( Taking stock on the anniversary of the publication of “Prep School Predators,” by Amos Kamil, in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, with appreciation to him and for many colleagues. )
On June 6th, 2012, most of us learned of an awful prospect. Some knew much earlier. It turned out as it unfolded over these last four years to be so much worse than I could ever have imagined. Now we know more and hurt more – both about the past and what we expect for the present. What can we do, all of us?
A schoolmate I respect said to me “It takes time.” Yes, healing does. Can we help or must we simply wait? What do we understand, as a community? Beyond the past, what do we understand about where we are now?
Bad things happened. People were grievously hurt. Injury went on a long while. Now we are divided. Will that change? The school says talking of this hurts current students. Do they mean talking about the past or about what we do now? And if understanding is what we need to heal and/or join together, what then? The alumni say NOT talking hurts us all, and especially the unspoken victims alone with shame, silence and fear, watching what we do.
Investigate? Some people point at what has been made public in the press or by alumni and say “It’s all known.” No, it is not. What we know has come from the courage of survivors, teachers and a few. Mostly from victims. How does the school see its own actions? What do we understand of that?
How would it help, to hear how the school sees what was wrong – not who? What allowed it, not who may have failed – what failed? For me, it is the recognition of flaws which were the obstacles – obstacles we now know were and are common in private schools and institutions, not just at HM. Not to blame or excuse. Investigating the past, acknowledging mistakes should be LESS scary because it is not about judging, it is about caring and learning.
Talking and listening together will help: So that survivors can believe and trust that no others will be harmed. So that alumni (and future alumni) can trust the leaders at HM. So that we can make a place to rejoin and be worth rejoining. Beyond policy and beyond procedures, does the admin now see how timely reports were received and mishandled? Do they now see the impact and consequence? What do they feel? What would they like to see, going forward?
If so, what balance has been struck when reputation is pitted against safety? Even beyond abuse per se, for drugs, or cheating or bullying or other events? What are the lessons truly learned?
We’ve chosen to work to define and show some of the lessons with the hope it helps all schools and institutions to limit or prevent student sexual abuse. Even if HM cannot say much, no one should ever go through what happened again in order to learn, protect and change. No children should suffer through four decades and then some nor should a school need a four year Tasering in order to take action. Let this fifth year be time enough.
We call on the HM board and administration, Michael Colacino and Tom Kelly, to join with alumni to meet.
There is a path to heal. One step at a time. First, have the board of trustees sit down with survivors, and families of those who didn’t survive. In private, to listen, understand and consider. Second, with alumni, students, teachers and parents. Even before or apart from any investigation, say what you understand now – from what you have read, from records, from ex-admins, teachers, and witnesses. Say the how and why, as best as you can see it. To believe and trust requires understanding. To entomb it all is fatal.
While alumni have many questions, one fact we know for certain: there is no closure without disclosure. For everyone. Without hearing from the school administration, what defines HM is these 4 years as much or more than those 4 decades, the silence more than the archive.
⦁ The vigil in 2012 while Mr. Friedman explained why the school wouldn’t investigate
⦁ Alumni meeting at Poet’s house, nearby class reunions
⦁ 4 letters to the board from the Survivors without any replies
⦁ The sadness in mediation; offering victim accounts as a “report”; obtaining releases in private from survivors for any litigation against living abusers.
⦁ Each year since, homecoming reflected in peculiar tone-deaf ways: 2013, cocktails hosted by Hess, retracted; 2014, invite to Clark field then an apology; 2015, renaming the field without survivors or alumni, retracted article in the Record.
⦁ 2014, In court vs. AIG, HM lawyers at first deny the Balter letter, then that trustees ever met to discuss it, then say only some trustees attended. The judge notes “one is enough.”
⦁ 2015, Mr. Friedman resigns, notes “a few bumps in the road,” refers to victims reporting abuse “later” to avoid dealing with the many timely reports the school received, adding that he “didn’t really sign up for the challenges” that sprang from the revelations of abuse.
⦁ 2015, “Great is the Truth” is published. Despite HM maintaining a special library section for all alumni books, Amos Kamil’s book is not on the shelf.
⦁ 2016: The Globe Spotlight team turns to examine independent schools; 14 former teachers urge the school to provide a path to healing, receive no reply; the NY Governor supports SOL reform in Albany.
Is the legacy to be that what the public knows about the school’s present are the ways the institution is choosing not to respond to its past?
There is a path to heal. Nothing that has happened in the past should be feared and however awkward and however painful discussing sexual abuse can be, discussing it can only help us and certainly cannot hurt us. Can we be strong enough to say “this scares me” or “this angers me” and never so weak as to suggest that silence would be better?