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An alum of St Paul’s reviews the case and the culture

An alum of St Paul’s reviews the case and the culture

Katherine Tarbox writes at Quartz of her experience of St Paul’s School and sexual exploitation. In particular, she notes that

At the heart of the matter is the “senior salute,” described by the media as a competition among upperclassmen at the storied, elite boarding school to take the virginity of new female students. This has been described as a decades-old tradition dating back to the William Randolph Hearst days, but it’s actually a new development for life at St. Paul’s.

 The “senior salute” was not part of the culture when I attended St. Paul’s from 1997 to 2000, nor was it around for students who graduated just five years ago. The conditions that enabled this deplorable lie to take hold are not unique to one boarding school, but are part of a centuries-old custom that the well-educated and privileged adhere to. They don’t discuss sexual crimes, therefore, consequences of such behavior are misunderstood or ignored.

Tarbox notes the explosion of cases and investigations involving sexual assault, exploitation, and a culture of oblivion in educational institutions in recent years. She blames “institutional silence,” and alleges that, “Sexual misconduct is not limited to students.” 

Although she writes of the “sacred ground” of St Paul’s School, Tarbox is clear in her assessment that institutional blindness has allowed evil to flourish.

The problem at St. Paul’s has become too atrocious that it has no choice but to be transparent and address it.

I have confidence that the headmaster will step up to the challenge to make sure that victims are treated with dignity and these crimes are punished appropriately. And in some ways this case represents a huge victory for future victims of sexual assaults, in that the case is being handled within the judicial system and not quietly within St. Paul’s. But I am also confident that other schools will allow more victims to be raped before they step up to the task.
Read the whole essay here.

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Brian Sholl

Thanks, Helen.

Are you naive? No more than the rest of us. But remember that there was a day when no one thought the “divine right of kings” could ever be challenged.

And here we are.

You suggest TEC relinquish its connection to these centers of money and power. I concur. Maybe the best we can hope for is an actual conversation of what that would mean.

If a bishop can confer this designation — affiliation with TEC — maybe we should have a church-wide conversation of just what kind of institutions TEC wants to affiliate with. Could our bishops consider designating this affiliation upon institutions more aligned where with we are now? Or maybe these kind of affiliations no longer serve TEC?

So much digital ink is spilled on this site and others about how “out of touch” we are. And we ARE. So why don’t we take up these questions?

David Allen

You need to figure out the proper forum to have the conversation and then start having the conversation.

Just saying that it needs to happen won’t get us anywhere.

David Allen

Abuela, I was thinking along the lines of a TEC body that has the authority to change something such as this. We can certainly begin a conversation here at the Cafe, and I would hope to see more comments here in this thread about how folks feel, but I don’t see this actually changing the situation. So I am encouraging the action that would.

June Butler

Is the Episcopal Café not the proper forum to begin a discussion, David?

Helen Kromm

I suppose to an extent “scared ground” is left to the eye of the beholder, but I’m left scratching my head as to why the author of this piece believes Saint Paul’s is “sacred ground”. It’s even more puzzling when she describes the loneliness and desolation that was inflicted upon her in this place. I would even go as far to say that this place wouldn’t be sacred ground even if you leave out the crimes, improprieties, financial wrongdoing, mismanagement, etc that have plagued this place in the last ten to fifteen years.

I’m also wondering by what criteria she arrives at the conclusion that Mike Hirschfeld is the right person to lead this institution out of this debacle. As far as I can tell, all Hirschfeld has brought to the table are soothing words and bromides.

Hirschfeld was elevated to the position of rector at this school for one very simple reason, and that reason has absolutely nothing to do with exemplary qualifications as an educator. Hirchfeld was an institutional politician. He was the go to guy for alumni relations and fundraising. That was his area of expertise, and that is how he arrived at the position he currently holds.

The author of this piece is talking about the same Mike Hirschfeld that on at least two occasions heard students discussing the practice of “slaying”, and did nothing.

This is also the same Mike Hirschfeld who on numerous occasions has reached out to essentially everyone that is part of this institution and encouraged them not to speak with the press. Who labels press inquiries, and presumably any inquiries as “unfortunate”.

