A Mother’s Movement Against Bullying

Jane Clementi is the founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which works to end online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces, and faith communities. She started the advocacy organization in 2011 to honor her son, Tyler. He died by suicide at age 18 in the first month of his freshman year at Rutgers University. Among the foundation’s programs is the Million Upstander Movement, in which enlistees pledge to stand up to bullying and treat others with kindness, respect, and compassion. The Sophie Fund’s Anna Moura spoke to Jane Clementi via Zoom on October 28, 2020.

Tyler and Jane Clementi [Courtesy Jane Clementi]

THE SOPHIE FUND: What drove you to create the Tyler Clementi Foundation?

JANE CLEMENTI: It was in the wake of my son’s death. He died by suicide in the fall of 2010 after he had been just started his freshman year. His roommate live-streamed him in a sexual encounter with another man. And then, as he read the comments and quotes on social media, his reality became twisted and distorted, and he made that permanent decision to a very temporary situation, and he died by suicide. It was to honor his legacy.

There were several high-profile deaths in the fall of 2010, but Tyler’s seemed to rise even up to the top of those and his story held national headlines for several weeks after that. Several noted celebrities continued to talk about Tyler over the course of time. As my fog lifted from the extreme distress that I was in after Tyler’s death, I realized that there was a lot of good positive conversation that was happening, and that those conversations were helping to create change, to make life better for other LGBTQ youth as well as just other marginalized youth that were being targeted.

I wanted to make sure that the world knew more about Tyler and the kind, caring, resourceful young man that he actually was. I also have come in years since to realize how distressed he truly was as well. I recently moved, within the last six months, and I came across more writings that Tyler had documented some of his pain and sadness and anger. It was someone I didn’t even recognize. I had no idea. So not everyone exhibits symptoms of their pain.

THE SOPHIE FUND: How do you define the problem of bullying?

JANE CLEMENTI: I think it’s a complex issue with a complex array of solutions. I think it’s helpful for us to share our stories so that people are aware of the great consequences and harm that can be caused from bullying behavior. I like to make sure people know that not all bullying situations end in the same devastating way that Tyler’s story ended. But with that said, all bullying hurts when it is happening, and it often leaves lifelong scars, whether physical or emotional, psychological scars.

I also think it is an issue that needs our constant attention and immediate attention. I don’t think it’s “kids just being kids.” I don’t think it magically disappears when someone turns 18. It’s behavior that goes on uncorrected and unchallenged. We have to identify that behavior early—the earlier, the better—to make change. Legislation is important, but I think it’s just a small component of creating change. I think most legislation sets the boundaries, which I think is key and important, but after that once the boundaries are crossed, it is very punitive. It mostly deals with punishment or suspension. I don’t think that that changes the behavior. I think we need to implement more behavior modification, and maybe reward positive behavior and call out positive behavior as part of the solution.

We are working preventing bullying online and off, as well as in schools, workplaces, and faith communities. Because I think it happens not only to youth, and not only in schools, but also through legislative inequalities as well as religious dogma that targets especially those in the LGBTQ community. We can go further down to the root of the cause and that will help prevent it for other people.

THE SOPHIE FUND: What can we really do to make an impact on bullying behavior?

JANE CLEMENTI: We have a few initiatives ourselves with the Tyler Clementi Foundation that we think will impact that behavior. First of all, we think it’s important to realize that there’s more than just the target and the aggressor in a bullying situation. But there are bystanders. Almost all situations have bystanders, people who see what’s happening. And those are bystanders because they’re passive and remain silent. That is like condoning and supporting the aggressive behavior. So, we want to empower those bystanders, and we call them “upstanders” once they become empowered. We think that there are many ways to do that.

You can intervene and interrupt a situation if you feel comfortable and if you know the people involved. Because we never ever want anyone else to come into harm’s way. Sometimes it’s as easy as, if you know the people and maybe think they are using racial slurs or homophobic slurs as jest or some type of humor—which they are not—and calling it out and saying that this isn’t funny.

