For more insight on hackathons, please visit my son Kent Heckel’s vlog where he provides a video journey through a hackathon (note – this hackathon was from Friday to Sunday):

Over the past three years, I have seen students create amazing projects at hackathons.  Spending a weekend creating is a wholesome way to have fun while boosting skills.

The students of Sweet Briar told me they are looking forward to Pearl Hacks at the University of North Carolina.

There is a hackathon (sometimes two) nearly every weekend of the year.  Check out one near you!  

Photo credit:  Major League Hacking,

Sweet Briar College hackathon team.
Sweet Briar College hackathon team.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  Stacey is a Senior Director of  in the College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences.  She is working with the Department of Computer Science on a campaign for a new building, the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Innovation made possible by  the largest gift in the history of the University of Maryland, $31 million.  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.

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College Fairs: Finding a Place to Call Home and Falling in Love All Over Again

With a College sophomore, a junior in high school and working at a University, I am knee-deep in College hunting and surrounded by high school and College age students.  I’ve often said that I have LOVED every single phase of my children’s lives, but this phase offers particular joys and learning opportunities.

Working at a College Fair afforded me a unique window on this chapter of life from the perspective of students and parents I didn’t know.

Blank Slate: Arriving at the College Fair.
Blank Slate: Arriving at the College Fair.

A Blank Slate

A large (un-airconditioned) gym, a plastic folding table, two metal folding chairs and the name of the College:  this is the blank slate Colleges start with when engaging with potential students. All are equal until the representatives and materials arrive.

This blank slate is also felt by students who are considering where they will attend College. If you ask the question to many teenagers, “Where do you want to go to College?” The answer you will usually hear is, “Dunno”.  It is hardly surprising they respond this way.  The sheer number of choices can be overwhelming.

“Dunno” concerns me; however, given how important these years of education are to those who are fortunate enough to access them.  So much is at stake:

  1. Higher education.
  2. Relationships forged for a lifetime.
  3. Lifetime network.
  4. Foundation for graduate school or career.

Not all colleges or universities offer the same experience  (hardly!) or the quality of interaction post graduation.  Discernment through questions, college fairs, meeting representatives and campus visits is essential.  It is too bad that more time in high school cannot be devoted to the process.

Fortunately, my two sons were part of a program that exposed them to College searching in Middle School.  They visited area colleges touring through academic halls, dorms, athletic fields, auditoriums and (their favorite) dining halls.  They had mock College Fairs where they designed science-fair like displays about a College and they acted as admissions officers for their younger classes. When the mock college fair came about, I recall that my younger son picked Cornell University (which he has visited as we have family who live nearby) and my older son picked the University of Maryland (where I work and where he has attended many games as season ticket holder).

Through my son’s program, they explored broader questions such as:

  • Do you like smaller or larger classes?
  • Do you want to play sports in College?  (Important to discuss the reality of this possibility and opportunities if a student is not likely to make a team)
  • Would you like to be in a warm or cold climate?  Do you want to experience all four seasons?
  • What might you want to do after graduation?  Are there college programs for that? P.S.  It is TOTALLY OKAY if you don’t know — that’s also what College is for.

Working at a college fair made me realize what a benefit they had been afforded being exposed to these questions so early in their lives.

Exposing children early to choices after high school gives them something to compare and contrast.

Student volunteers greeted College representatives and escorted them to their tables. I noted all of the students with whom I interacted came and visited.
Student volunteers greeted College representatives and escorted them to their tables. I noted all of the students with whom I interacted came and visited.

Engaging with a College

Standing behind the table at a College Fair is kind of like cold calling, only even less personal.  Many of the students passing by have their gaze towards the floor and hurry past.  It almost felt as if some of them felt that by inquiring, they were somehow intruding.  I am sure the room felt overwhelming to them.

Our table featured brochures with smiling faces, pink and green (school colors), and program fliers on study abroad, equestrian programs and a list of majors.

