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Sunday, November 18, 2012

For Converse: Plan and Invitation to Current Students

Hello, Converse Supporters,

A plan for moving forward, and letter to me from Student Body President below the break:

  • Invitation to Current Students to Hold Joint Mini-Forum on Roxie, Sexism, and Sisterhood
    • Purpose: To foster meaningful dialogue among Converse students past and present, and to find unity
    • Timing: Early December
    • People: Five alumnae and several students
  • Present petition and statements to the appropriate parties after its close: Wednesday, November 21, 2012
    • Purpose: Formal presentation of online petition
    • Timing: Early December
  • Continue garnering support and plans for the discussion at the January 26th Alumnae Board Meeting
    • Purpose: To ensure alumnae message is clear and to outline our fundamental concerns about the current climate and ideology at Converse College
    • Timing: Now - January 26th
If any of you have suggestions for the events described above, please email me at LaurenMax(at)gmail(dot)com or message me on Facebook. Below you will find a copy of the initial invitation I sent to Erica Lane, Student Body President. You will also find her response, turning down the proposition, and my final letter. 


Dear Erica,

This past week has been unexpectedly exciting for Converse. I would bet that you and I both never dreamed our actions would elicit such response. 

I wanted to write to you, because I can only imagine how much this past week might have surprised the current seniors. A conversation filtered through the media is lacking in many ways, and I wonder if we could find a time to talk in person.

Most of all, I would like for you and your peers to know that we alumnae support you more than you probably realize. As proponents of single gender education - in a time when it's not very popular - we want Converse to evolve. We want the school to stay relevant, up-to-date, and to attract the best students. We love Converse and want her to remain a stronghold for female empowerment. For those reasons, we admire your efforts to initiate change. Although we disagree on some of the decisions made, I think this could be an opportunity to find unity among students past and present. It might be lovely for us all to discuss the ways we do agree.

I would like to invite you to have a small event, a mini-forum, with us in early December; it can be very casual and perhaps over lunch. It could be an opportunity for a few alumnae and a few students to discuss the recent uproar and what it means to all of us. I'd like to meet you and for you to meet a couple of the incredible women I knew during my time at Converse. I'd like to have the chance to hear your side.

Would you be willing?

If so, I thought it might be useful for each side to collect five questions for the other, to provide structure and to represent the hundreds of voices behind both of us. 

I thought you did a beautiful job on the television interview and would love to use this as an opportunity to foster meaningful dialogue and find new connections - maybe even friendship. We could talk about Converse, sexism, and sisterhood. 

I look forward to hearing from you.

Warm regards,

Lauren Maxwell
Class of 2007

CC: President Betsy Fleming, Dean Molly Deusterhaus, Director of Alumnae and Board Relations Carrie Hill Coleman, Alumnae Association Board President-Elect Amy Tibbals Morales 


Response from Erica Lane: 

Dear Lauren,

It is obvious that Converse instilled a desire for passionate living in you, and although we remain on opposite sides of this debate, my heart is warmed to know that this passion has continued in the lives of Converse women after their graduation. I also find it refreshing to see any woman (Converse affiliated or otherwise) take vocal action and assume a role of leadership to bring awareness to a community issue.

I would first like to ensure that you understand this crucial student perspective:  my peers and I are incredibly thankful for our alumnae. We are thankful for your support, constant encouragement, and donations as, without it, our time at Converse would have been transient, or non-existent.

The alumnae desire you mentioned to keep Converse relevant, up-to-date, and to attract the best students is precisely in line with our mission to bring the future Red Devil classes a mascot they could be proud of—a modern, confident, powerful female, used to promote fun, sisterhood, and female empowerment, above all else. Many philosophical debates can be had about whether the meaning behind a piece of art is given by creator or viewer and my peers and I have discussed and understand your interpretation of Roxie; I encourage those of you who disagree with her to place yourselves in the mindset of a high school senior looking at Converse for the first time. We took the importance of body image into account when creating Roxie, and altered the image accordingly, but above all we understood that mascots are used for fun and aren’t something that students feel a need to emulate. (On a side note, it is also important to remember that criticism of body image goes both ways. Because such a heavy emphasis is now placed on ensuring those of larger body types are accepted, those with naturally smaller frames are also becoming targeted.)

I appreciate your invitation to have a “mini-forum” over this change, and I would love to be able to connect with you at the Alumnae Board special session at 10:30 AM on Saturday, January 26th.

As I’m sure you remember from your time here, the first week of December is our exam week, the days leading up to it are overflowing with celebration, and immediately following exams, we are required to return to our permanent addresses. As a senior ending her last fall semester at what I consider to be my home, I, along with my peers, would prefer to embrace our positive revolution and celebrate our final Converse Christmas season traditions, as well as the imminent realism of graduation, with one another sans a Roxie debate. Personally, based on many of the comments I’ve read, I believe the wounds of the most vocal alumnae are still too fresh to have a truly positive, beneficial, or constructive discussion, regardless of structure or casual atmosphere.

I do want you to know that the student body has heard and understands your perspective in the debate. I am thrilled that you are willing to hear ours; President Betsy Fleming’s letter sent out last Friday does a beautiful job of encapsulating the student perspective on this issue, and I encourage you to not only read it, but pass it along to your fellow graduates if you have not already.