It might even be as simple as coming beside the person being targeted and calling them away and pulling them physically out of the situation, saying, “Come with me, I want to show you something I saw outside, or down the hall,” or whatever.

If you don’t feel comfortable in that situation, or if the behavior doesn’t get changed, it’s about reporting it to a trusted adult or a youth. Or reporting it to the proper people if it’s happening in the workplace, up your ladder, your chain of command, your human resources department, something to that effect.

If you have someone’s best interest at heart, it is not tattling, or telling on someone. It’s about finding them the right support, which takes us to the third easiest way. That is to reach out to the target. I think that that is important. I think if someone had reached out to Tyler, it would have made all the difference for him. Making sure they know where their resources are. Tyler had resources at Rutgers, and he had resources at home. But no one made sure he knew how to reach out. And when you’re in a really dark place, and I learned personally, you don’t often see your resources. You just see the pain and the bleakness. So reaching out to the target, making sure, sometimes it’s just about making sure they know you’re there, you’re a friend. I think those are key elements of being an upstander.

We also believe that its more than just a one-on-one but about creating safe communities as well. We believe that someone, if they say on a first day of a group meeting together, whether it’s a sports team, or a club, or a classroom, or an entire school, having a person of authority set the boundaries, and say that we value everyone here, we will not accept anybody being targeted or humiliated for any reason. And then calling out and enumerating the reasons. Such as body shape and size, or abilities, or what language they speak at home, or their sexual orientation, or their gender identity, or whatever else makes somebody special and precious.

We do think people are targeted because of their differences, and we need to enumerate those differences so people understand that, and then get an acknowledgement back from the group that, yes, they understand. It is not a magic wand. The aggressor needs to hear where the boundaries are sometimes. It is also a huge message for someone who is marginalized to hear, to know that they are welcome and included in this space regardless of whatever makes them special.

THE SOPHIE FUND: Tell us about the “Upstander Pledge”?

JANE CLEMENTI: We started it several years ago. We wanted to reach a million people with our upstander pledge by October of 2020, and I’m pleased to say that we did just reach a million people. We’re really thrilled about that announcement, but we also know that a million people sounds like a lot, but it still needs to reach more. So we are going to continue our message.  It is also a message that needs to be heard over and over again.

Every time you are faced with a situation, it’s not like, “Oh, I signed the pledge, I’m good.” You have to really think about it. One of the things I’ve learned is that there is something called the bystander phenomenon. The more people that see an incident happening the less likely that somebody is to stand up to that incident. That’s why we need to have it fresh on our mind: “Wait a minute, nobody is saying anything. That’s me. I need to be that person that stands in the gap. I need to be the person to be empowered enough, and to have the courage enough, to stand up here.” And then hopefully you’ll be the leader to create a wave of people that will stand up to that.

THE SOPHIE FUND: How does the foundation’s work specifically impact LGBTQ youth?

JANE CLEMENTI: Our mission is broad in that it speaks to anyone’s difference. With that said, I think that allows us to speak specifically where we go and where we are invited in to talk. We are not quite as problematic for some schools or for some businesses that might not be able to or want to invite, say, GLSEN, or GLAAD, or HRC. And yet, for us, that is a huge focus of our work because that is part of Tyler’s story. Tyler was a gay youth, so we can speak to that. We have a gentle way of bringing that conversation to the organization that we are speaking in.

THE SOPHIE FUND: How do you view the problem of cyberbullying?

JANE CLEMENTI: With Covid we are spending so much more of our time in the digital cyber world, so the incidences of cyber-attack or bullying are so much greater. We have to be sure and think about the words that we’re using, and say the words that are building other people up and not attacking their character. I think it’s important that we see the humanity behind something and being willing to back up whatever we say by saying it to someone’s face, not saying it just through words on a screen.

THE SOPHIE FUND: Can you talk about the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act?

