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Wednesday, 6 June 2012

The Horace Mann School’s Secret History of Sexual Abuse


..."Speaking calmly and staring into the flames, he told us that when he was in eighth grade, Wright sexually assaulted him. “And not just me,” he added. “There were others.” First Wright befriended him, he said. Then he molested him. Then he pretended nothing happened.

No one knew what to say, at least at first. But then slowly, the rest of us started telling stories, too. One of the guys talked about a teacher who took him on a field trip, and then invited him into his bed in the hotel room they were sharing. (My friend fled, walking in the rain for hours until the coast seemed clear.) Another told a story about a teacher who got him drunk and naked; that time, no one fled. We talked about the steakhouse dinner, which was a far cry from abuse, but an example of how easy it can be for boundaries to blur and how hard it can be, in the moment, for students to get their bearings. Finally, we all went to sleep.

Then we went home, and another 20 years slid by.

When the Penn State scandal came out last year, I kept getting tangled in the questions everyone else was getting tangled in: How does an institutional culture arise to condone, or at least ignore, something that, individually, every member knows is wrong? Andrew’s story came back to me in a rush. The questions of Penn State, I realized, are the questions of Horace Mann and perhaps every place that has been haunted by a similar history.

I called Andrew. He was thinking about Horace Mann, too — about his own experiences and those of his classmates. And about Mark Wright.

In many ways, Wright was the ultimate Horace Mann success story. People who knew him remember him as tall and extroverted, with an easy smile and a huge laugh. He graduated in 1972, a time when African-American students like him were a rarity, then went to Princeton, where he majored in art and archaeology and played right tackle for the football team. A glowing article about him in The Daily Princetonian described him as “a Picasso in cleats,” and speculated on whether he could have gone pro or would get a Ph.D. “I think Mark lives life to the fullest,” the head of his department told the paper, noting that he “exudes enthusiasm and versatility.” After college, he came back to Horace Mann to teach art and to coach football.

“I first had him as an art teacher,” Andrew told me, in the steadied voice of someone who had worked through the story in therapy. “He was a great guy. Funny, gregarious, everyone loved him. He had this aura of success around him, and I was so happy that someone like him would take an interest in a skinny underclassman like me. I felt special.

“One night he called my house and asked my parents if he could take me to the museum,” Andrew continued. “My parents were so excited that a teacher would take such an interest in me.” And this being Horace Mann, he added, “it didn’t hurt that he had also gone to Princeton.” Still, Andrew didn’t feel comfortable hanging out with a teacher on the weekend, so he turned down the invitation. A little later Wright had another idea: he asked to draw a portrait of Andrew.

“It was the night of the eighth-grade dance,” he told me, “and instead of going to the gym, I went to meet him in his art studio on the fourth floor of Tillinghast. He locked the door and told me to undress.” As he got to this part of the story, Andrew’s pace slowed and his voice lowered....."

READ ENTIRE MAGAZINE ARTICLE: CLICK: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/10/magazine/the-horace-mann-schools-secret-history-of-sexual-abuse.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&nl=afternoonupdate&emc=edit_au_20120606

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