Editorial, Issue 9 — Volume CVIII

Hear Us.

Editor’s note: This article was written in consultation with the affected young women, primarily freshmen. Any detailed interactions come from first-hand experiences.

There are roughly 334 students in the Upper School at Parker. Fifty percent of these students are female.

One month ago, Parker devoted five afternoons to the discussion of gender issues globally, nationally, and within our school building. Gender Week was constructed by a committee of teachers and administrators beginning in fall 2018, its purpose being to educate the student population, provide young women and men with a space to share experiences, and encourage all to make the school a more safe, inclusive, and trusting space.

No one could have predicted the outcome of this week.

During the course of Gender Week, more than 20 brave freshman girls realized the severity of the harassment they had experienced during their time in the Middle and Upper Schools and gathered the courage to report this behavior to their administration.

According to the girls, in the report, a letter written and signed by the group detailing their experience, more than 80% of the girls in their grade had been victims of this harassment. In coming forward, these girls personified the school’s mission. They acted with “empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders,” exactly as the school encourages.

Unfortunately, our administration does not seem to agree.

According to the girls, our school did not recognize the courage it took to come forward. The school did not make an effort to ensure the girls felt safe. The school did not tell the girls they believed them. The school did not thank the girls for their unwavering bravery or attempt to empathize with their experiences.

The girls who signed the letter immediately met with a counselor and Assistant Principal Ruth Jurgensen. The freshmen reported that the counselor and Jurgensen told them the incidents of harassment were reported incorrectly, too late, and targeted a student. Thus, the school maintained, the girls’ claims were invalid.

The following day, the freshmen were summoned into a meeting with the school’s attorney, to discuss how to legally and “correctly” report sexual harassment.

Furthermore, the freshman girls say that Jurgensen told them that a perpetrator could not be faulted as there is no anti-harassment conversation in the Middle School curriculum.

Perhaps unintentionally, this situation has been grossly mishandled by the school. In their reaction, Parker’s administration has sent a message to these girls, to the girls in the Upper School, and to all girls: the fault is with the victims and not with any harasser, assaulter, or predator.

This is unacceptable.

Parker claims that it strives to be an institution of inclusion and an environment where students feel respected and safe. The “Inclusivity and Dignity” portion of its mission statement states “we are an intimate and expansive school that affirms the ways students can flourish when they feel known, appreciated and supported by equitable access to the fullness of a Parker education.”

The administration’s response contradicts the mission of the school. For many of us, Parker is no longer a source of pride, respect, and safety. There is no honor in representing a school whose administration prompts young women to feel as though they should have never come forward about sexual harassment. Those who claim to represent the best interests of Parker and its students have cast a cloud of shame over our institution.

At this moment, the leaders of this school do not seem to see the worth of their students, nor do they hear the complaints, experiences, and traumas of their students. These girls do not “feel known, appreciated and supported” by the leaders in this school building.

We begin each September with a reading from Corinthians that reinforces the unity and community of our school. “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

When some women feel unsafe, we all feel unsafe. When some women feel unheard, we all feel unheard. When any subset of students have lost faith in their administration, the students have lost faith in their administration.

Until every student within Parker’s four walls feels safe, the administration is failing. Each and every member of our community deserves to go to a school where they feel respected, valued, and protected from harassment, assault, and inappropriate behavior.

The administration needs to refocus its energies and priorities. The safety of 80% of the freshman girls is in jeopardy. Parker claims to be an institution that believes women and puts its students first. We have yet to see that in practice. What does that say about the values and interests of our administration?

Parker’s administrators need to make an active effort to ensure that each and every member of the student body feels appreciated, heard, and believed. That is what this school stands for. While one member of the community remains voiceless, we all remain voiceless.