JANE CLEMENTI: A little history. It was created and introduced into the Senate initially by the New Jersey’s senator at the time, which was Senator Frank Lautenberg. He realized a truth which I still see today, that there is no federal anti-bullying legislation at all. Since Tyler was a college student, he initiated the bill to speak to colleges and universities, higher education institutions, to create policies and programs to protect all their students.

In 2010, in the fall, there were very few state laws for anti-bullying. I think New Jersey instituted one of the first. New Jersey’s law is called HIB—Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying. That passed shortly after Tyler’s death. At this point, all 50 states have some form of anti-bullying legislation. Which also means each state has a different definition of what bullying is. There are 50 different definitions out there. And so I do think we do need a federal law.

There are several that are out there. The two that are most known are the Safe Schools Act, which would be K-12, and that is supported by the Human Rights Campaign, and several other organizations. And then there’s theTyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act. That is also supported by HRC and a few less organizations than the Safe Schools Act. But it does not seem to get passed legislatively. Maybe with the new Congress we can get that moving forward.

THE SOPHIE FUND: What do you think is needed specifically in higher education?

JANE CLEMENTI: One of the things with LGBTQ support is that many colleges and higher education institutions do not have a resource person or an LGBTQ center on their college campuses. Out of 6,000 institutions, only less than 10 percent had a resource person, one FTE employee who was in charge of the resource center. So, I think that there needs to be more resource availability available through a center through a place where people can gather together and receive the support that they need.

Most institutions also need policies in place to protect all students and calling out and enumerating classes including LGBTQI+ students as well. With those policies they should have trainings for staff as well as for students. Those are components of Tyler’s bill also. Having not only policies in place but trainings for staff and students.

THE SOPHIE FUND: Can you talk a little bit about the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers University?

JANE CLEMENTI: We have a Memorandum of Understanding with Rutgers that created the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers. It falls under the inclusion and diversity chancellor. They are working towards having research and symposiums. For all marginalized students, but the last two symposiums have been specific to LGBTQ, creating safe LGBTQ spaces on the college campus. They just did a web conference, the topic was “Out of The Closet.” It was discussing the safety aspect of being in the closet against the harm of being in the closet, which usually outweighs the safety. It was about not forcing people to come out before they were ready to come out. But how to rather encourage people to see the positive aspect of being out, and the better emotional mental health of it.

The Clementi Family at Tyler’s high school graduation 2010 [Courtesy Jane Clementi]

THE SOPHIE FUND: How do you view bullying in the context of today’s divisive political scene?

JANE CLEMENTI: We never will agree with everyone completely on solutions. But I do think it is key that we learn how to have those conversations respectfully and to talk about the issues and solutions to the problems without attacking someone’s character or the person. I think that’s one of the things that we haven’t achieved very well in our political system right now. As a nonprofit, we don’t endorse any candidate at all, but we certainly need leaders that will exemplify and model good behavior for us and not call out and target and attack a person’s character but have those respectful conversations.

 Until we do, I think it definitely affects youth today. You might dismiss it, but there was a research project out of the University of Virginia that talked about the last political campaign for the last election. It showed that bullying behavior increased among youth after certain political leaders exhibited it on the television screen or their news media screen, and visualizing someone calling out news reporters for their disabilities, or calling out other people and attacking their personality.

THE SOPHIE FUND: Why did the foundation reach out to the 2020 presidential candidates to take the upstander pledge?

JANE CLEMENTI: They were going to occupy so much of our time through news, we thought it was important that the candidates, all of the candidates, would take our pledge and to live out our pledge in their campaign. We reached out in a bipartisan way to everyone running at the time, and we posted them on our website.

It is multi-faceted the answer as to why some people did not take the pledge. Obviously, it was interesting to me that all the candidates were from the Democratic Party that did sign our pledge. But even within that Democratic Party, there were some that did not take it. Some responded that they don’t sign pledges, and they don’t put their name to things that they don’t have control over. And I accept that. But we got most of the top contenders who were running which I think speaks volumes. If someone actually engages in bullying behavior, I would imagine that they wouldn’t want to sign the pledge.