Most students engaging with us were unsure of their major.  What surprised me is how guilty they seemed to feel about this.  So many of the (large) schools to which they were applying required them to select their major coming in — even having to apply to competitive majors alongside their general admissions.  I am familiar with this dilemma as I work at the University of Maryland.

It disturbs me – this trend to specialize so young.  Most high schools with strong academic programs scarcely have the time for students to explore potential fields of interest.  My sons were tracked into advanced math and AP programs squeezing out any chance for most “elective” courses.  Most of their friends were on the same path.  How any of these students can feel they have found their major/passion/purpose when their course selection has been prescribed and required baffles me.

Most smaller liberal arts colleges don’t even allow a student to “declare” a major until their junior year.  Their first two years expose them to required and elective courses offering a vast array of options.  Perhaps my sons hearing me encourage them to EXPLORE versus SPECIALIZE led my older son to select an independent, liberal arts college instead of the University of Maryland (where I have tuition benefits).  I was actually quite pleased.  I suspect his brother will follow in his footsteps.

Our table featured fliers on programs, brochures with smiling faces and (our secret weapon it turned out) FLOWERS.
Our table featured fliers on programs, brochures with smiling faces and (our secret weapon it turned out) FLOWERS.

Process of Elimination

How students add to and eliminate colleges on their list is somewhat of a mysterious process.  It is often influenced by family connections, their friends and perhaps an individual who turned a college into a smiling and welcoming face.  That was certainly true for me when I chose Sweet Briar College.  It was also true for my son when the admissions officers reached out to him from Principia College.

A college fair offers a bewildering array of choices.  Colleges are in alphabetical order.  If it were up to me, I would arrange them geographically or by size.  Those seem to be two main filters I heard from students:

I want to attend a big University.

I want to attend a college where its warm.

College fairs are a sea of tables each with similar smiling faces - yet each offers a unique experience.
College fairs are a sea of tables each with similar smiling faces – yet each offers a unique experience.

My fellow alumna, Sara Rothamel, and I began engaging students. We made eye contact, said hellos and began to engage.   The tables around us were manned by professional admissions officers, a few parents and some alumni (like us) were sprinkled among the tables as well. My first observation is that the parents and alumni manning tables were much more conversational with prospective students. The tables around us with just one person were much quieter throughout the evening and seemed to have less interaction.

We found quick questions and ways to engage  such as:

  • Have you thought about College in Virginia?
  • Have you considered a woman’s College?
  • Hi!

We were aided by many people coming giving us high fives and fist pumps to congratulate us on Sweet Briar being saved.  As we chatted, the energy and interest attracted other students and their parents.  At some points, we were two-people deep!

Our other “secret weapon” were our flowers.  Prior to this college fair, photographs of fellow alumni working at college fairs began to appear on my social media feeds.  Alumnae decorated with our mascot, school colors, their own photographs and a few used flowers.  A cheerful vase of daisies certainly seemed inviting.  I mixed some pink roses and daisies.  They were a hit from the get-go.  One young woman brought her mother with her who shared, “My daughter’s friend found us in the other gym and said, ‘Go see the table with the roses!’ so we came right over.”

Every college table had pictures of smiling faces, bucolic campus scenes, animated professors, athletes engaged in sports, etc.  We needed something to set us apart.

Whatever it takes….


I was intrigued by the questions… and the lack thereof.

I’ll tell you this — we are going to have a whole lot better crime solving in the years to come (or a bunch more prosecuted criminals).  There are a lot of CSI-watching teenagers who are dead-set on becoming the next Abby Sciuto.  I will hand it to these students, they knew exactly what they wanted in their next college:  Make me a famous CSI (crime scene investigator).  While we tried to sell the benefits of a strong science curriculum, not having an actual major led these students to gather a few pink and green brochures, but then turn on their heel.

Have you ever considered a women’s college?

We asked this question as an opener.  Our pink and green and flowers seemed to send the right message to filter out the wayward young man who ventured over.  I was happy to speak to them since I have sons.  I steered a few towards our brother college, Hampden Sidney; my father’s college, the Citadel; and liberal arts colleges in general.

