Ending The Silence
Reflections on the history of past abuses and looking toward the future
Owen Andrews ’75
The release of the “Independent Investigation of Sexual Misconduct at St. Paul’s School,” a report on the investigation by Scott Harshbarger, Edward Colbert, and Carmen Francella of Casner & Edwards, marks a new chapter in a lengthening tale. In 2000, a group of alumni from the Form of 1975 wrote to Bishop Craig Anderson, then Rector of St. Paul’s, about multiple incidents in which School faculty harassed, assaulted, or abused students.
These histories had come to light in conversations at the form’s 25th reunion. The letter set in motion a series of often difficult and frustrating interactions with the School’s leadership (recounted in the Casner & Edwards report), aimed in part at ending the silence on past abuses. Throughout these years, as I tried to understand the apparent focus of School leaders on managing what we told them in terms of reputational risk rather than human suffering, I wondered whether they understood the matter better than I did. I was not myself a victim of such experiences. I recall, with great pleasure, many moments of my life at the School. Why, then, did I continue to care that the history be addressed in full, without reserve, and in a way that respected the hurt my schoolmates suffered and the courage of their coming forward?
Another alumnus who has worked with the School on these issues has said, of late, “There were the abusers. There were the abused. And there were those who sat at the dinner table with both.” I am one of those – like most alumni – who sat at the table, and what I wish to convey is why what happened matters for everyone at that table. What I learned of my schoolmates’ suffering affected me strongly and shed new light on aspects of my own experience at school. In preparation for a conversation with the Casner & Edwards team, I reread our August 14, 2000, letter to Bishop Anderson (see p.13). Its cool and thoughtful tone surprised me; rereading it, I remembered the tears that streamed down my face, on an Amtrak train, as I drafted it, overcome with sorrow for what happened to my friends and their friends. That sorrow has three sources, each of which has implications I wish to underscore.
First, the abuses happened to people I knew. Boys I knew were harassed or assaulted or actually had sex with teachers. Girls I knew were harassed or assaulted or actually had sex with teachers. One of the boys who was assaulted was a close friend at the time. He told me nothing of it for 27 years, and yet what happened altered the course of his life. He had difficulty studying afterward, failed a course, and was not invited back the next year. For decades, he struggled with the circumstances of his departure from a school he loved and with what seemed to him to be the impossibility of speaking to anyone about it. One implication is that, if people I knew and cared about were hurt and silenced, then friends of many who read this also have been hurt – directly, by faculty, in violation of the most basic principle of conduct for teachers of children entrusted to their care.
Second, some of the abusers were teachers I knew. Señor Ordoñez was a friend of sorts – I was invited to join his George Bernard Shaw reading club and went on runs with him. He was my teacher, too, in history courses whose subject matter I enjoyed very much. I even played him, my hair silvered and slicked back, in the 1975 Sixth Form play, mimicking things I’d heard him say at a faculty meeting I attended as a student officer. Steven Ball was my English teacher and expressed an interest in my (terrible) poems. Robert Degouey was my groupmaster, as was a man who married a female student within a year of her graduation, when she was a rising sophomore in college. Larry Katzenbach served as adviser to the Sixth Form officers of the Student Council, and we met with him for long and riotous discussions in his apartment on many Sunday evenings. I had no clue what a baleful and damaging role he played in the lives of women I knew, in those very same months, perhaps in that same room. If I knew all of these teachers, so did many of us. Their secret lives and secret purposes influenced many people’s experiences of the School, directly or indirectly, just as they influenced mine.
Third – and this is in some ways the most troubling thing of all – nothing I learned in the summer of 2000 surprised me. I already knew. I had believed since Third Form that a good number of teachers at St. Paul’s were hazardous people to be around. There was a reason why I avoided tea with Señor in his apartment after our friendly runs. There was a reason why I declined the offered seat on Mr. Ball’s sofa and stood, instead, near the door of his apartment while we discussed my poems, and why I did not return for a more in-depth examination of their scant merits and ample defects. I knew, because in my Third Form year, a Fifth Former took the time to warn me, listing names – most of them now found in the Casner & Edwards report – of masters with a sexual interest in students. And if he knew, and knew enough to warn younger students, how many others knew? How did that knowledge affect their experience of St. Paul’s and their sense of safety and trust, which are so critical for successful learning and development? What did teachers know about these matters? If they knew about the inappropriate conduct of their peers, as some clearly did, why didn’t they press the School’s administration for a real response?