THE SOPHIE FUND: How do you assess the “Be Best” initiative of First Lady Melania Trump? People have accused President Trump of engaging in bullying and not setting a “Be Best” example.

JANE CLEMENTI: I concur. I don’t think he would be the best example. I don’t think her initiative is as robust as it should be either. I see very little about it. Maybe I’m just missing it in my news area. I do know that she had one conference and I know some people who attended the conference. I didn’t even know that it was happening until after the fact. I think it was shallow at best, and I think she could have had a larger and stronger voice in this area. Although it’s very difficult when you are trying to reap change for good and one of the people involved on the other side and is occupying so much media attention is actually being the aggressor in many situations. and being the aggressor without knowing that he even is the aggressor. I have to have a good view of everyone. I can’t imagine someone wants to be an aggressor or wants to inflict cruel pain on someone else. I think sometimes it is just not even in their consciousness that they are being that type of an aggressor.

—By Anna Moura

Anna Moura, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a Class of 2021 Writing major and Psychology minor at Ithaca College

[To learn more, check out local, state, and national resources on bullying at https://thesophiefund.org/bullying]

It Takes a Village

Seventeen-year-old Autum tended to describe herself as introverted, closed off, and with a lot to say but not always the opportunity to say it. She often found herself struggling to find her voice and to interact with people.

The Village at Ithaca changed Autum’s outlook completely. Today, a sociable proactive high school senior, Autum goes through her days speaking up for what she knows is wrong and what needs to change. She is outgoing and collaborates with peers and adults alike. As a summer youth employee, Autum became a founding member of the Village’s Girls of Color female empowerment group.  She is the student coordinator of the Stolen Joy Project, a social media initiative that shares stories of racism and oppression experienced in public school by students of color. 

“Through the Village at Ithaca, I have found a safe space for me to be my true, authentic self,” said Autum, explaining how she had the opportunity to meet peers who have felt misplaced and share stories strengthening their bond.

Founded in 2002, the Village at Ithaca is a non-profit organization that advocates for education equity for black, brown, low income, and other underrepresented and underserved populations. Designed to meet family needs, the Village provides wraparound support services such as academic tutoring, family advocacy, and emergency food and financial support.  The Village is committed to actively listening to families and designing programming based on community needs.  “We as an organization, as a community can always do more and do better for our children and families,” said Executive Director Meryl Phipps.

The Village’s Student Success Center is one of the many programs that focuses on improving students’ understanding of their course material to create a solid foundation. Each student is paired with an Achievement Coach who works one-on-one with them to first “affirm, inspire, encourage, instruct.”  In this current climate of pandemic schooling, the Student Success Center has evolved to include virtual tutoring as well as daily in-person academic support during the school day for middle and high school students struggling to navigate remote learning.

Another important Village service is the Family Advocacy Program, which helps both students and families ensure they have all the resources provided to them to excel in school and their home life. Family Advocates attend school meetings to support caregivers and students in making their voices heard. They also join caregivers of students with disabilities at Committee on Special Education meetings, and advocate for students in disciplinary proceedings. 

The Village is open to students of all ages. The organization has supported some young people from elementary school all the way through college. “We take our name very seriously,” said Phipps. “Once you reach out and want to be a part of our village, we will follow you all the way.”

The Village operates with Phipps as the only full-time employee and three part-time employees. Phipps finds herself with her hands full, writing grant proposals one day and tutoring biology the next. She is a 2009 graduate of Cornell Law School, and practiced family law in Ithaca before joining the Village. “I was frustrated by the challenges of working with kids in an oppressive system that wasn’t serving the needs of vulnerable people,” said Phipps. “I’ve always been more interested in policy work and in thinking outside of the box to create solutions to historically rooted problems—this all has been liberating.”

—By Anna Moura

Anna Moura, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a Class of 2021 Writing major and Psychology minor at Ithaca College.