Most young women who approached our table or who we had engaged had not thought about a woman’s college.  We shared some of the benefits:

  1. Women find their voice.
  2. Women get involved.
  3. Sisterhood and friendships.
  4. Superior academics; knowing your professors.
  5. Great social life – on campus and in the region.
We had a number of very interested students who lingered for nearly a half-hour. We hope these students convert to enrollments!
We had a number of very interested students who lingered for nearly a half-hour. We hope these students convert to enrollments!

As the fair continued to unfold, our numbers increased.  Equestrians with a love of horses and knowledge of our national riding program came by with sincere interest.  Girls with an interest in the sciences and technology were impressed by our having one of only two accredited engineering programs in the country.

Some of the questions I found particularly thoughtful from parents:

Tell me about your board of directors and the college leadership.

What is the network for students like AFTER graduation?  How do you help students secure work and what is your rate of placing students in jobs?

What opportunities are there for parents to participate in the life of their student?

Some particularly memorable student questions:

Will I be able to make friends?

How many classes do I take a day? (this is a particularly smart question since College schedules are so different than high school)

Can I create my own major?


I was surprised by the few questions we had about cost.  Throughout the evening, we had two questions about tuition and financial aid. It could be that the high school is in a rather affluent area and that students are blessed with parents who have budgeted their college. Those who did inquire were not phased by the price tag, particularly as we explained that financial aid decisions were made independent of admission.


It's not over until....
While our fellow colleges packed up at the stroke of 8:30, we lingered until after 9pm speaking to interested students.

It’s not over until….

In characteristic Sweet Briar fashion, we  lingered well past “closing time”.  At a place where learning is 24/7, where you know your professors and you take great pride in your education, a 9 to 5 culture just doesn’t exist.  All around us our fellow college counselors folded their chairs, packed up their brochures and snapped their cases closed at the stroke of 8:30pm when the fair was to end.  However, there were students still circulating throughout the fair. As a steady stream of admissions officers filed out, Sara and I continued to greet students and hear about their hopes and dreams.  One of our most earnest candidates came towards the very end.

Alumnae at work: Sara Rothamel and me at the Broadneck College Fair.
Alumnae at work: Sara Rothamel and me at the Broadneck College Fair.

The Morning After

As I held the fan of interest cards in my hand, I thought about each precious prospective student who had interacted with us.  I remembered what had set Sweet Briar apart for me when I looked at Colleges – a personal touch.  Sara and I agreed we would contact a few of the students who seemed particularly interested.  I decided I would get some Sweet Briar postcards to send to the students with a personal note of encouragement (not just to apply, but also that they find a place where they feel at home).

A Place to Call Home

Having moved during my middle school and high school years, I yearned for a place I could call home.  Sweet Briar’s friendly admissions officers, gatherings in my town, and my overnight visit made me feel welcomed.  I couldn’t imagine attending anyplace else.

My sincere hope for every student and their family is that they find a place they can call home.  It is a privilege to attend College.  There are so many options today. Being part of a residential community is a particular gift as so much growth happens outside of the classroom and on a campus where you and your mind can roam, explore and grow.

Regardless of how many job changes, moves or relationship changes one may have in their life, their college can offer a consistent place to call home.  Its alumnae/alumni network may also serve as a network for their entire career.  Which is, of course, why I have worked so earnestly to save the College I love over the past months (but, thankfully, this isn’t a post about that).

Having worked at my local community college (voted the top college in the country!), I know that that sense of home is also possible even if a student is still living at home.  There are exceptional community colleges around the country with caring faculty, staff and amazing opportunities for students to grow and explore career options.

Still, having worked for one of the best community colleges in the country, the flagship University of Maryland and knowing many colleges and universities around the country, nothing compares to the benefits of an independent liberal arts college and a woman’s college.  An independent liberal arts college like Sweet Briar offers an exceptional education — and a community — not just for four years, but for a lifetime.

Consider working at a college fair.  You’ll fall in love with your college all over again.


