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St. George’s school culture – bullying, rules, silence, discretion: RI Public Radio

St. George’s school culture – bullying, rules, silence, discretion: RI Public Radio

Rhode Island National Public Radio has found alumni and former teachers willing to talk about the culture at St. George’s School. The school has been at the center of allegations of past sexual misconduct and school administration malfeasance in addressing these allegations at the time.

RIPR:

One student who graduated in 1970, and didn’t want to be recorded for this story, said during his time at St. George’s, bullying was ubiquitous. He believes faculty knew about at least some of the bullying, but viewed hardship as a way to shape boys into men.

This student describes being pinned down by students, who cut his hair and threw him, fully clothed, into the school’s pool. Decades later, he experienced a panic attack during a casual visit to campus.

Ballard remembers nothing like that, but both were surprised to find out about widespread allegations of sexual abuse by faculty, and in a few cases, students.

“It’s very painful to think that this [rape allegations] was allowed to go on, and this was not spoken of, and this was kept under wraps, and this was very discreetly swept under the rug,” said [a former teacher,] Jennifer Day.

“I think the faculty was aware of these traditions, and accepted it,” said [alum Kyle] Hence. “It was just part of St. George’s culture. It was just passed down through generations of students.”

At least one student from that era says there was an unspoken code of silence, and it was understood that students were never to tell on one another.

Only one teacher is interviewed. Who isn’t interviewed may tell us as much as who is. Was RIPR unable to find others from the period willing to speak on the record?

Some have called for wide dialog for repentance and reconciliation including all Episcopal schools. The Governing Board of The National Association of Episcopal Schools meets April 21-22 in New Orleans.

Read or listen to it all.

Click on the tag St George’s School for our previous stories.


Photo by : Shawn Boyle  http://shawnboylephoto.com

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Mary Davenport Davis

My parents made significant financial sacrifices so that my siblings and I could attend Episcopal schools (on significant scholarships), and my first job was as a teacher in an Episcopal school. I am deeply grateful for my time with these institutions, and I did not encounter a culture that encouraged or tolerated sexual abuse. That being said, I'm a generation younger than many of those posting here--I was in high school in the early 2000s--and it is certainly my understanding that the culture of many Episcopal schools was very different earlier on (and apparently continues to be so in many places).

Independent school culture is a law unto itself, and it likes it that way. This can be a good thing, where schools are able to resist cookie-cutter methods of instruction in favor of a deep care for the whole self of the child; it can also mean that a school's culture can become deeply self-protective and resistant to any kind of external criticism. I've seen schools protect teachers and staff who were openly racist, sexist, or simply destructively mean. I've also seen schools protect gifted and wonderful weirdos, students and teachers alike, who had trouble finding a place in the outside world.

We seem to be in a moment where sins from long ago are finally coming to light. This is very, very important; and I pray that Episcopal school administrators have the courage to reckon with these sins and the generations-deep scars they leave, so as to keep offering their unique gifts

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Anonymous Parent

From my experience, there is significant pressure to not support and back up teens. During our parent orientation, the head of school said, "Don't believe what your child says about us and we won't believe what they say about you(chuckle, chuckle)". At the safe church training I went to a stones throw away from that school, the priest said that children up to a certain age could always be believed about sexual assault but teenagers had a tendency to lie.

As to appropriate policies and procedures, the first time we approached the head of school with a couple of concerns, (not dangerous, more sort of lapses of ethics) he almost came out and said he didn't believe us. The terrible thing though was by noon the next day the teacher in question had approached all my child's friends and asked what was wrong with so and so, poling them about any problems they thought our child had. When we told them that we would have thought they would have had a policy against that sort Breach of confidentiality they said that we were not accustomed to the nature of community and care they had for the students in the school. It was all very Orwellian.

Down the road something fairly bizarre did happen which was sexual harassment. It involved the son of the president of the venture capital club from one of the feeding metropolitan areas. For the sake of our child and based on our previous experience we did not pursue, but left the school at the earliest reasonable time.

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Leslie Marshall

name withheld-- thank you for sharing your own painful, personal experience.

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Eric Bonetti

What I found striking about the article is how much the overall milieu at the school sounds like many other entities in our church (and others, to be fair).

How often do our vestries, standing committees, rectors and bishops politely look the other way in the face of misconduct? "Discretion" and a "calm presence" become the watchwords of the day, when as John points out, the word should be "accountability."

Nor do we fully process our mistakes. We are falling all over ourselves in the wake of the Heather Cook incident to say, "Um, gee, maybe we should drink a little less," when the real issue is that no one was willing to step up, be accountable, look the problem in the eye, and take a principled stand. Why? In part, because the person who does so will be ostracized, bullied, and told they are unappreciative.

John, great article. And excellent comments and discussion.

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Helen Kromm

"I do not know whether NAES takes seriously standards of The Episcopal Church with respect to adults working with children"

I don't know either. I would like to think they do, but I see no evidence to support that. Of course, it's a moot point. From their web site:

"NAES neither reports to nor is governed by the General Convention of The Episcopal Church, the Church's governing body. We are a fully independent organization."

And also from their web site:

"As a voluntary membership services organization, NAES does not accredit its members, nor does it establish or have statutory oversight of the academic and religious programs or governance of any Episcopal school."

So you have this organization that calls itself the National Association of Episcopal Schools. And yet in terms of governance is entirely independent of the governing structures of the church. In addition to being entirely removed from the governance of the church, their mission statement clearly states they have no authority in terms of governance or sanction of any school.

In other words, and in light of the most egregious wrongdoing, the organization is utterly useless and mute.

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