A Letter From Members Of The Form Of 1975
August 14, 2000
The Right Reverend Craig B. Anderson
Rector, St. Paul's School
Concord, N.H. 03301
Dear Bishop Anderson,
This letter, written on behalf of an informal group drawn largely from members of the Form of 1975, addresses a difficult issue. Our group, formed after our recent reunion, has carefully considered how to bring our concerns to the attention of St. Paul’s School. We have decided to ask for a meeting with you. Our top priority in doing so is to do right by the school and its extended community. We are grateful for our years at the school, impressed by its excellence today, and eager for it to thrive in the future.
At our reunion, as we shared memories of our school years and talked about our lives today, some unexpected information came to light. Several form members disclosed that SPS faculty sexually harassed them. Since then, we have learned of other incidents in our form and in forms before and after ours. For most of the victims, these incidents shattered their self-confidence, their sense of the world, and their trust in the school. For all, these events have continued to be a source of pain.
The victims, in consultation with the rest of our group, have concluded that we should share our concerns about this issue with you, directly and informally. Our hope is to achieve a positive outcome for the victims and St. Paul’s School - for example, by supporting the school in ensuring that its policies and practices today and in the future are truly effective at preventing sexual harassment.
We have taken a first look at the school’s current written policies about sexual harassment as they appear in employee and student handbooks. We are not in a position today to comment directly on the policies. But we can comment indirectly by describing several aspects of the experiences of our schoolmates. Their reactions to sexual harassment suggest how reality can challenge even the best policy.
• Even though the incidents of sexual harassment violated implicit or explicit standards of faculty conduct, our schoolmates’ responses were generally limited to feelings of shame, frustration, anxiety, and increasing isolation from the school community. Few spoke with anyone at the time about what had happened to them, and none sought help from the school administration.
• At the time, the school advised students to seek guidance on violations of school rules and expectations through an approach known as the “confidence system.” In theory, had our schoolmates felt empowered to do so, they could have spoken in confidence to any faculty member about what had happened. A groupmaster or housemaster, a school psychologist (two were on staff at the time), a coach - all would have been likely candidates for confidences. Almost none of the victims considered this pathway to help, and none received any real help. In one instance where a student tried to use the confidence system, it was ineffective.
• Faculty who harassed students included prominent, highly respected teachers. Their prominence contributed to the students’ reluctance to seek help. Many of the victims were convinced that they had no recourse - that exposing the abuse would shame the student, not the abuser. Some of the victims envisioned potential consequences such as losing a scholarship, not being able to get college recommendations, or being expelled. In this regard, the incidents adhered to a classic pattern in which a victim remains silent out of fear that he or she, not the wrongdoer, will be punished.
We raise these points to cast light on how extremely difficult it must always be for students to seek help when they have been harassed. Even when a school’s policies and standards are crystal clear, shame and fear may lead to silence. The lack of witnesses increases students’ fears that seeking help will lead to a “his/her word against mine” situation.
Our group has debated next steps at great length. We don’t know, today, how a school overcomes this problem of silence. But we believe that it is extremely important for St. Paul’s to try, and we want to help if we can.
Alumni serve the school community in many ways: through giving, as form agents and directors, as members of the Board of Trustees, as parents. Alumni involvement with the school sends a strong message to today’s student body that the St. Paul’s experience endures, even grows in importance.
We recognize, too, that the school does not embark on an initiative only because a small group of concerned alumni ask it to. We can only inform you of our desire to help. Our schoolmates who were harassed agree that they would achieve some degree of closure with what happened to them if they believed that students at St. Paul’s, now and in the future, are better protected from sexual harassment than they were.
We ask for the opportunity for representatives from our group to meet with you to explore the issue of sexual harassment at St. Paul’s, the status and effectiveness of the school’s policy, and ways we could support the school in its efforts to address the issue. We request that the school keep the initial meeting, and any matters we discuss in this meeting, in strict confidence. We will call your office soon to schedule a meeting with you.