Monday, 23 October 2017 03:21

Local Heroes: Clery Center

Written by  Mary Irene Dolan

Leading With Mind and Heart to Address Campus Safety


Clery Center staff and board members.Do you have kids in college? Then imagine during this exciting time of their lives—time for learning, socializing, making friends—something goes horribly wrong. Physical violence, sexual assault, harassment, discrimination, hazing … maybe even murder. Now picture a world where victims and their families have nowhere to turn for support. Or become ostracized for talking about what happened.


Out of Tragedy

This was the nightmare Connie and Howard Clery experienced when their daughter Jeanne was raped and murdered in her Lehigh University dorm by a classmate in 1986. Back then campus safety was rarely talked about, much less reported. There was no data about campus crime for parents and prospective students to consider when choosing a college. And there was no discussion of how to deal with and prevent campus violence.

After the tragedy, the Clerys knew they had to do something. That something took many forms—from the Jeanne Clery Act, passed in 1990, that revolutionized federal policy on campus safety reporting across the country, to the Clery Center founded in 1987 in Strafford, PA.

Their reason for founding the Clery Center was two-fold: “We wanted the death of our dear daughter to not be in vain,” says Connie Clery. “And, we wanted to make sure no parent or student would ever endure the pain we experienced after losing her.”

Now celebrating 30 years of dedicated work, the Clery Center continues to be a safe space for education, discussion, support and resources to help make campus safety a universal reality.


Working on Education

Though the Center stays involved in major changes to federal law—including those currently in the news relating to Title IX—its main focus is on building relationships with colleges and universities to prevent campus crime at its source. That means creating an environment where safety is a priority and not something that gets swept under the rug, and where perpetrators are held responsible and victims are taken seriously.

“Many people think of campus security in terms of officers and police,” notes Connie, “but it’s so much more than that.” It’s really about changing the mindset from one of passive acceptance of bad behavior to one where everyone’s right to an education free of violence and harassment is respected and protected.

But people’s minds don’t change overnight. That’s where the Clery Center comes in. Executive Director Alison Kiss works on outreach and integrating the Center’s comprehensive training program in schools. Through presentations and training seminars, she works closely with educators to teach them what a safe campus looks like, how to build that environment and where to find more resources. “We’re really interested in starting the conversation earlier,” says Alison, hopefully before there are problems.

And the resources the Center offers—many free—are plentiful. Films, seminars, YouTube clips, a membership program and a publication in the making, there’s something that will work for everyone. The topics covered by the Center range from sexual violence, hazing—also in the news after the Penn State tragedy—and fire safety, to hate crimes, abusive relationships, stalking and everything in between.

Though the topics Alison tackles are tough, the rewards of her job are worth it. “It feels so good when you see schools taking leadership, being more proactive and really thinking about the issues,” she says.


Connie Clery, founder, Clery CenterThe Team

Those rewards wouldn’t be possible without the Clery Center’s amazing team. Each member plays a vital role, from those on the front lines speaking and instructing at campuses around the country, to those who work behind the scenes on tech assistance, data collection and web administration, including County Lines’ own web manager Amy Guthrie.

And as Alison notes, although they’re not a crisis center, “There’s always someone here to lend an empathetic ear if you need help.”

“They’ve allowed me to finally retire!” says Connie Clery, who still keeps in touch and remains on the board of directors. She believes that as long as higher education exists, there will be a need for the Clery Center.

And she says the impact of the Center combined with federal legislation has only grown over time. “Victims are getting braver about coming forward,” Connie notes, “and campus safety has become a national issue that no longer gets pushed aside.” Plus other parts of the world—South Africa and Canada, for example—have been inspired to pass laws similar to the Clery Act.


Still, there’s so much to do. When asked how our readers can get involved, both Connie and Alison agreed: “Call us!” The Center’s team is happy to assist curious callers by directing them to resources they can use at their schools and in their own lives.

Another way to show support is to attend their 30th Anniversary Gala at the Merion Cricket Club on April 7, 2018—check their website for details closer to the date.

And remember the words Connie lives by: “When bad things happen to you and those you love, go and help someone else.” We can’t think of a better way to put it.

That’s why we’re proud to honor Connie, Alison and the Clery Team as our 2017 Local Heroes. 


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