Candice Signor-Brown, the former head coach of Swarthmore’s Women’s Basketball Team, resigned from Swarthmore in late August.
Prior to resigning, students from Swarthmore and Vassar, where Signor-Brown had previously trained for a decade, had raised allegations of favoritism, toxic and inappropriate behavior and neglect towards injured players against them. In August 2020, Swarthmore began a three-month investigation into an anonymous Instagram post on the @vassarsurvivors account detailing allegations of sexual abuse against Signor-Brown. The investigation was ultimately inconclusive, and in October 2020, Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton announced to players that Signor-Brown would remain as head coach.
Since The Phoenix’s last coverage of the women’s basketball team in May, the college has hired the law firm Cozen O’Connor to conduct an investigation into Signor-Brown after the post author Vassar Survivors filed a complaint with Swarthmore. In the 59-page preliminary report from Cozen O’Connor PC, Signor-Brown admitted kissing both the Vassar survivor and a contemporary player at Marist College where she was not training. The college did not inform the Swarthmore women’s basketball team about the investigation, which lasted four months.
Many players left the team last semester when it became clear that Signor-Brown stayed, despite an extensive three-part investigation from The Phoenix, a Change.org petition that called for Signor-Brown’s removal and reached 3,200 signatures, and Player asked the college to take action on several occasions. It is currently unclear to The Phoenix how many players will return due to Signor-Brown’s resignation.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Karinna Papke ’22 and Erin Cronin ’22, who both played for Signor-Brown, expressed frustration at Swarthmore’s administrative lack of response to players worried about their futures in college basketball. Both Papke and Cronin are abroad this semester.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Cronin asked about the college’s lack of communication. “Besides, how don’t you?”
“I think it’s pretty disgusting that you have valued this one woman for as long as all of us,” said Papke.
Papke does not yet know whether she will return to the team this semester after studying abroad.
“It was just a really interesting process to be told over and over again that nothing will change and that she will be our trainer. I started trying to just accept and process that I wasn’t going to play basketball anymore, ”she said.
According to Provost Sarah Willie-LeBreton in an email to The Phoenix, Signor-Brown resigned for personal reasons.
“Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation Director Brad Koch informed the athletics team of Coach Brown’s resignation late last month; she resigned for personal reasons … the college does not publicly discuss personal matters, ”Willie-LeBreton wrote.
The lack of communication from college has been a challenge for many players.
“What I find really frustrating is that I only got information from the Philly Inquirer or my teammates,” said Cronin. “We just thought that as students at Swarthmore we deserved the respect for receiving information about the sport we put our lives into. We thought that this was a school that made a point of treating people like adults. “
The Swarthmore women’s basketball team has not yet received direct communications regarding the investigation or Signor-Brown’s resignation from college. According to Cronin and Papke, the players were denied a Zoom meeting over the summer for more information on the situation with their coach and instead promised someone would meet with them when they were all on campus. This meeting has yet to take place.
“It feels like we’re being punished. It feels like the athletics department isn’t getting through to us because we quit and 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 impacted the nine new women’s basketball recruits. This is an unusually large recruiting class; for the 2017-2018, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 academic years, only three new first graders joined the team each year.
With this large class of first graders arriving and several irregular seasons due to COVID-19, almost all current players have never played a competitive college game. This lack of experience and student leadership on the team affects Papke and Cronin.
Cronin noted that two years ago when the team was overworked, older players went to the coach with concerns about the physical strain they were putting on. However, a team of mostly inexperienced gamers might not have their say if it had an inappropriateness of workload as it would have a narrow frame of reference.
“Freshmen are just scared to say something because it’s your first year and you’re making a first impression,” said Cronin. “I worry and I take care of these players. The school dug this hole for them and it sucks. “
Papke said: “I think it’s really hard to find the chemistry with a new team. I was so used to playing[ing] with my team in high school. And it was really weird after four years of playing with them, traveling, playing basketball and high school, switching to a new team, to a new point guard, new games, new rules, a college atmosphere. … And I think that leadership makes the difference. “
For some of the players who quit Swarthmore because of Signor-Brown’s whereabouts, deciding whether or not to return to the team has been a tough one.
“It was really hard for me to go from ‘I’ve gotten on in my life’ to ‘What now’. When it comes to playing, I just have no idea… and it’s really hard to know that you’ve come to terms with something and it’s back on the table, ”said Papke.
Papke is still mentally trying to recover from Signor Brown’s influence on the team.
“It amazes me that the school didn’t take that into account [mental toll] she took it on us, ”she said. “I often have nightmares and go to therapy and it was so horrible on my face that I have a hard time remembering a time I loved basketball.”
Cronin added, “It comes down to believing survivors and how school just didn’t.”
Dawn Grant, who was previously assistant coach, has taken over the post of interim head coach after Signor Brown’s resignation. Willie-LeBreton announced in an email to The Phoenix that the school would appoint a new permanent head coach until the end of the academic year.
While the promotion of a new head coach marks the end of Signor Brown’s immediate impact on the team, some players are still struggling to leave the past behind. Papke and Cronin both said their ongoing struggle for transparency had lost them confidence in the college.
“The lack of respect, the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency made me believe in much of what Swarthmore claims to stand for,” said Papke. “I have seen time and again that they stand for protecting the institution and not the people in it.”
Both players also expressed deep frustration at the efforts the team has made for college to still stay out of action.
“We did everything possible and it was not enough [for the college to fire Signor-Brown]”Said Cronin. “I don’t know what else can be done.”
“I don’t think it’s fair when students want their voices to be heard and … correct injustices, they have to work tirelessly and go through psychological trauma and focus on other things than what they are supposed to be there for, namely,” an education to get ”, said Papke. “I think it’s frustrating … but people will keep showing up in Swarthmore and finding the same thing.”