Candice Signor-Brown, The former Head Coach of the Swarthmore’s Women’s Basketball team, resigned from Swarthmore in late August.
Prior to the resignation, students at Swarthmore and Vassar, where Signor-Brown had previously coached for ten years, had voiced allegations against her of favoritism, toxic and inappropriate behavior, and neglect towards injured players. In August 2020, Swarthmore began a three-month inquiry following an anonymous Instagram post on the @vassarsurvivors account detailing allegations of sexual abuse against Signor-Brown. The inquiry was ultimately inconclusive, and in October 2020, Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton announced to players that Signor-Brown would be staying on as Head Coach.
Since The Phoenix’s last coverage of the women’s basketball team in May, the college hired the Cozen O’Connor law firm to conduct an investigation into Signor-Brown after the author of the Vassar Survivors post filed a complaint with Swarthmore. In the 59-page preliminary report produced by Cozen O’Connor P.C., Signor-Brown admitted to kissing both the Vassar survivor and a contemporary player at Marist College, where she did not coach. The college did not inform the Swarthmore women’s basketball team of the investigation, which lasted four months.
Many players left the team last semester when it became clear that Signor-Brown was staying in spite of an extensive three-part investigation from The Phoenix, a Change.org petition calling for Signor-Brown’s removal that reached 3,200 signatures, and players asking the college to take action on multiple occasions. It is currently unclear to The Phoenix how many players will return on account of Signor-Brown’s resignation.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Karinna Papke ’22 and Erin Cronin ’22, both of whom played for Signor-Brown, expressed frustration at Swarthmore’s administrative lack of response to players who were concerned about their futures in college basketball. Both Papke and Cronin are abroad this semester.
“I think it’s rather disgusting that they valued this one woman over all of us speaking out for so long,” said Papke.
Papke still does not know whether or not she will return to the team after returning from studying abroad this semester.
“It’s just been a really interesting process of being told over and over again that nothing’s going to change, and that she’s going to be our coach. I started trying to just accept and process the fact that I wouldn’t be playing basketball anymore,” she said.
According to Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton in an email to The Phoenix, Signor-Brown resigned for personal reasons.
“Director of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation Brad Koch informed the athletics staff of Coach Brown’s resignation late last month; she resigned for personal reasons … the college does not discuss personal matters publicly,” wrote Willie-LeBreton.
The lack of communication from the college has been challenging for many of the players.
“What I think is really frustrating is that the only way I’ve gotten information is from either the Philly Inquirer, or my teammates,” said Cronin. “We just thought that at Swarthmore, as students, we deserve the respect to be given the information about the sport that we pour our lives into. We thought that this was a school that valued treating people like adults.”
The Swarthmore women’s basketball team has still yet to receive any direct communication about the investigation or Signor-Brown’s resignation from the college. According to Cronin and Papke, over the summer the players were denied a Zoom meeting for further information on the situation with their coach and instead promised that someone would meet with them when they were all on campus. This meeting has yet to happen.
“It feels like we’re being punished. It feels like the Athletics Department isn’t reaching out to us because we quit and we went abroad and it feels like a punishment,” said Cronin.
The lack of communication between the college and the players regarding Signor-Brown has also affected the eight incoming women’s basketball recruits. This is an unusually large recruiting class; for the 2017-2018, 2018-2019, and 2019-2020 academic years, only three incoming first years joined the team each year.
With this large incoming class of first years and several irregular seasons because of COVID-19, nearly all current players have never played in a competitive college game. This lack of experience and student leadership on the team is concerning to Papke and Cronin.
Cronin noted that two years ago when the team was overworked, senior players went to the coach with their concerns about the physical toll it was taking on them. However, a team of primarily inexperienced players might not speak up if they had an unreasonable amount of work, given that they would have little frame of reference.
“The freshmen are just scared to speak up because it’s your first year and you’re setting a first impression,” said Cronin. “I am worried and I do care about these players. The school dug this hole for them and it sucks.”
Papke said, “I think it’s really hard to try to find chemistry with a new team. I was so used to play[ing] with my team in high school. And it was really strange after four years of playing with them, in travel basketball, and in high school, to transition to a new team, a new point guard, new plays, new rules, a college atmosphere. … And I think that leadership makes all the difference.”
For some of the players that quit over Signor-Brown staying at Swarthmore, deciding whether or not to return to the team has been a hard decision.
“It was really hard for me to go from ‘I’ve moved on in my life’ to ‘what now.’ To the question of playing, I just have no idea … and it’s just really hard to know you came to terms with something and now it’s back on the table,” said Papke.
Mentally, Papke is still trying to recover from Signor-Brown’s impact on the team.
“It baffles me how the school hasn’t considered the [mental toll] she took on us,” she said. “I have frequent nightmares and went to therapy, and she was so awful to my face that it is hard for me to remember a time I loved basketball.”
Cronin added, “It comes down to believing survivors, and how the school just didn’t.”
Dawn Grant, who was formerly an assistant coach, has taken over as Interim Head Coach following Signor-Brown’s resignation. Willie-LeBreton in an email to The Phoenix indicated that the school will identify a new permanent Head Coach by the end of the academic year.
While the promotion of a new Head Coach signifies the end of Signor-Brown’s immediate impact on the team, some players are still struggling to put the past behind. Papke and Cronin both said that their continued struggle for transparency has made them lose faith in the college.
“The lack of respect, the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency made me lose faith in a lot of what Swarthmore claims to stand for,” said Papke. “I’ve seen this time and time again that they stand for protecting the institution and not protecting the people in it.”
Both players also expressed deep frustration about the lengths that the team went to for the college to still not take action.
“We did everything possible, and it wasn’t enough [for the college to fire Signor-Brown],” said Cronin. “I don’t know what else could be done.”
“I don’t think it’s fair if students want their voices to be heard and… correct injustices, they have to work tirelessly and go through mental trauma and focus on things other than the thing they’re supposed to be there for, which is to get an education,” Papke said. “I think it’s frustrating … but people are going to continue to show up to Swarthmore and find the same thing.”
Note: This article was initially published by The Phoenix on Thursday, Sept. 16 at 5:28 p.m. At 4:20 p.m. the following day, The Phoenix retracted this article. This was because, by accident, The Phoenix neglected to confirm quotes with Papke and Cronin. Though not a standard practice among newspapers, The Phoenix sends quote confirmations to interviewees not to allow them to modify or retract quotes, but to confirm that quotes in articles are accurate in terms of phrasing and context. The purpose of quote confirmations is to foster trust with the small Swarthmore campus community. The Phoenix apologizes deeply and accepts full responsibility for this negligence.