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Saving Sweet Briar: The Bells are Ringing for me and my Gals!

It could have been “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, but instead it is “The Bells are Ringing!”

bells Dean martin

My dear readers have followed the story of my college, Sweet Briar, over the past six months.  On March 3, 2015, those who loved Sweet Briar received a terrible shock.  The President and Board had voted to close.  Shortly thereafter, Saving Sweet Briar, Inc., a nonprofit organization, mobilized to raise funds and launch a legal battle. Thousands rallied around them supporting additional legal suits, fundraisers, events and more — in support of a single goal to keep the College alive and honor the will of the founder.  As you are aware by now, the efforts were successful.  After a collective gasp and sharp inhale over many months, a slow exhale begins.

On September 2, 2015, Saving Sweet Briar will deliver the final payment as a part of the settlement agreement — on time and with extra.   The website says,

“September 2 is a day to celebrate . . . together! At 12 Noon EST, ring a bell if you have one, and let’s show the world our colors—a sea of pink and green! And please share our story of tenacity and determination. WE, the alumnae of Sweet Briar College, have preserved this unique institution of higher education to empower future generations of young women—just as it empowered us.”

In tribute to all who have worked so hard for this effort, I offer a literary tolling of bells with scenes of the Sweet Briar Bell Tower:

Cupola of the Bell Tower, Briar Patch post card.
Cupola of the Bell Tower, Briar Patch post card.

Daisy in whose memory the College was established as a “perpetual memorial”.

bells 5

Indiana Fletcher Williams, Daisy’s mother, whose will established Sweet Briar College.

bells 2

The Presidents of Sweet Briar College (with one exception whose name will not grace these pages).  Some of these Presidents I only knew as the names of some of our dormitories or academic buildings, but I had the pleasure of knowing personally all of the Presidents Since Nenah Fry.:

Philip Stone, 2015-

Jo Ellen Parker, 2009-2014

Elisabeth Showalter Muhlenfeld, President emerita, 1996-2009

Barbara A. Hill, 1990-1996

Menahy Elinor Fry,  1983-1990

Harold B. Whiteman, Jr., 1971-1983

Anne Gary Pannell, 1950-1971

Martha B. Lucas, 1946-1950

Meta Glass, 1925-1946

Emilie Watts McVea, 1916-1925

Mary K. Benedict, 1906-1916


The Board of Directors of Sweet Briar College

A special bell rings for Teresa Tomlinson `87, Esquire, Chair of the Board and one of the most compelling graduation speakers of 2015. I had the pleasure of knowing Teresa as a student at Sweet Briar.  I looked up to her as leader of the student government then, and I salute her now!

A "No Confidence" banner hung off the Sweet Briar bell tower - a symbolic heart of campus.
A “No Confidence” banner hung off the Sweet Briar bell tower – a symbolic heart of campus.

Saving Sweet Briar if it were not for the brave women of Saving Sweet Briar – and their families – we would not have had the structure to raise funds and reach the successful settlement.  These women funded and launched the fight and pointed the way forward. Their torch lit the way.

Jo Ann Soderquist Kramer (Sweet Briar College, AB 1964; University of Virginia, MS Aerospace Engineering 1967)

Sarah Clement, Chair of the Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board (Sweet Briar College, AB 1975; University of Virginia School of Law, JD 1984)

Sally Mott Freeman (Sweet Briar College, AB 1976)

Christine Boulware, Secretary of the Saving Sweet Briar, Inc. Board (Sweet Briar College, AB 1977)

Tracy Stuart (Sweet Briar College, AB 1993).  Tracy provided the funds to launch the initial legal suit and is putting her love for the College to work as a coach.