Perhaps a small story helps to illustrate the collateral effect of transgressive faculty conduct, for students not directly harmed, on the essential task of a residential high school. On a spring day in late April 1973, I headed out into the woods with the plan of smoking a bit of pot I happened to have. I was extremely nervous because I’d been found doing the same thing several weeks before, receiving only a warning from my groupmaster, who caught me. We had agreed I would refrain from such behavior in the future, and, until this April day, I’d done that.
On this walk, I encountered a respected older master, who offered to walk with me. He directed me to an unfamiliar path through woods east of the boathouses, and we walked together for a while, talking somewhat awkwardly. At a certain point, he stopped; he appeared to have something on his mind. The moment passed. He said he would head back to the School and allow me my private stroll. In one way, this showed courtesy and insight. In another, the encounter, for me, was shot through with sexual anxiety. I couldn’t trust him, because of the rumors I had heard about some of his colleagues. Suppose I could have trusted him – might he have been helpful in guiding me to better choices? He was silenced as a teacher because he sensed the depth of my mistrust. I was silenced as a student at a critical moment, when I greatly needed a trustworthy adult, because I mistrusted his intentions.
And if this happened to me, then perhaps it happened to you – trust was lacking, a critical moment passed, and the right words were not said. That was the culture and atmosphere of the School in the 1970s as I experienced it. I set this kind of subtle but important harm to the fabric of the School alongside the direct harms my schoolmates suffered and the wretchedness of certain teachers’ transgressions, as part of what our group of alumni and alumnae have sought to address with the School for 17 years. We hoped to help with the anguish of our friends and schoolmates. We hoped to encourage the School going forward, to do everything in its power to safeguard students from such trespasses. We hoped to ensure, for current and future SPS students, a school in which they can wholeheartedly trust in their teachers and learn not only about datives, iambic pentameter, amino acids, and logarithms, but about living a life that is, in some deep sense, good. For why else send a beloved child away from home, if not in the hope that other adults can help that child grow in ways that a parent cannot?
With all of this in my mind, I still struggle to understand the conduct of the School’s leaders in 2000 and 2001 – their apparent redirection of our aims, as stated in our first letter, away from the pursuit of the truth and toward the protection of the reputation of St. Paul’s School. It is my hope that, with the publication of this new report, a level of understanding will be reached – understanding for the sorrow and hurt of our fellow alumnae and alumni; understanding for how these transgressions diminished, in those days, what the School could be for all of us; and understanding that nothing matters more to the life of St. Paul’s than the bond of trust between students and teachers.
How Different the Experiences of Others
Might Have Been
Valerie Minton Webster '76
I was part of the second class of four-year-women at SPS (1972-76). I was also one of the students numbered in the May 20 Casner & Edwards report. Growing up in the 1960s, one of my earliest memories was learning to say "how do you do," while shaking an adult’s hand and curtsying. My fifth grade class studied Emily Post’s book of Etiquette weekly. I had grit, heading off to summer skating school in North Bay, Ontario, at 12, and climbing the Matterhorn at 18. But I also was raised to play by society’s rules – knowing implicitly that there was a double standard, that girls would be judged harshly where matters of propriety were concerned, and that how I spoke and conducted myself reflected upon my family.
If you’ll bear with me, a little further context: The 1970s was a different time from today; sexism was such an embedded part of the culture and the lack of understanding of appropriate boundaries so pervasive that most adults were unable to see teenage women as youth. As an SPS student, I went to a meeting in the home office of my English teacher, to make up a class missed for an away JV field hockey game. With his wife and child in the next room, my respected teacher molested me as we were going over a poem. I was stunned. Speechless, I left and went straight to the vice rector and reported what happened in words that, to me, were painfully explicit. I may have just said my teacher was “inappropriate,” which packed a big wallop for me, or I might have been more graphic. I cannot recall these 43 years later. What I do recall was his asking me what I had done to make my teacher behave that way. With each person I told – a St. Paul’s alum at college, a classmate, my parents – I felt more ashamed.