Reading this, you might assume I have an awful lot of animosity when it comes to Mike Hirschfeld. In truth, I really don’t. I don’t think he’s evil, at least I have no reason to believe that. Unqualified and incompetent- yes. Evil- probably not.

Hirschfeld is a bit player in all of this drama, corruption, and crime. He didn’t create it, and he certainly isn’t the solution. And frankly, he probably isn’t long for this position no matter how all of this unfolds.

Hirschfeld probably knows this better than anyone else. This is a guy with enough political savvy and chops to parley a position as alumni coordinator into the rector-ship of the entire institution. Whatever might be missing in terms of qualifications or ability for his position, a lack of political smarts and savvy is not among his shortcomings.

Hirschfeld is actually of value in the current crisis, and he has to know that, as well as the fact that his tenure will probably be short lived. He also knows that if he plays this properly, he will be taken care of when the time comes for him to step down.

There has been an enormous amount of bad news. And you have to assume that even more is coming. The “senior salute” was not a solo activity that was engaged in by this one rapist. So you have to figure more students will be implicated, and this will get uglier.

So let Hirschfeld take the heat. Let him flounder around and wave in this very stiff breeze. Why bring in someone new into this horrible morass of a place? So they’ll use Hirschfeld as a lightning rod, and when the time is right dispose of him.

That is the nature of these things, and I predict that is exactly what will happen when Hirschfeld is discarded. Of all the people involved in this drama, he has to know that better than anyone. He also knows better than anyone that he will be taken care of. That is also the nature of these things. If he plays his part, the alumni will remember and shelter one of their own- particularly one who takes one for the team.

So, at least in my opinion, Hirschfeld didn’t create the problem, and he certainly isn’t the solution. Broadly speaking, I believe the problem is precisely the culture, or as Hirschfeld puts it, the “air”. This is a culture that encourages and breeds in young people a sense of entitlement and ego that frankly knows no bounds. That approach is never going to yield an abundance of good, and we can easily see the evil it breeds.

Personally, I believe we would all be better off if institutions like this one simply didn’t exist. I believe a great deal of good would result if they simply closed the doors of this place, shuttered it, and it ceased to exist as a place of learning. I’d actually believe that even if we weren’t talking about this latest scandal and crime. Because I also believe that any institution that takes a select and small number of young people, and reminds them of their elite status almost daily, is serving them and us poorly. Brainwashing them to believe that they are so eminently special and above others.

Of course, my belief that Saint Paul’s should close and cease to exist is meaningless. And I know that isn’t going to happen. If it ever does happen, I don’t expect to see that in my lifetime.

So, I’m a realist in that regard. Having said that, there is one thing I would like to see. And I don’t believe this is unrealistic.

I would like to see my church discontinue it’s affiliation with this place. I know that’s a stretch. It’s reaching. But it isn’t impossible, or at least it shouldn’t be. Yes, I know the Rector is also the brother of the Bishop of the diocese. So there clearly is an element of nepotism here, and that is an added difficulty.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out exactly what it means for this school to be affiliated with my church. Or more precisely, what it would take to end that affiliation.

The only thing I could glean in all of my searching I found at the National Association of Episcopal Schools. And according to them, the only criteria required to be affiliated as an Episcopal School is the consent of the Bishop of the diocese. So if that is the case, it would follow that the only criteria it would take to end that affiliation would be the Bishop of the diocese ending it.

I don’t for a minute believe Bishop Hirschfeld is going to suddenly step up to the plate, and pull the affiliation out from under his brother’s feet. But I do have to say that the sooner this happens, the better for all of us. Who knows, maybe he can find the courage to speak to some of this after his brother takes the inevitable dive and exits this place

Granted, maybe I’m naive. But until someone can answer why this affiliation exists, and why it is keeping with our beliefs, I’m going to raise my voice and call for this wherever and however I can.

June Butler

Helen, I agree with you that these schools should cease to exist, but, since we know this will not happen, it’s a mystery to me why the church continues their association with them.

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