Rape Case Puts Focus on Culture of Elite St. Paul’s School

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UPDATE: Day 2 trial news here

St. Paul’s School, an elite prep school affiliated with the Episcopal Church is in the news for its culture of rape of girls and young women. A practice called “the senior salute” encourages young men to pursue sexual conquest as part of the culture of the school.

New York Times:

The case has already raised uncomfortable questions about the connection between privilege and sexual assault, and between sexual assault in American colleges and in high schools. …

The administration at St. Paul’s School has said little about the case. “Allegations about our culture are not emblematic of our school or our values, our rules, or the people that represent our student body, alumni, faculty and staff,” said a statement posted Monday to the school’s website. School officials declined requests for further comment.

Mr. Labrie, however, did not appear to be a troubled student. When the alleged rape occurred, on May 30, 2014, he was a senior who had already been accepted at Harvard, where he planned to study theology. He was a prefect too, given extra responsibility for helping younger students. Prosecutors said he also relished the gamesmanship of the St. Paul’s Senior Salute. According to an affidavit reviewed by The Associated Press, Mr. Labrie told the police that he was “trying to be No. 1 in the sexual scoring at St. Paul’s School.”

Washington Post:

…Before they graduate, senior men at St. Paul’s competed to sleep with as many younger students as possible. “Score” was kept in permanent marker on a wall behind the washing machines, then, after the school kept painting over it, in an online forum.

Labrie was “trying to be number one,” he acknowledged to police.

This week, Labrie will stand trial for several felonies, including sexual assault and use of a computer to lure the girl to him, the Concord Monitor reported. But the case is also expected to cast a harsh light on the campus culture at St. Paul’s, where, according to an affidavit cited by the Monitor, administrators have been combating a culture of “sexual scoring.”

 


 

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30 Responses to "Rape Case Puts Focus on Culture of Elite St. Paul’s School"
  1. HONOR CODE
    To live honorably, we as members of the St. Paul’s community strive to be truthful, respectful, and kind.

    Seems that this "honor code" wasn't taken very seriously.

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    • Yes, the honor code wasn't taken seriously. But by whom?

      The most troubling part of this piece, at least to me, is the reflexive, knee-jerk reaction to protect the institution.

      "The administration at St. Paul’s School has said little about the case. “Allegations about our culture are not emblematic of our school or our values, our rules, or the people that represent our student body, alumni, faculty and staff,” said a statement posted Monday to the school’s website. School officials declined requests for further comment."

      This fits an all to familiar pattern. A pattern that the Episcopal Church has honed with extraordinary expertise. In the face of outrageous wrong-doing, this reflexive instinct to circle the wagons, remain quiet, and protect the institution (and of course those in power), at all costs.

      The question that begs to be asked, and the question even if it is asked you know will not receive an answer, is what did you believe was happening within your culture when you were repeatedly painting over this scorecard behind the washing machines?

      Was this not a clue that something was seriously wrong within this culture? Does this not speak to the culture?

      I wonder how long it will be before St. Paul's sees the need to hire an outside consultant to handle the crisis management and fallout from this. Perhaps the same consultant that the Maryland Diocese hired after the Heather Cook incident- to go out and do battle for them in the court of public opinion. Who knows?

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      • The school's administration may have said little to the press about the case, but in the past year, the rector has sent 9 messages to students, parents, and alumni about it, all of which are posted on the school's website.
        http://www.sps.edu/Rector?rc=0

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      • Paul, first of all, my thanks for posting that link. I've visited the SPS website several times, and I hadn't noticed that link. Some of those announcements I've already seen in the media, and at least one of them was recently posted to the SPS Facebook page.

        My opinion of most of those releases is that they are troubling.

        For starters, three of those releases, or one third of them, are specifically designed to discourage students, alumni, faculty, and staff from having any communication with the press.