I am confident that today this situation would have been handled differently. I am so sorry for what is past and for all those who have been hurt and shamed. The teenager in me is angrier at the lack of concern for a traumatized – perhaps inarticulate – 16-year-old than mad at the perpetrator. Had someone listened, how different the experiences of others might have been. At the same time, I’m glad St. Paul’s is dealing with its brokenness, taking an increased measure of responsibility, and has made this report available. I am an ordained Episcopal priest and an interfaith hospital chaplain with four units of clinical pastoral education. I have learned with Joseph (Exodus 50:20) that what was intended for evil in one’s life, through God, can be used for good. I have comforted a man coming out of anesthesia, whose recollection of abuse suffered at the hands of a male relative had him shaking. I’ve soothed a 92-year-old woman afraid God will judge her because, at 13, a soldier raped her – and she was too terrified to fight back. Facing our falling and failing, holding the pain and shame, opening ourselves to healing and new growth are messy – and real. We need to do it as individuals and learn to do it as institutions. In the words of Franciscan Richard Rohr, if we don’t transform our pain, we will transmit it. I am committed through social advocacy and action to making things better for the girls and women of my time, and for those who will come after me. Thanks to the excellent education I received at St. Paul’s, today I continue to work on behalf of girls and women.
Building Healthy Relationships
Whit Ford '75
In the spring of 2000, our form gathered for its 25th reunion at SPS. During weekend conversations, several formmates revealed that either they, or someone they knew, had been sexually abused or harassed by a faculty member at SPS. In the months that followed, formmates documented allegations of sexual abuse that spanned more than three decades. The next year, a delegation from our form presented some signed accounts of abuse to St. Paul’s, and informed the School that many additional allegations existed. The School’s partial response to our accounts is documented in the recent Casner & Edwards report. This much more thorough report, coupled with the School’s more specific offers of support for victims, is the sort of response we had hoped for 17 years ago.
Despite their frustrations at the time, a number of formmates – all parents, some victims – continued to work with the School to revise the student handbook, review policies, and raise money to establish an endowed fund. At our 30th reunion in 2005 we announced the Building Healthy Relationships Fund (BHRF) as a vehicle for raising awareness of and preventing future adult-student sexual abuse. In 2009, after two years of negotiations with our form, St. Paul’s established the Building Healthy Relationships Committee (BHRC), responsible for BHRF expenditures and “planning, implementing and eval-uating programs related to the establishment and maintenance of healthy relationships within the SPS community.” Our agreement specifies that three members of this committee must be “external” (not remunerated by the School) and may be nominated by our form, with all other members appointed by SPS.
Since 2012, when the BHRC first met, St. Paul’s has expanded its “boundary violation” training for faculty and students. The fact that policy violations have been reported by both faculty and students provides evidence that the training has been effective. Actions taken by the School to enforce the policies have been reported to the BHRC.As social interaction increasingly takes place electronically, it becomes less visible. In June 2016, the School hosted a three-day symposium, “Empathy, Intimacy, and Technology in a Boarding School Environment.” The idea for this germinated in a 2014 BHRC meeting, and led to participants from 50 schools gathering “to form recommendations on best practices to foster healthy interpersonal relationships within school communities.” I encourage you to read through the symposium report (www.sps.edu/SymposiumReport).
Our form’s agreement with the School specifies that BHRF annual income should first fund “new” efforts to foster healthy adult-student relationships, so that St. Paul’s might regularly improve on what already is being done. To date, BHRF income has been able to offer partial funding for a pilot workshop program for four dorm faculty advising teams; development of a conceptual framework for the Building Healthy Cultures Initiative; and planning and implementation of Bystander Leadership Training.
Most of my interests arose at SPS as a student, ASP intern, and one-year faculty member. While my memories of SPS are often vague, those of some odd interactions with former faculty named in the Casner & Edwards report remain vivid. If my trivial experiences made me feel somewhat shut down around some faculty, I cannot imagine how abuse victims must have felt when their courageous reports were not addressed by those in positions of responsibility. My formmates and I hope our advocacy will help reduce the likelihood of future abuse at the School.
The Building Healthy Relationships Committee welcomes fresh faces and perspectives. If this work interests you, please contact the School to learn more. The Building Healthy Relationships Fund also welcomes new contributions, so that oversight and improvement of adult-student relationships can remain an annual focus at
St. Paul’s School.
