In 1990, Sally Frank ’80 successfully sued Ivy Club and Tiger Inn to open their membership to women. In a public lecture on Monday, Frank shared her experiences and observations on sex-based discrimination on campus and discussed the importance of social activism as well as her 13-year legal battle. She also participated in a panel on student activism at Terrace Club on Tuesday evening. Frank is a professor at Drake University Law School.
Daily Princetonian: How did you develop your interests in social activism?
Sally Frank: What I learned from my parents is that if there is something wrong, you change it, that you don’t just accept what’s going on. The other piece is that when I was in fifth grade I had a teacher who asked us to watch the news every night. I rebelled by watching a different anchor from my parents did. But it was the year of the Chicago 8 trials, and I looked at what was happening in the courtroom. The other was that my sister did a student strike over invasion of Cambodia in 1970, and people my sister’s age were being murdered in Kent State and Jackson State, protesting.
DP: When you decided to bring a lawsuit against the all-male eating clubs, I’m assuming you didn’t expect that it would take 13 years. How did you find the motivation to keep going?
SF: I did expect it would last longer than my years in college. I just knew lawsuits took a while and that the odds of being done in a year and a half were slight. Lawsuits are fits and starts. There are times of intense activity. There are times when there’s nothing. In many ways it was also easier once I wasn’t on campus because I wasn’t dealing with the flak from other students. So it was just the matter of doing the work, which is easier than doing the workandgetting hassled. My junior year, I filed for the first time. And then I filed again September, after fall Bicker my senior year.
DP: Do you know about the transition of the two eating clubs you sued as they shifted from all-male to coed?
SF: Cottage went coed in ’86. It went fairly smoothly, although the undergraduates were very mad with the Graduate Board. Ivy and Tiger Inn — one went coed for fall Bicker, and the other canceled fall Bicker, hoping the U.S. Supreme Court would hear their appeal. When the court didn’t, they had to go coed for spring. Basically, they didn’t like it, but it was fine within a couple of years. It doesn’t take long to establish a new norm because student memory is basically four years. Once the clubs went coed for four years, all that the students have known was that they were coed. So it was no longer weird.
DP: What was the most important lesson you got out of the experience that you think would be a valuable advice to current University students?
SF: Understand that you can make change, that you might think you’re just one person, but one person can change things and cause change. I learned about media relations. I learned how to make oral arguments, do research. I have more empathy with clients, understanding what it is like. I actually got to know a lot of people from Ivy, Tiger Inn and Cottage that I appreciated getting to know. I also got to know Princeton administrators. I feel a very strong relationship with the University.
DP: Knowing what you know now, if you could, what would you tell your younger self in the process of starting the lawsuit?
SF: I think I would tell myself to be ready for widespread interest. I really didn’t think anyone would care outside of Princeton. I would also tell myself that it’s going to be a long fight because by the time I was done I had spent a third of my life on the case. Cases can drag on enormously long.
DP: As an alumnus making observations on the University today, what do you think are new problems that have emerged, if any?
SF: What students have told me is there are still issues about women leadership on campus — women being secretaries but not presidents of organizations. Secretary is a very nice role, but it’s not the only role women can have or should be able to have. Also, the issue with sexism during Bicker is still apparently a problem.
DP: Recently, students have also become more open with engaging in other sensitive discussions — mental health and sexual misconduct, just to name a few — and what are your thoughts on this?
SF: People have been looking at laws involving Title IX and handling sexual assault cases around the country. California just passed the “only yes means yes” statute. Of course, it is a very important issue that universities get it right. What the universities — not just Princeton — have to learn is that they worry about the bad publicity if they throw someone out for assaulting. But which publicity would you like? Having not protected the one who is a victim, or having taken action against the abuser? There has to be training for discipline committees.
DP: What advice do you have for students interested in social activism?
SF: Whatever you’re interested, the odds are you’ll find others who have a similar interest. You can then together and ask what the problem is. Is it separate from the University? Is the piece of the problem a University problem? An example would be the global climate change protest. Keep going to the national protest, but what is Princeton doing on that issue? If there’s a passion of yours, organize. Join together and figure out strategies and tactics on what you need to do.