As you expressed desire to hear our side, I hope you will take this to heart:  while a few have been muddled by your promotion of misinformation (i.e. her “slogan”) the overwhelming majority of the student body is more than trilled with this change and finds Roxie to be confident, strong, feminine, and empowering. Furthermore, none of us believe Roxie to be in any way a replacement for your Richard—he is and always will be your mascot to cherish. Instead, we choose to remember that our Converse experience cannot be encapsulated in a mascot, be it Modine, Richard, Roxie, Pantera, or the Valkyrie; our Converse experience can only be measured by our sisterhood, rigorous academic schedules, and whatever positive legacy we’ve chosen to leave for our future sisters.

Finally, as you mentioned representing the hundreds of voices behind both of us, I would like to remind not only you, but also everyone who has raised concern over Roxie’s creation, that Converse is driven to promote student self-governance; it is this aspect that allows our beloved institution to stand out above so many others. I was elected into this dominant leadership role by the entirety of the student body with the purpose of respecting and representing each of their voices individually—a duty to which I lovingly and faithfully uphold each day. While in changing the Red Devil mascot it was impossible to accommodate everyone’s opinions, with the entirety of the student body and perspective students in mind, my team and I worked tirelessly to design something that could be molded to fit as many individuals as possible—she is Roxie.

I thank you for your continued pursuit of passionate living and am honored that you found our creation worthy of civilized discussion. Let us remember that sometimes the more difficult action is letting go.

I look forward to meeting and discussing this with you on January 26th.

Equally warm,

Erica A. Lane

Student Government Association President
Converse College Class of 2013

Converse College
580 East Main Street
Spartanburg, SC  29302


Final response from Lauren:

Dear Erica,

Thank you for your response.

Forgive me for being unaware of your exam schedule; please know that we would have been willing to find another time to connect, if meaningful dialogue was indeed a goal for both sides.

I want you to know that we value your efforts to keep Converse relevant and up-to-date; in fact, we agree that a mascot change was not necessarily a bad idea. We do, however, disagree in the choices made. Confident, sassy, and powerful are not physical attributes but character traits - just one of the many complexities of choosing a human mascot. We appreciate the thought you put into changing Roxie’s waistline, but you hit the nail on the head: what will this image mean to high school seniors? Therein lies our concern. Our greatest worry, however, is that Converse College would permit an image that even risks such questions of gender norms. And with hundreds of petition signers and even more online responses to the image, the questions of what Roxie stands for cannot be denied. A few disgruntled alumnae could not elicit such overwhelming response without truth at the heart of the matter.

Having gained real-world experience after leaving Converse, we alumnae are perhaps more sensitive to the danger of gender norms and the fact that until they are abolished, women will not make true progress. We will not match the male dollar, and we will not hold 50% representation in all levels of politics. The SC Senate was all male until just last week. We believe a women’s college, more than any other institution, has a responsibility to skirt those norms.

What would probably shock you is that we would like to be on your side. We love our little sisters, and we admire your gumption. We blame neither you nor your peers for the image projected by Roxie; rather, our concern lies with the advisors and administrators who are your leaders and the very ideology being cultivated at Converse College.

Those conversations, though, are for another time - not for students or this letter or for the friendly gathering I requested.

I challenge you to reframe your opinion of the Converse alumna. Rest assured that no one who could be described as “wounded” would have been included in the sincere conversation and opportunity for new friendship I suggested. In stark contrast to the description in your letter, the alumnae who have been most vocal about this have been some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, and kind women I have had the pleasure of knowing. This disregard by Converse administration for the dangers of gender stereotyping was merely the breaking point after several years of our concern. Again, for that we do not blame you. We did share President Fleming’s letter, as you suggested, and unfortunately, it fell in line with said concern.

Please also understand that we would never blatantly promote misinformation. The slogan my letter described was seen as advertisement on the Converse Student Life Page. I was quoting it, and if it was incorrect, it is another example of a moment muddled by Converse administration.

As you say, Converse is indeed built to foster student governance. To me and many of the alumnae who have shared their insight, a good leader seeks counsel from all sides, considers every viewpoint, and builds consensus to seek an intelligent solution that may not satisfy everyone but is thoughtful and forward thinking. That is what we would like to see happening among leaders - both student and otherwise - at Converse College.

I wish you the very best.


Lauren Maxwell


  1. Thank you SO much for helping organize a plan of action and discussion, Lauren, and being a great spokesperson for alumnae concerns! I personally am curious as to whether other students may be interested in participating in the forum. I understand exam week is busy, and don't want to be seen as disregarding Erica's viewpoint, but believe not opening the invitation to the student body is aligned with how Roxie was created in the first place....

    1. Ally, thanks for your sweet note! I completely agree. I wonder about the rest of the student body, too. Perhaps they will reach out to us in some way? A few brave ones already have through Facebook comments and by signing the petition!

    2. Lauren and Ally,
      My name is Brittani Williams. I am currently a senior at Converse College. I appreciate the effort that you are making to ensure that Converse stays true to her goals and values. I also feel that Roxie is not the best way to represent Converse and would love to participate in the movement to eliminate her as our mascot.
      Thank you for your time,
      Brittani Williams

    3. You can reach me at brittani.williams@converse.edu

    4. Brittani,
      Thank you so much for reaching out! It means the world to all of us to know that there is support on campus for these values. We would love to hear more of your story. Feel free to comment here, or to email me: laurenmax(at)gmail(dot)com. Have a beautiful holiday, and if not before, we will talk afterwards.

  2. Lauren - I literally almost cried reading your letter! There's no better way to speak to how important it is to abolish gender inequalities. Even something as simple as a mascot can be an impetus. You did a wonderful job - thank you for being the voice of this movement.

    1. Deidre, coming from you, that means so much. Thank you. xoxoxo.


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