Confronting the Past and Learning: A Reflection on the Casner & Edwards Report
Elizabeth Ashamu Deng '02
Though none of the incidents described in the Casner & Edwards report took place during my time at St. Paul’s, I was distressed to read how the School’s administration while I was a student failed to address the history of sexual abuse openly and transparently. In my work as a human rights lawyer, I have repeatedly seen how attempts to hide past wounds only allow them to fester. For six years, I have documented human rights abuses in South Sudan, a country whose past and present are scarred by successive cycles of brutal violence. Much of my work has focused on the need for “trans-itional justice” – measures such as criminal prosecutions, reparations, truth commissions, vetting processes, memorialization, and institutional reforms that aim to overcome legacies of human rights abuses.
Transitional justice is a familiar topic in countries such as Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Cambodia that have experienced mass atrocities. But while reading the Casner & Edwards report, detailing sexual abuse at St. Paul’s, I couldn’t help but approach the sad history of our school with the same conceptual framework in mind. And, indeed, the concept of transitional justice is equally applicable to institutions like St. Paul’s in working to confront troubling pasts. In many respects, the report is analogous to a report of a truth-commission. The School’s efforts to provide counseling and compensation are measures of reparation for the psychological consequences of the abuse. To its credit, St. Paul’s also has made institutional reforms to help prevent further incidents and is advocating for state legislative reform to facilitate criminal accountability. It is evident that the current leadership of the School is committed to change.
Transitional justice provides a framework to conceptualize efforts that already have been made, and also helps envision other initiatives that could be taken. As an institution dedicated to learning, one of these should involve integrating lessons from the School’s own past into the academic curriculum. One way St. Paul’s could do this is by offering a seminar on confronting the past that uses St. Paul’s as a case study, alongside examples of how other institutions and countries have dealt with painful histories. Students could, for example, examine Georgetown University’s efforts to confront its legacy of slavery; the Catholic Church’s handling of its legacy of sexual abuse; and the growing movement in the U.S. to remove Confederate monuments.
The goal would be to contribute to building a student body more equipped to confront wrongs and to challenge teachers and administrators who may brush them aside. It could also cultivate further thinking about ways the history recounted in the Casner & Edwards report can be further addressed. Beyond sexual abuse, such a course could provide a forum for reflecting on and engaging with other negative institutional cultures or practices, both past and present, such as hazing or racial discrimination.
I am heartened that the School’s current leadership seems committed to accepting the findings of the report as part of St. Paul’s institutional history and taking lessons from it to build a stronger and better school. I hope that, in addition to this, St. Paul’s will give current students the opportunity to analyze and critique the School’s long and continuing journey to address its own past, and to continuously help envision better ways of confronting it.
Reflections of an SPS Parent
Jonathan Tait '72, P'19
I attended St. Paul’s from 1966 to 1972, and I am now the father of two rising Fifth Formers. I feel fortunate about my connections with SPS, and it was therefore painful to read the Casner & Edwards report on sexual misconduct at St. Paul’s. Two of my former dorm masters, a former teacher, and a crew coach all were named – including an admired teacher who introduced me to French literature and trained my accent to be “presque parfait” to the demanding ears of Parisian listeners. When one learns that former teachers and leaders fell so far short of the values we learned at SPS, what are the implications for today?
If you ask me as a parent whether I feel my children are safe in the current School, the answer would be a firm yes. When my wife, Katherine, and I visited SPS in the fall of 2015, after our children had been there only six weeks, we were surprised by how many people already knew them – and not just their teachers and advisers. For example, kitchen and safety staff already had come to recognize them, and were keeping a benevolent eye out for their welfare. This is a community that clearly cares for its students. From everything we see and hear, the formal system and the informal culture are completely aligned to make student safety and welfare the paramount consideration in school life.
Most religious traditions provide ways for people to acknowledge guilt, do penance, and achieve redemption. If we follow this analogy, how can SPS address its own institutional guilt? SPS is now engaging in a very public act of penance by acknowledging its responsibility for grievous failures of the past. Perhaps most important for the future will be institutional redemption through good works. As a parent, I see the good the School is now doing for my children, their friends, and classmates. The classroom challenges and extracurricular challenges are as great as ever. More importantly, the faculty and staff are dedicated to the welfare of the students, and there is a very sincere commitment to preventing the mistakes of the past from being repeated. As each student is guided kindly and carefully through the School, and along his or her journey to adulthood, a little bit more of the stain from past misdeeds will be washed away. Can our school ever be spotless and perfect? I think not. But by working to stay forever on a path to betterment, the School can keep the faith with all those who treasure the values, the learning, and the memories they carried away from Millville.