Because of Brown

For Scott Westerfield ’79 and Ed Miskevich ’79, Brown wasn't just where it all began: it’s where it was all made possible.

Since their romance began in 1978, Scott Westerfield ’79 and Ed Miskevich ’79 have accumulated more than 40 years of memories and stories. There's the first date story when they attended a Halloween party together. And the one about how they inadvertently were part of a landmark LGBTQ court case. (More on that later.) Then, there's the time they were one of the 18,000 same-sex couples married in California before the passage of Proposition 8.

Every one of those stories has a beginning, and they all started at Brown.

The two first met in fall 1978. Westerfield had just returned to campus after taking a year off when he decided to attend an open house for the Gay Students Association. There he met Miskevich, the organization's president. The following month, they went on their first date. By November, the two were official.

"Coming out during that time, it wasn't the best environment," Westerfield says. "Younger people today are coming out in high school or even earlier. I could never think about coming out in high school. People were not as enlightened as they are now."

Ed and Scott in 1979"Accidental activists"

During their time at Brown, the two worked with the Gay Students Association to support others and foster an environment where LGBTQ students could feel comfortable and welcomed. Their efforts weren't restricted to just College Hill either. Their outreach turned Miskevich into what he calls an "accidental activist."

He had been mentoring a group of gay students, some of them from Cumberland High School, north of Providence, providing them with a forum to talk about their common issues and seek guidance. When one student—Paul Guilbert—confided in Miskevich that he wanted to go to prom but didn't have anyone to go with, Miskevich gladly offered to be his date. "I thought, 'Let's do it. What's the worst that could happen?'" Miskevich recalls.

The school's principal, Richard Lynch, denied Guilbert's request to bring Miskevich as his date, citing a concern that their presence might elicit a "student reaction" that could disrupt the dance and potentially endanger the pair. The story made national news and, though the two did not end up attending the prom, the conflict opened the door for another student to walk through. That student, Aaron Fricke, asked Principal Lynch for permission to bring Guilbert the following year as his date to a dance, the fallout from which would precipitate Fricke v. Lynch—a landmark case that helped solidify LGBTQ students' rights in public schools.

"It opened up a completely new mindset in both of us," says Westerfield. "We both became activists through our experience at Brown."

Even after graduation the two continued to advocate for gay rights, participating in marches (including the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987) and taking larger leadership roles in their community in California. Westerfield became the president of the Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Club, the LGBTQ club in Orange County. He also joined the central committee of the Orange County Democratic Party.

"You find a lot of people from Brown who believe in social activism," Miskevich says. "As the AIDS epidemic continued and more people were dying, we realized we had to be leaders. We were taught to be leaders. We were taught to take difficult positions."

I know what Brown can do. I think when we invest in students, the future of the world will change.

Ed Miskevich ’79

Paying it forward

As the years went on, Miskevich and Westerfield began to realize how formative Brown had been in both their lives. Their careers, their marriage, their social activism: that little college on the hill had been instrumental in all of it.

"The older I got and the further I got in my career, the more I began to realize there was something different about me," said Westerfield. "At Brown, I learned how to learn, and how to reason and communicate. I began to understand that that really had been a differentiating factor in my career and my life. I began to appreciate the real value of the experience I had at Brown."

Miskevich credits Brown with helping him find—and succeed in—his dream career in public media: "I really bought into this as my life's calling. Public media was the perfect marriage of education, journalism, and fact-based information. Brown gave me the freedom to explore and make that discovery. Because of Brown, I've worked in a world where any idea, any topic, any subject matter was good and worthy of exploring."

When it came time for the couple to start estate planning, they knew Brown would be part of it. "We don't have children, so we discussed where we could give back and make the biggest impact. We couldn't think of anything that would have more of an impact than giving to Brown," says Westerfield.

Their planned gift will support both faculty and the LGBTQ Center at Brown, paying it forward for the experiences and education they received more than 40 years ago.

"I know that someone, sometime in the future, will benefit from the gift that we made," says Miskevich. "I know what Brown can do. I think when we invest in students, the future of the world will change."

(June 2020)