[The Village is the recipient of $1,018.00 in donations collected in The Sophie Fund’s 2020 Cupcake Button Fundraising Campaign, which is held annually to aid local nonprofits supporting mental health and wellness. The Sophie Fund thanks the following student organizations for participating in the campaign: At Cornell University, Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter, Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity, PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health), and Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service (BOSS); Active Minds at Ithaca College; and Active Minds at Ithaca High School. To learn more about the Village at Ithaca, or to become involved in its work, visit the Village on social media, at http://www.villageatithaca.org, or e-mail contact@villageatithaca.org.]

Ithaca Cupcakes 2020: Special Awards

Contestants in the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest (Virtual Edition) delivered spectacular performances with their photos, videos, and stories —congratulations to the winners of Special Awards!

Nostalgia Award

Alli Arndt

Home for the Holidays Award

Anastasia Kreisel

Four-Out-of-Five Opticians Recommend Award

Angela Li

Spirit of Fall Award

Anna Whitten

Pretty in Pink Award

Bella Nevarez

Breakfast Club Award

Brenna Hanratty

Monster Banana Split Award

Dina S.

Oh Gourd, They’re Good Award

Village at Ithaca

Cupcake on a Budget Award

Emma Moulton

Best Cookies and Cream Award

Hailey Whitten

Most Intoxicating Award

Heather Williams

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Award

Henry Bowes

Mid-Autumn Festival Award

Judy Zhu

Rooted in Tradition Award

Juno Parreñas

Whoopee! It’s Pumpkin! Award

Katy Holloway

Improvisation Award

Lei Lei Wu & Sophia Zhang

Cuckoo for Coconut and Chocolate Award

Lillian Bulman 

Mental Health Message Award

Mariah Meads

Ode to Applefest Award

Mary Sever-Schoonmaker

Halloween Spirit Award

Molly Smith & Tyler Rodriguez

Please Wear a Mask Award

Hudson and Patti Meyers

Doggone Cutest Award

Sam Suk

Holiday Excite-mint Award

Shayla Combs

Time Lord Award

Silas Suk

Best Co-Worker Award

Summer Saraf

Cutest Creatures Award

Natalie McCaskill-Myers

Most Homegrown Award

Madelyne Myers

Alli Arndt’s Nutella Fluffernutter Cupcakes

Anastasia Kreisel’s Apple Cider Cupcakes

Angela Li’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Anna Whitten’s Sunflower Foliage Cupcakes

Bella Nevarez’s Sweet Pink Cupcakes

Brenna Hanratty’s Maple Buttermilk Pancake Cupcakes

Dina S.’s Banana Split Cupcakes

The Village at Ithaca’s Chocolate Pumpkin Cupcakes

Emma Moulton’s Spooky Cupcakes

Hailey Whitten’s Oreos Cupcakes

Heather Williams’s Kahlua Me Krazy Cupcakes

Henry Bowes’s Carrot, Pineapple, and Coconut Cupcakes

Judy Zhu’s Matcha Cupcakes

Juno Parreñas’s Roots Cupcakes

Katy Holloway’s “A Few of My Favorite Things” Cupcakes

Lei Lei Wu and Sophia Zhang’s Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Lillian Bulman’s “Triple-C” Cupcakes 

Mariah Meads’s Semi-Colon Cupcakes

Mary Sever-Schoonmaker’s “It’s Fall Ya’ All” Apple Crisp Cupcakes

Molly Smith and Tyler Rodriguez’s Halloween Cupcakes

Hudson and Gamay’s “Feel Better” Cupcakes

Sam Suk’s Blue Dog Cupcakes

Shayla Combs’s Double Chocolate Cupcakes

Silas Suk’s TARDIS Cupcakes

Summer Saraf’s “Kitchen Sink” Carrot Cake Cupcakes

Natalie McCaskill-Myers’s Wewe Bears Cupcakes

Madelyne Myers’s Garden Cupcakes

Ithaca Cupcakes 2020: Honorable Mention Awards

This year’s Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest went online due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, but that didn’t stop local bakers from strutting their stuff.

The judges again had an impossible task, but besides the top winners they selected 10 bakers to receive Honorable Mention Awards. Bravo and thanks to all 44 contestants—you were amazing!