        Most recently, dated August 18, 2015 and directed exclusively at Alumni, is this:

        "I am also extending the School’s resources to you in the event you are contacted by the media. Any media inquiries may be directed to Sarah Aldag, our director of communications, at 603-229-4676 or saldag@sps.edu."

        A similar message was sent to students on August 1, 2014. This message was sent to students prior to their return to campus.

        Most troubling of all, in my opinion, is the message sent to students and parents dated August 17th of this year, a quote from which is:

        "It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, to hear that some reporters are trying to secure comments from SPS students. Sarah Aldag, our director of communications, can be reached at 603-229-4676 or saldag@sps.edu if you have questions or concerns about how to handle media inquiries."

        And the question I have to ask myself is why is this unfortunate? And precisely who is this unfortunate for?

        Certainly, SPS has not been forthcoming regarding this case. So this begs the question as to why Hirschfeld feels that inquiries made by an independent press- inquiries that are attempting to reveal the circumstances of this case, and discover the nature of the culture of this institution, are "unfortunate".

        Frankly, I don't see anything "unfortunate" about this at all. If there is any misfortune that could potentially result from these inquiries, I suspect that misfortune would fall upon Hirschfeld and the institution.

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  2. St. Paul's school is associated with the Episcopal Church, but it is not the Episcopal Church. Mr. Labrie has brought shame upon the school, the Church, his family, and himself. Rape culture is not a new problem, in society or the Church. However, how members of the school and Church deal with rape culture will determine how God's call to love and care for one another is truth in reality or words in a book.

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    • That's a point well taken. But I'm wondering, in practical terms, precisely what that means. What role does the church play in this school?

      As for the school itself, I wonder how they view this distinction. Because the second sentence from their welcome page begins with this quote: "We are an Episcopal school".

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  3. I hope his reputation follows him, and ensures that he isn't ever a candidate for the priesthood. I suppose this is a boarding school? A school where the elite dump their children, so that they can "play" and not be bothered to parent.

    [Jenny: please sign your last name as well as your first when you comment as per our guidelines. Thanks, editor]

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    • You are making a grievous and erroneous generalization by saying a boarding school is "A school where the elite dump their children, so that they can “play” and not be bothered to parent." First off, most boarding schools offer generous financial aid to students who cannot afford the fees. And many students thrive at boarding schools who would not thrive elsewhere. And every boarding school I know of -- many -- parents are VERY involved. To be sure, boarding schools used to be playgrounds for the rich, but those days are long gone. Indeed, the student involved in the current St. Paul's case was a scholarship student.

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  4. Wondered when Café would get around to this story. I first saw it in The Guardian on Monday, then the CBS evening news on Tuesday and now, finally, on Café on Wednesday. Is there any way for a non-moderator to forward a story?

    My first reaction to the story was how much the school's response sounded like that of GTS's when the Dean and Trustees threw the faculty under the bus. The second was reflection on the privileges of privilege, none of which enhanced the image of St. Paul's nor the Episcopal Church. Then there are the lives destroyed no matter how soft the landing nor how clever the lawyers.

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    • In the header of the website there is a link to the Submissions page. There you will find details of how to contact us for a story idea or an original work you'd like for us to consider publishing.

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    • We were aware of the story. We shared email behind the scene about the progress of the story.

      I for one, was hesitant to do this story, because the comments in this type of story tend to become mired in a lot of negativity. Folks come out of the woodwork to take potshots at their favorite pet peeve or hobby against TEC and things Anglican/Episcopalian. This sort of story takes a lot of energy from a volunteer staff to monitor the comments.

      Bro David

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  5. Frankly, heads need to roll. It is impossible to believe that people in positions of power were unaware. Sexual misconduct is an expulsion level offence at any boarding school, and until those responsible are held to account, we need to keep asking questions.

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  6. By the way, Café editors--I had to search to find where this "St. Paul's School" is. There's more than one.

