You can also find this post at the Citizen Times of Asheville
When a 17-year-old Agnes wrote to the Asheville School community describing an assault against her in appalling detail, we saw remarkable courage. She refused to let the social, financial, and academic pressures of a powerful institution silence her voice. Since then we have seen parents, alumni, and journalists hold the school to account in public. Alumni who have remained silent for decades have come forward with their own traumatic experiences to stand in solidarity with Agnes.
As a first-year faculty member at Asheville School, I watched as long-term members of the community offered up stifled, internal critiques of the institution. The school worked hard to tame, tire out, quiet, and dilute faculty fury and sadness. But the injustice is not disappearing with time. As a whole, we faculty, have remained remarkably quiet in public. Our anger in text message chains and sadness at late-night bonfires have not turned into holding Asheville School accountable. We have not in any way matched the bravery of a teenager who challenged power in the most vulnerable way.
When I was 11, I felt like an institution that I loved and trusted abandoned me. An individual was held to account – and radical change occurred within the institution – but the pain is deep. It broke my heart. I feel it even today. And that was in spite of powerful and public accountability. It was in spite of a ground-up restructuring of the institution. I cannot imagine what it feels like that have your account denied by the place you call home.
If the faculty of Asheville School do not speak up, then we remain complicit. It is unfortunate that many of us have trusted this institution wholeheartedly for so long that we cannot imagine organizing against it in any meaningful way. Frankly, we have ceded power over our own community to consultants and committees that find nothing wrong with the “proper” application of unjust laws.
As my own experience of the working conditions at Asheville School has shifted towards fear of retribution and retaliation, we’ve watched the voices of our PR wing send a message to the world that does not reflect the experience of many faculty members on the ground. Only we can close that gap and continue to draw attention to the injustice within our own community.
After two months of meetings, an “Ad-Hoc Committee,” organized to investigate the rigor of the Title IX investigation, found nothing wrong with the process of the investigation. The findings were explained in a single, hour-long meeting last week with a “hard stop” at 60 minutes because the leader of the committee had another obligation. Without public comment, questioning, or space for faculty fury, we’ve been left rather directionless. You don’t have to organize if you trust your institution. But you certainly realize how powerless you’ve made yourself when the institution betrays you, and you have no recourse beyond a silent rage.
There has been no justice for the victim, for her family, and for the community at large. If it is now time to “move forward,” as the school asks us to do, it is because long, muddy reports and the inability of the school to admit its deep failures have been so drawn out and exhausting that any internal challenge at this point feels useless. We have no choice but to present our arguments externally in the hope that reputation proves to be a stronger mode of accountability than internal coherence. We must speak publicly as a way to shine light on the absurdity of “moving forward.” Agnes and the Hills will never have that option. Why should we be satisfied with it?
Due to the institutional legitimation of the “lack of evidence” in this case, there are surely assailants among us who believe they will not be held to account. There are students and faculty alike who are heartbroken because they fear that their own stories of assault will not be heard. Coming forward will destroy your own life, not the life of the person who committed the crime against your body.
This is not an individual incident. We each can think of a friend, colleague, or family member that we know who was assaulted. So many of us are victims ourselves. As long as we allow these disturbing stories to circulate silently within our communities, workplaces, and families, there will be no justice. As long as we bow before power seeking to silence those who speak with boldness, there will be no justice. As long as we don’t risk our livelihoods in solidarity with Agnes, there will be no justice.
As a school, we must wake up, break from our illusions of idyllic community, and face the truth that only radical change on a structural level will protect the most vulnerable among us. After this bungled case, community members fear that sexual violence and harrassment will not be dealt with. To all who watch injustice and stay silent out of fear, organize. Create the world you wish to live in. Committees do not protect us. Consultants do not protect us. Law firms do not protect us. Administrations do not protect us. Institutions do not protect us. Power does not protect us.
We protect us.