All Honorable Mention awardees were presented with $25 gift certificates from the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

Honorable Mention

Active Minds at Ithaca High School

Audrey Greene and Simon LeRoux

Aušra Milano

Bella McClintic

Della Keahna

Devan Accardo

Hannah S.

Pamela Crossno

Reflect at Cornell

Tamarynde Cacciotti

Active Minds at Ithaca High School’s Black Lives Matter Cupcakes: Tiramisu ladyfinger cupcake with a coffee cream center and a sweet ricotta cream cheese frosting

Audrey Greene and Simon LeRoux’s “Matthew and Mae’s” Cupcakes: Cinnamon caramel-filled cake and cinnamon-spice frosting decorated with a candy waterfall

Aušra Milano’s Waffle Cone Cupcakes: Chocolate covered cupcakes with meringue raspberry frosting, in waffle cones

Bella McClintic’s Black Cat Cupcakes: Devil’s food cupcake with dark chocolate Oreo crumbles and buttercream frosting, topped with fondant to create a cute black cat

Della Keahna’s Maple and Blueberry Cupcakes: Gluten-free maple cupcakes with blueberry buttercream and blueberry chia filling

Devan Accardo’s “The Chai-id” Cupcakes: Chai-spiced cake and vanilla and chai frosting decorated as Baby Yoda from Star Wars

Hannah S.’s Strawberry Shortcake Cupcakes: Vanilla cupcake filled with a macerated strawberry, topped with a red butter cream rose and multi-color fall leaves

Pamela Crossno’s “Fall” Into Nostalgia Cupcakes: Apple drizzle cupcakes and salted caramel frosting decorated with milk chocolate Ghirardelli chunks and pretzel

Reflect at Cornell’s Frankenstein Cupcakes: Chocolate cupcakes covered with green-dyed vanilla frosting, with M&Ms, chocolate chips, purple sprinkles, and Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereal thrown in for decoration

Tamarynde Cacciotti’s Fond Memories Cupcakes: Dark chocolate cupcakes with marshmallow Filling and whipped dark chocolate buttercream frosting with chocolate cats on top

Ithaca’s Best Cupcakes 2020

Zoë Dubrow won 1st Place with her Summer Garden Cupcakes in the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest organized by The Sophie Fund. Inspired by the vibrant flowers in her own backyard garden, Dubrow’s cupcakes consisted of a chocolate and pistachio cake formed to resemble a terracotta pot topped with icing made from raspberry panna cotta, raspberry mousse, and pistachios.

Zoë Dubrow (with roommate) and her prize-winning cupcakes

“They have a lot of components and were a bit challenging to make,” said Dubrow, who won the Grand Prize for the third consecutive year. “But, like growing a garden, baking them was a good reminder that dedicating time and focus to something you love can be very rewarding and, in this case, delicious!”

Zoë Dubrow’s Summer Garden Cupcakes

Rachel Allison won 2nd Place with her Fall Foliage Cupcakes designed to highlight the brilliant colors of autumn and golden afternoon light. The matcha and ginger cupcakes were decorated with a walnut praline spread garnished with gold-dusted chocolate leaves, gold leaf, and gold dragées. “This cupcake is a fusion of the all the best parts of fall,” said Allison. “The flavor is inspired by my favorite cool-weather drink, a matcha latte, blending earthy matcha with creamy ganache and buttercream.”

Rachel Allison’s Fall Foliage Cupcakes

Candice Mahadeo took 3rd Place with her Pistachio and Chocolate Cupcakes, using a personal recipe that was 10 years in the making. “I always had friends and family joyfully agree to be my testers all along the way,” said Mahadeo. “These cupcakes can be the crowning glory of your party contributions, as they were mine. They are the perfect decadent comfort food to satisfy your sweet tooth.”