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  7. I pray for justice. However, this fits the Episcopal stereotype of uber wealthy, priviledged, where-2-or-3-are-gathered-there-is -a-5th, out-of-touch image our denomination carries. Unless already independently wealthy, I know of no cleric that is able to afford to send their children to a school such as this. In my diocese there is an Episcopal Academy, a gorgeous campus offering those who attend a top-notch education. Our bishop sits on the board. I live in a city that is designated as one of the most concentrated areas of urban poverty, where most children (mostly of color) do not graduate HS. I wish I had a point to this missive. It sucks to serve in such a wealthy denomination where, like real life, it's real benefits are enjoyed by a select few.

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    • It would be impossible for me to agree more with your statement.

      This is a school where tuition is $52K+ per year.

      And they say “We are an Episcopal school”

      This is a school with twenty-seven members on the board of trustees. Other than the rector, only two of them are educators. The majority are investors, hedge fund managers, and financial advisers.

      And they say “We are an Episcopal school”

      This is a school where there are only 525 students. A student - faculty ratio of 11-1, and a school where the faculty live on campus. A school where the seniors kept a running scorecard of their sexual conquests in a washroom, and the administration response was to simply and repeatedly paint over it. They tel us they weren't aware of the "culture"...

      And they say “We are an Episcopal school”

      This is a school with a five-hundred million dollar endowment (which I suppose explains the consistency on the board of trustees). With the urgent need for funds in our communities for education, the endowment alone nauseates me.

      And they say “We are an Episcopal school”

      I'm an Episcopalian. This is not my school. This is not the Christian way. This is not of Christ.

      And that is the point.

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      • Thank you, Helen.

        We're moving past the "nones" into the deep territory of the "dones." "Done with all this church affiliated stuff -- power, status, money." The unholy trinity that alienates.

        This connects with the important post on mindfulness in Buddhism published above. Why should Christians believe that Christianity has a tradition of mindfulness? Our institutions tell us otherwise. But we do. Evidently we're not uniform in teaching it to our fellow Christians.

        More Cynthia Bourgeault or Martin Laird, fewer power brokers.

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  8. I teach at a boarding school in which there was a well documented sexual assault two years ago.

    All of the students involves were expelled.

    All of the staff responsible for those students at the time of the incident were fired.

    The head of evening programs overseeing that staff was fired.

    That was one incident. You deal with this by ripping it out at the root. Only way.

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  9. Jay Croft: I posted the story and there is a link if you click on the name of the school in first sentence. The link takes you to the homepage of the school.

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    • Yes, Ann, but good journalistic practice puts the location and other facts somewhere near the front. One shouldn't have to dig into the links.

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  10. My son will be attending another Episcopal school as a 9th grader this fall. So I used the St. Paul's story as a "teaching moment" with him. I' sure I could have said more or said it better, but here is what I wrote to my son this morning:

    Dear [son's name],

    Please read the entire article in the New York Times about the rape at St. Paul’s that I sent to you and please read this message.

    The boy who is on trial for rape seems like a bright, normal kid from a good family who made a very bad, life-altering mistake at a young age. He seems to have misplaced his moral compass and as you head off to school I want to make sure you never do the same. I know you might feel that you would never do anything like what he did, but before this happened I'm quite sure he felt the same way.

    It is a sad truth that among young men girls can sometimes be seen as objects for conquest. And when several young men are gathered together in one place like a dorm or a locker room, things are often said that can create a toxic macho atmosphere that can even sweep up otherwise good kids like you and that boy at St. Paul’s.

    I think the best way to avoid being swept up in that kind of thing is to be alert to it from the start and to walk away from it when it begins. You can do that in a subtle way by saying “I’ve got to go. See you later,” or you can be a moral leader by saying something like “Hey, guys! This conversation is going in a bad direction. I’m outta here.” The latter course might subject you to immediate ridicule, but in the long run it will earn you the admiration and respect of your peers and may help some of them avoid doing something harmful to others and themselves.