Ellen O. Pitera (Sweet Briar College, AB 1993; University of Virginia, MA Teaching 1999)

Brooke Linville (Sweet Briar College, 2000-2002, George Washington University BA 2004).  Brooke created the Saving Sweet Briar website and fueled the social media campaign with creative messages and images.

bells clouds


Legal minds provided the way forward to saving Sweet Briar College.  Special bells must ring for:

Ellen Bowyer, County Attorney for Amherst County, Virginia

Elliott J. Schuchardt, Esquire

Troutman Sanders, LLP

White & Case, LLP


This graceful image of the bell tower taken by Aaron Mahler, graced the majority of the news articles in 2015.
This graceful image of the bell tower taken by Aaron Mahler, graced the majority of the news articles in 2015.

Without media attention, the stories raising up the efforts to save Sweet Briar would have been been eclipsed by the constant “implosion” stories.  Still, all of the reporters who covered the stories and their news outlets deserve a special tolling of the bells.

Social Media

Without social media, this special college would likely not have been saved.  Through Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Reddit, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube and beyond, the stories, photos, people and passion of Sweet Briar made its way to the hearts and minds of thousands. Within these platforms, the social networks, conversations and fabric held people together, rallied generosity, raised important issues, researched important issues and held leaders accountable.   My “friends” on Facebook doubled after March 3, 2015.  My last count of the groups I have been invited to join numbers over 20.

Sweet Briar 2.0 - the collective strategic ideas for the future.
Sweet Briar 2.0 – the collective strategic ideas for the future.

Sweet Briar 2.0 gathered together the many strategic ideas for the future of the College.  Hundreds contributed initially through email chains, spreadsheets, Facebook groups and subject matter discussions resulting in a living and breathing website.

One of the brilliant memes created during the social media campaign to save Sweet Briar College.
One of the brilliant memes created during the social media campaign to save Sweet Briar College.

The Major Gift Task Force brought together volunteers with fundraising experience (or willingness) to reach out to past major donors of the College and beyond.  On the front for saving Sweet Briar, these were the soldiers with whom I spent the majority of my time.  Each week we had conference calls under the leadership of Mary Pope Hutson, now a board member.  Without official donor lists, we called from spreadsheets, email suggestions and memory. The donors who responded not only were generous, they were very, very patient.

In the shadow of the bell tower, faculty helped students returning to Sweet Briar.
In the shadow of the bell tower, faculty helped students returning to Sweet Briar.

Faculty and Staff of Sweet Briar are the heart of the College.  Without superior academics, there would be no College.  When you ask any student what the College means to her (or him), you will hear stories about faculty.  For me, my English and Psychology professors continue to influence me today such as Susan Beers.  I miss those who are no longer alive:  Professors Ralph Aiken, Karl Tamburr, Ross Dabney, and David Johnson.

The Chapel steeple rises above the Bell Tower.
The Chapel steeple rises above the Bell Tower.

Prayer, the Chapel, the Chaplain and the Chaplain’s House

As a student at Sweet Briar College, I served on the search committee for the new chaplain.  My classmate, Kelly Meredith Iacobelli, and a representative group of faculty and staff poured through resumes from around the country.  The Reverend Susan Lehman and her husband, John Dalzell, came to Sweet Briar and moved into the Chaplain’s House (now Hubbard House lovingly restored by the Hubbard family).   At the Chapel I was confirmed, gave my first sermon and laid a strong spiritual foundation.   At the Chaplain’s house, I discussed issues of the day over memorable meals and found solace in the home-like atmosphere.   Susan and all of the spiritual leaders of Sweet Briar who came before and after her all deserve the ringing of bells.  The prayer of Emily Watts McVea from 1928 inspired me to write this post at reunion, 2015.

The hitching post painted the colors of 1988, gold and purple, with the bell tower in the background.
The hitching post painted the colors of 1988, gold and purple, with the bell tower in the background.

“My” Classes and “My” Places

Every person who feels close to an institution owes that bond to the people who share it with them.  I am blessed with deep connections through my time as a student, as an employee and as a volunteer over the years.  As beautiful as a campus may be, acres and buildings cannot love us back.  People can.  My classmates of 1988 were there to greet me at Orientation  and they are treasured friends today.  The classes around me are also very special:  1985, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991.  It is one’s classmates who primarily weave together the fabric of memory and community.  Since I worked at the College, I also got to know well the students of 1993, 1994, 1995, and 1996.  Having served as Regional Campaign Director, I made friends around the country with alumnae of all ages in Atlanta, Boston, New York, Baltimore, San Francisco, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Houston and Washington, DC.  I rarely travel around the U.S. (or the world) without reaching out to fellow alumnae.  This past summer, I enjoyed spending time with alumnae in Paris and London.