Grace Mahadeo’s Pistachio Chocolate Cupcakes

Elanor Harris with her Cauldron Cupcakes, inspired by the year-round Halloween decorations adorning her home, won the prize for Best Video. “The story of my cupcakes is, unfortunately, not a spooky fairy tale,” Harris said. “It is merely the story of a girl who loves both Halloween and baking and wanted to honor those two loves with the cupcakes she created.”

Elanor Harris’s Cauldron Cupcakes

Tabitha Gray won the Youth Award for cupcakes inspired by an unlikely source: Twister, her pet rooster. Gray’s lemon pop cakes with lemon frosting were decorated with a rooster head and feathers made of fondant and food coloring. “A couple weeks ago, I heard a bird scream and saw all the birds were there except my rooster,” said Gray. “I went into the woods and saw a fox run away. Then I saw Twister. We didn’t think he’d make it through the night but now he’s walking again. He’s still slowly getting better.”

Tabitha Gray’s Rooster Cupcakes

The Best Story Award went to Ivy Stevens-Gupta, who submitted Hidden Treasure Cupcakes in memory of her daughter, Cach’e Dallas Pelletier. The tropical-themed and rum-flavored vegan cupcakes contained a treasure inside consisting of Pop Rocks representing precious jewels. According to Stevens-Gupta, Cach’e died by suicide five years ago at age 29, having suffered from anxiety and an opioid addiction due to pain caused from a car accident.

Ivy Stevens-Gupta with cupcakes and Cach’e

“My goal in creating these cupcakes was two-fold: to honor the memory of my daughter, and to bring about awareness of the need for better mental healthcare, drug addiction, and suicide prevention programs,” said Stevens-Gupta. “May we all be kind to one another and to animals.”

Ivy Stevens-Gupta’s Hidden Treasure Cupcakes

This year’s contest, moved entirely online due to Covid-19 coronavirus social distancing guidelines, produced cupcakes with diverse themes including fall foliage, Halloween, backyard gardens, farm animals, TV heroes, family memories, mental health, and a certain black cat named Bagel.

The winners were announced at a Facebook Live Event on Saturday hosted by The Mighty Mickie Quinn and Kitschy Scofflaw. The event celebrated the 44 contestants who baked cupcakes and then shared photos, stories, and even some videos of their delicious creations.

The Mighty Mickie Quinn and Kitschy Scofflaw

“I am unbelievably impressed by this year’s entries,” said Quinn. “Having the contest in this format allowed us to learn more about the contestant and the love they put into their creation. And, we’re all here for the love! Thanks to all for coming together to celebrate our bakers and support The Sophie Fund.”

Judging the finalists were professionals from Ithaca’s great culinary community:

Yuko Jingu of Akemi Food

Ashley Case of Case Sera Sera

Racquel Riccardi of the Sinfully Delicious Baking Co

Melissa Kenny of Sweet Melissa’s Ice Cream Shop

Judging the 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest

The 5th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest was sponsored by GreenStar Food Co+op, Alternatives Federal Credit Union, and Well Said Media.

The contest was supported by the Active Minds chapters at Ithaca College and Ithaca High School, and with several student organizations from Cornell University: Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega, Phi Sigma Pi, PATCH, and Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service.

The contest is organized every year by The Sophie Fund, which was established in 2016 in memory of Cornell University art student Sophie Hack MacLeod to support mental health initiatives aiding young people.

Sophie’s passion for baking cupcakes inspired the launch of the first Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest in 2016. At the time of her death by suicide at age 23, while on a medical leave of absence from Cornell, Sophie was active in Ithaca’s vibrant culinary scene. According to her family, she hoped to open her own bakery after completing her Cornell degree.

Top Winners (receiving Downtown Ithaca Alliance gift cards accepted by more than 100 local shops and restaurants):

1st Place & Grand Prize ($250): Zoë Dubrow

2nd Place ($100): Rachel Allison

3rd Place ($50): Candice Mahadeo

Best Video Award ($250): Elanor Harris

Best Youth Award ($100): Tabitha Gray

Best Story Award ($100): Ivy Steven-Gupta

(The list of Honorable Mentions and Special Award recipients will be posted soon!)