To stand with rather than apart from survivors and alumni

The following letter appears in the October 9th issue of the HM Record, defining a necessary step for the administration to move to heal the community:


To the Editor:


This letter responds to The Record’s September 8 pieces on the HMAC investigation report and the 2014-2015 annual fund, and also to Peter Brooks’s October 2 letter to the Editor. I write from the perspective of a lawyer who for almost twenty years has advised independent schools on issues of institutional concern. I’m also a member of the Class of ’82 who, like so many of my schoolmates, experienced inappropriate conduct by an HM teacher.


Per well-established best practices, independent schools grappling with histories of sex abuse and inadequate responses to such abuse restore institutional equilibrium by pivoting toward transparency and renewed trustworthiness in the eyes of all significant constituencies. For such a pivoting to happen, a necessary step is a school’s candid “letter to the community” that includes reasonable detail about what happened and what specific institutional shortcomings contributed. Most often, the “guts” of the letter is a summary of an independent investigation commissioned by the school itself. Deerfield Academy is a strong example of the many independent schools that have followed this playbook to restore equilibrium, goodwill, and a warm sense of shared, communal values spreading across constituencies and generations.


With alumni funding, the HMAC report was prepared because the HM administration has not yet provided the school community with a written report on the systemic problems that allowed abuse to occur for so long. From the 2012 publication of Amos Kami’s article in The New York Times through the present, the school’s positioning on the abuse issue has been a source of frustration and pain for survivors and large numbers of alumni. To survivors and many alumni, HM’s actions feel inconsistent with survivors’ and alumni’s statuses as members of an HM “community” — a word with ancient roots connoting a group that acts collectively to fortify, strengthen, or defend.


Accordingly, in addition to the opportunities identified in Mr. Brooks’s letter, the HMAC report’s publication is a renewed opportunity for our school’s leadership to consider pivoting decisively, through the issuance a “letter to the community” about what happened and what institutional shortcomings contributed. Many including this writer believe that such a factual accounting by the school would be in its institutional interest, and would be a necessary step to show all that, going forward, the school administration stands with rather than apart from survivors and concerned alumni. As the experiences of many other schools have shown, any institutional risk associated with reasonable transparency on the sex-abuse issue is substantially less than the risk of a lack of transparency. A moderately-detailed “letter to the community” from the school would — to borrow Mr. Brooks’s phrase — “only help us and cannot hurt us.”


Geoffrey Genth, ’82