Alumnae gather after the successful settlement was announced. (Photo: WSET)
Alumnae gather after the successful settlement was announced. (Photo: WSET)

The Alumnae of Sweet Briar College deserve the constant tolling of bells given their loyalty and friendship over the years and especially over the past six months.  The events around the country, fundraisers and work days at the College are truly inspiring.  I’ve written about the incredible efforts by alumnae engagement in this post.

Reflections of the bell tower.
Reflections of the bell tower.

My Sweet Briar Mentors

As I reflect on my career, it is my Sweet Briar mentors who come to mind as shaping the person and colleague I have come to be.   As a Freshman, Martha Clement, hired me to be a phonathon caller.  Two days a week I took my stack of cards and called alumnae to encourage them to give.  Week after week, year after year, this experience shaped me into the fundraiser I am today.  Martha believed in me and encouraged me on.  Sometimes, she would ask me to come back in the afternoons between official calling nights to make calls to some of her “special people” (ironically, some of those same people are the people I called to save Sweet Briar).   Martha would be so proud that her daughter was one of the leaders of Saving Sweet Briar.

At my fifth year reunion, Denise McDonald (now the Vice President for Development at Lynchburg College) and Mitch Moore (now the Vice President of Development for Shenandoah College) encouraged me to come and work for Sweet Briar and the $35 million campaign.  The Regional Campaigns Denise taught me to run provided the basis for the next 10 years of my career.  Nancy Baldwin read every letter I wrote, critiqued my phone calls and edited my proposals.  I am a better writer because of her.  Louise Zingaro provided invaluable advice, introductions and friendship.  Bradley Hale, Chair of the Atlanta Campaign and Vice Chair of the Board at the time, provided my introduction to the National Cathedral and my career beyond Sweet Briar.  Martha Holland, Tracy Savage, Claire Dennison Griffith, Missy Witherow, Michaela English, Allie Stemmons Simon are alumnae who helped guide and shape my work over the years.

Credit: Art DewPrincessReturns on Deviant Art
Credit: Heather Anne Spear


Without students and the families who support them, there would be no College to continue.  The students are the living embodiment of all that Sweet Briar represents.  Without students to absorb the wisdom of faculty, there would be no degrees.  Without students needing sustenance, there would be no dining services.  Without students pursuing their dreams, there would be no Admissions Office.  Without students, the dorms would be empty.  Without students, donors would find no reason to give. Our bells chime the loudest for the students and their families who were willing to return and to choose Sweet Briar College.

If my words could be bells, they would ring for hours (if not days).  I do hope to be a bell for Sweet Briar College ringing into the future.

SAVED! This photo was taken of me from a crowd that assembled during "the last" Reunion for a rousing cheer for the future.
SAVED! This photo was taken of me from a crowd that assembled during “the last” Reunion for a rousing cheer for the future.

Stacey Sickels Locke, CFRE, is a proud graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1988.  She served as an employee of the College in the early 1990s working on the $25 million Campaign.  During that time, she solicited many leadership gifts which make up the current endowment. Since then, she has spent her career building support for higher education and the nonprofit community as a staff member and consultant for boards.  As a volunteer, she has served Sweet Briar since graduation as a fundraiser, admissions ambassador and now advocate for the #saveSweetBriar movement. She raises funds for Saving Sweet Briar, a charitable organization committed to the future of the College  She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), is affiliated (through the University of Maryland) with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) and holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification from CFRE International.


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Lessons Learned, Musings, Insights I Don't Want to Forget, Life Hacks, and the Occasional Recipe by Stacey Sickels Heckel Locke