By Megan Izzo & Kelsey Littlefield
On Tuesday, Oct. 25, Nancy Lublin, founder and CEO of Crisis Text line, presented the 51st Annual Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture, titled “The Giving Solution: How Philanthropy is Changing the World” in the Hogan Ballroom. Lublin’s previous social entrepreneurship includes the founding of Dress for Success—an organization that helps women transition from welfare to work by providing a network of support, professional attire, and development tools—and CEO of DoSomething.org, an organization with the goal of motivating young people to engage in social change through national campaigns.
Lublin recalled her early 20s as a time for her to “wield the weapon of social change.” She was an unhappy law student, who hoped law would be the platform on which she would conduct social change. She, however, began her career with the nonprofit organization Dress for Success using $5,000 she inherited from her late great-grandfather. To date, Dress for Success has helped over 900,000 women worldwide gain resources for economic independence.
The recognition of Dress for Success facilitated Lublin’s next professional endeavor, as CEO of DoSomething.org. With over 5.5 million members, the organization aims to engage young people in national campaigns, and ultimately, to institute change. While in her position, Lublin observed that text messages were the main source of communication between members of the platform, and young people started to bring up personal problems. Texters would recount stories of bullying, substance abuse, and violence to the organization; and Lublin began to triage these messages. Lublin recalled that she found herself in a difficult situation emotionally when she received a text that noted that a woman’s father would not stop raping her. She realized that there needed to be a change in the way society is supported in desperate and insidious times, such as this example. As a result, Crisis Text Line was born.
Crisis Text Line is the world’s first 24/7 free, text-message based support service for people facing a range of issues was launched during her 2013 TED Talk and has received over 24 million text messages. With almost 2,000 volunteers, Crisis Text Line is the largest mental health database, with all messages tagged in real time, time stamped, and flagged for word choice to denote the severity of the instance translated through text. Lublin went on to describe an example of Crisis Text Line is an example of the idea of “one to many.” When Lublin was on the platform during a shift, she received a text message about a woman being abused by her boyfriend with threats of homicidal idealizations. She engaged with the woman and flagged her supervisor while the organization called 911. During the process, the texter has the entire team’s support as well the support of friends nearby for safety, and is able to access these resources without having to disengage from any portion of the conversation in real time.
“I thought that when we launched this, it was going to be about bullying and nervousness of asking people to homecoming,” Lublin noted. “However, 30 percent of our messages are about suicide and depression, and after that the most common issue is anxiety. Then it’s self-harm—one in five texters cut themselves or are self harming—and then family issues. And all of these are relayed 100 percent by text.”
Alyssa White ‘18 is a crisis counselor through Crisis Text Line and was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet Lublin. “Though I’ve only recently finished my training and started working on the platform for Crisis Text Line, it has already proven itself to be an incredible experience and supports a worthy cause,” said White. “My first shift was on a Tuesday night from midnight to 2 a.m., and in that time, I was able to help two people who were in very distressing situations. One of them actually gushed about how grateful she was and how much this organization has helped her in the past. You’d truly be surprised as to how many people just want someone to talk to at 1:30 a.m.”
Lublin acknowledged White in her lecture by stating that it was not surprising a Holy Cross student was a crisis counselor. “The College is a values-based place, so it is not surprising, but it is wonderful that she is [a counselor] because she’s part of your community,” said Lublin.
When asked how to account for her success in being named among Forbe’s “World’s 50 Greatest Leaders,” she interrupted, “Lists are silly. If you let lists get into your head, you’re lacking other things in your life, truly.” She said, however, that her advice for women leaders is the same advice she would give to human leaders. “Someone does not have to lose for you to win—that’s the best advice I have been given.”
Lublin also commented on her potential endeavors after Crisis Text Line, expressing that she is upset that 911 operations are mainly conducted from landlines. In this technologically-driven era, she noted, landlines have become obsolete. Lublin aims to address this issue in the future, and also hopes to eventually begin initiatives to provide extra rape kits for women who need them, and to prevent young people from being turned away from homeless shelters.
When asked if she had advice for people who were looking to make a difference but didn’t know where to start, she responded, “Instead of asking what you are passionate or care about, ask what really makes you mad, what makes you really angry. When you look through the newspaper, look at the articles that make you go ‘ugh,’ not the articles that make you go ‘hmm.’ Focus on some of the negative things, whether you’re in business or social change—they’re very prevalent and serious motivators.”
The Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture, an institution since 1965, recognizes individuals who have distinguished themselves in the realm of public service in honor of Judge Edward Hanify, a member of the graduating class of 1904, and Weston Howland, who endowed the lecture in Judge Hanify’s honor. Past speakers include celebrated astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and MSNBC “Hardball” anchor Chris Matthews ‘67.