What’s wrong with us?

“What’s wrong with us?  An institution that continues to deny and gets away with it.  Why isn’t a school’s commitment to the well being of its children something we demand?  Why isn’t it a tort for a Board of a school to lie to an alumnus about past behavior?  Who is worse?  I think the denier.”

Watch Martin Guggenheim on video — law professor and nationally recognized expert in the field of children and law — from the NYU panel on child abuse, chaired by Judge Snyder, Oct 21st, 2014:   http://ustre.am/_3FQVt:2npw


Rob Hollander, HM alumnus, wrote:

I spoke to a Horace Mann board member after the panel last night, but I failed to convey to him my concerns that first drew me to meet with alumni. Those concerns have not been resolved. They’re about the role of institutions, not about abusers.

I believe abusers will always be among us. The burden of protection, prevention and punishment lies on institutions. Most of us, maybe all of us, have hurt someone and even seduced someone in some way, sensing those who are available and vulnerable to us. We’ve all abused someone in some inconsequential way and who knows how far those consequences reach. I don’t mean to diminish what the abusers at HM did, just to say that abuse is human and will be with us; it’s for institutions to curb it. Teachers should respect their professional ethics; some won’t; HM should have enforced it — that’s what an administration is for. So I blame the institution for what happened more than the abusers who took advantage of an administration that allowed them their breaches.

More important than blame, however, is achieving a sense of justice for the wronged. Here I don’t think the abuser can do much. “Sorry, I was wrong” doesn’t make up for years of suffering and pain. Apologies may redeem the abuser, but not the wronged, and to see the abuser redeemed adds confusing feelings that may not be helpful at all.

Institutions can go much further. Institutions have the weight of authority and public legitimacy. When that weight is shifted onto the scale of the wronged and against the wrong-doer, especially if the wrong-doer comes from the ranks of the institution itself, the wronged is given a support of authority that no one else can give. That support is the sense of justice. Only authority can give that sense. It’s the father standing with the wronged child with his arm around his shoulder to say, “You were right; I know you were right; what they did was wrong, and I was wrong to allow it.” It’s full validation and respect.

So long as the school protects the trustees who knew about the abuse, the school sides with the abusers. That is to give the weight of the institution to injustice, which wrongs the wronged once again. Surely this is why survivors remain discontent with the current board of trustees.

Shifting to full validation has not yet happened at HM. Abuse deserves condemnation, but to me all the condemnation of abusers is incidental to what really matters — the institutional role, institutional betrayal, institutional justice. What matters is that the school publicly take full responsibility for its past and say publicly, “We failed. We abused you. We were wrong” That’s what an independent investigation is really all about. It’s a confession, a full confession to validate the survivors.

As an alumnus I also feel I have a role in giving a sense of justice by saying this whenever I can to validate the survivors and side with them for justice’ sake. I wish I had done more.

Rob Hollander, 10-22-14