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Meet the ‘Brassy Broad’ Brandeis alum

Alison Bass ’75 earned the nickname “Brassy Broad” because she was too intimidating to the male editors she worked under, she explained in an event on Wednesday, Nov. 3. But she wasn’t just showy or loud; she made a point in her reporting to try to help survivors of traumatic events. Bass was one of the first to report on sexual assault, giving a platform to survivors long before the #MeToo movement. 


Bass said she was assaulted while she went abroad in her junior year. “It was very traumatic, but I think it made me a more open minded and empathetic reporter,” she said during the Wednesday night event. “I think it made me more open minded than some of my colleagues in terms of listening to people who were sexual abuse survivors.” She emphasized still needing to verify sources, but to make sure journalists were not dismissing their sources too early. She explained that, while it does happen, very few women lie about sexual assault, so each source that comes forward should be treated with compassion and understanding. “Do your due diligence, but you don’t come out immediately with an air of skepticism,” she said. “It’s your job to reassure them. If they want to be anonymous, you have to let them. You have to find other ways to corroborate that story.”


Using that method, she wrote a Pulitzer-nominated series about male therapists who were sexually abusing their female patients. Other well-known writing of hers includes breaking articles about the sexual misconduct of Boston priests. She said she is particularly proud of both of these. She mentioned that the priest story was a bit uncomfortable to do, as she is Jewish. She acknowledged that churches are a very prominent part of Boston culture, and she felt like she “had a bullseye on [her] back” after exposing such a troubling truth. 


Bass also has written three novels, the most recent of which is her memoir, “Brassy Broad: How One Journalist Helped Pave the Way to #MeToo.” According to the book’s description, the memoir shows that “Alison Bass’ story is much more than how a sassy outsider became an investigative journalist despite the odds against her. Her perseverance in chipping away at the wall of male bias in how female victims are treated in the media helped pave the way to the #MeToo movement.”


Bass mentioned that she never intended to be a writer when she first came to Brandeis. She wrote for “The Justice”—which was the only on-campus paper at the time—and ended up really loving it thanks to the editors. “The editors at the time were really wonderful people, and they did take me under their wing. They really brought me along, because what did I know about writing? Nothing. That basically fed my lifelong interest in journalism.” 


She offered words of encouragement to any aspiring female journalists: “Don’t be afraid to take on risky and challenging assignments,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and advocate for yourself.” She advised finding a network and making connections, but most of all emphasized being brave enough to make yourself a known presence in the workspace. “Women today: the world is your oyster!”


This event was moderated by Amy Cohen ’85 and co-sponsored by the Brandeis Alumni Network, the Brandeis Women’s Network and the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC).


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