The Brandeis Women’s Network welcomed award-winning journalist Alison Bass ’75 via Zoom on Wednesday, Nov. 3 to discuss her career and new book. Amy Cohen ’85, the network’s co-chair, moderated the event. 

Bass was a longtime medical and science writer for the Boston Globe and has had many articles and essays in numerous other publications, such as the Miami Herald and the Huffington Post. 

Her latest memoir, “Brassy Broad: How One Journalist Helped Pave the Way to #MeToo,” was the main focus during the event, as was her time at Brandeis and what and who shaped her as a journalist and author. Bass began the event by talking about her memoir. The book, she said, described her childhood as a Jewish kid in an “unusually progressive intentional Quaker community” in Bryn Gweled, Pennsylvania. She said that while all felt welcomed there, she still grew up as a minority and an outlier, so she had to develop thick skin, which is “very good for journalism,” Bass said.

The conversation then turned toward Brandeis when Cohen asked Bass what made her decide to attend the University. Bass replied that when it was time to go to college, she hadn’t wanted to go anywhere close to home, adding that she “wanted to explore.” Among others, she applied to four schools in Massachusetts. “I always wanted to be in the Boston, Massachusetts area,” Bass said.

She also shared some memorable moments from her time at the University, including an event where Abbie Hoffman, a social activist and a fugitive at the time, came to speak — an event, she said, that filled up the auditorium. Another moment that stood out to Bass was when she was asked to write news for the Justice. 

One last memory she shared during the event was going into a professor’s office but ending up being “chased around.” “I went to get a final paper — he was an arts professor — and he came over and tried to hug me and kiss me and I ran right out of the room, and never did get my final paper. So that was a memorable moment, too,” Bass said. 

In a similar vein, Bass touched on how being a survivor of sexual assault shaped who she became as a journalist. In her memoir, she described being sexually assaulted during her junior year abroad in London. “It was very traumatic, but I think that it eventually made me a more open-minded and empathetic reporter, and more likely to believe women who had the courage to come forward and accuse people of sexual abuse,” Bass said. She further explained that as a reporter, she still had to be careful and verify stories, but she was more open-minded than many of her colleagues during her career. 

Cohen then asked Bass about some of the groundbreaking stories she covered, such as one that discussed a male psychiatrist sexually abusing female patients. In 1989, a woman came forward to accuse her male psychiatrist of sexual abuse. After discovering that one of her colleagues had looked into the story and decided not to pursue it, Bass met with the woman. “She didn’t want to go on the record, and I knew that my editors would never let me write a story based on one anonymous source, so I had to find some corroboration,” Bass said. This corroboration was from a health professional who had worked with the accused psychiatrist and had already reported him to the state medical board. “That was what I needed to get the story in the paper,” Bass explained. Bass was also one of the first reporters to report on sexual abuse by Catholic priests. 

Throughout her career, Bass struggled with being labeled as too outspoken and too “brassy” to be a good team player. When Cohen asked if she believed that a male reporter would have been criticized in the same way, Bass immediately replied, “No.” “I think that women have a harder time when they stand up for themselves,” she explained. She added that she got the moniker “brassy broad” because she stood up for herself throughout her career. “Men are expected to be assertive,” she said, explaining that for a man, being outspoken is a plus, but it is not for a woman. 

Bass also answered questions from the audience, one of which being how she handles interviews about sensitive topics such as sexual assault. Bass explained that in those situations, a reporter has to be very empathetic and cannot push too hard. She used the example of the first woman who came forward to accuse her male psychiatrist of sexual abuse. The woman had wanted to be anonymous, as she had a career and did not want to have to cope with the backlash. “It’s your job to reassure them, and if they want to be anonymous, then, you know, they’re going to be anonymous, and you’re not going to break that trust,” she said. “You have to find other ways to corroborate the story.”

Bass was also asked how she sees new and young journalists in the field today, and what “new force” she thinks they bring. “Well, women today: the world is your oyster,” Bass said. She went on to say that journalism is a tough industry, but is “more important than ever.” It’s the key to an “informed democracy.” “You have to be prepared that you’re not gonna make a lot of money,” she said, “but it’s a calling.” 

A series Bass wrote for the Boston Globe on psychiatry was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in the Public Service category. She won the Media Award for the National Mental Health Association as well as two Media Awards from the Alliance for the Mentally Ill. In 2007, she was awarded the Alicia Patterson Fellowship for her investigative work.