    I’m pretty realistic about the prospects of your going to church very often once you leave home for school. I know you will probably choose to do something else more often than go to church. But I do hope that having gone to church all your life so far that you will remember the basic points. When he was asked what the basic rules are Jesus said there are really only two of them and they’re pretty simple: 1.) Love God with all your heart and mind; and 2.) Love your neighbor (i.e. everyone, no exceptions) as yourself. In our baptismal vows which we repeat whenever we witness a baptism we promise to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

    If you think of or speak of or treat a girl only as the means for your own physical pleasure without regard for what she wants or her inner feelings (which, in the moment may not be entirely clear to you — or to her, for that matter), then you are not loving your neighbor as yourself or respecting her dignity. If you engage in a conversation that treats a girl as an object instead of a human being who is, just like you, a beloved child of God, then you are not loving your neighbor as yourself. So, this is not about sex — which is a good thing — it’s about respecting the dignity of another person.

    The very same moral rule that always and in every case makes it wrong to lump all Muslims into the same category as a terrorist, or to use the “N word" when referring to a black person also makes it wrong to think, speak, or act as if a girl were simply a physical object. That is never OK. Never.

    I know you know all this, but I think the boy at St. Paul’s knew this too. Yet he allegedly made a terribly wrong choice probably due to overwhelming pressure from peers. I hope and pray that you will always be on your guard so that you never make that mistake, because if you do it will break our hearts and it will diminish you in the eyes of others, whether they say so or not.

    You are known among your friends and teachers as a leader and a really good kid. Be that kind of kid at school and all your life thereafter. Continue to make me and mom proud of you.

    All my love,

    Dad

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    • Steve, thanks for the example.

      Another way to embody respect for the dignity of others is to begin a spiritual practice of contemplative prayer. There are a lot of resources out there for meditation.

      Here's one place:

      http://www.contemplative.org/contemplative-practice/centering-prayer/

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      • Hmm. Contemplative prayer for teenagers? I would love to think that idea would get traction, but I'm dubious. I have introduced contemplative prayer to college students and even that was a big challenge. I'm not ruling it out, but......

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  11. I have only a comment on the criticism of Episcopal boarding schools as places for wealthy socialites to get rid of parental responsibilities. My son went to a very different Episcopal school ( applied at St Paul's ) because he desparately needed a different academic and social context than our high-octane public school provided . I could afford the absurdly high tuition, and I'm glad I did. Many of these schools do great work, and I am appalled that critics bash these schools with no knowledge of each one's specific mission. To the point of this post: adolescents do vicious and stupid stuff, and perhaps the school is attempting to do its best to reform this horrible behavior . I'll hope so.

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  12. As a former college writing instructor in a town with several religion-based day schools, the St. Paul's story is a familiar one, and one common in public schools as well. More than one female student has told me about such practices. My point: We as a church and a society do a terrible job at sex education and with sexuality in general. That squeamishness does nothing to effectively counter our hyper-sexualized popular culture. Our church which has fought the same-sex and gender wars so openly, should be leading the way in crafting a Christian approach to sexuality that is more realistic, nuanced, and responsible than the fear-based, "abstinence-only," and inadequate approach popular with "conservative" denominations. Steve White's letter is a beautiful effort to address oppressive sexual games and instill a responsible Christian attitude toward sex from specifically Episcopalian point of view. The views expressed in his letter would be a good starting point for such a program.

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  13. The actions and climate of this particular "Episcopal" school are of concern, of course. But what burns me up is that there has not been one purple shirt to get in front of a camera and state with conviction that these actions and this climate is not of Jesus. The world watches. The Kingdom is chopped away bit by bit when we do nothing or spin the narrative that not only hampers justice but brings shame on our Lord's body. I am a nobody priest with no absolutely no political clout, so I hope that this is recieved in the love in which I write it. God help the bishop who doesn't go to bat for my family if something like this happens to one of my children.

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  14. Chuck, you are not a "nobody priest with no absolutely no political clout."

    By virtue of your baptism and ordination you are somebody. You've already demonstrated it by posting here.

    God doesn't make nobodies. No way.

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