By Kirk Semple (New York Times)
June 10, 2012
One said a teacher had compelled her to have sex with him if she wanted a passing grade. Another said he had been sexually assaulted by a teacher after having a private dinner at his house. Others spoke of having been groped by faculty members while they were students.
One after another, alumni of the Horace Mann School, an elite academy in the Bronx, volunteered accounts last week of sexual harassment and abuse by former teachers. They named the people they said had wronged them and recounted details of their ordeals. Still others weighed in with supportive words and tried to make sense of the allegations.
All were inspired by the online publication Wednesday of an article in The New York Times Magazine that contained accounts of sexual abuse of students by three former teachers, all now dead. The article appeared in print on Sunday.
More than 780 comments on the article were posted by readers on the Web site of The New York Times. Alumni created at least two private Facebook groups, one of which, Processing Horace Mann, had grown to more than 2,000 members by the weekend.
The article's author, Amos Kamil, said Sunday that he had received about 1,000 e-mails, Facebook messages and telephone calls in response to the article, about half of them from former Horace Mann students, teachers and administrators.
Mr. Kamil said he heard in recent days from about a dozen victims who had never spoken publicly about their experiences. Some claimed they had been abused by the teachers named in his article; others accused teachers who had not been publicly named. A writer for The Daily Beast posted an account of her own experiences of abuse at the school.
The school issued a statement hours after the magazine article was first published, calling the allegations "highly disturbing and absolutely abhorrent," but stating that for privacy reasons and "upon advice of counsel," the administrators were limited in their ability to respond to specific allegations.
In a two-page letter to the alumni released on Sunday, the school's head, Thomas M. Kelly, promised to "develop and implement a thoughtful process that places the first priority on those alumni most in need." Mr. Kelly also asked for "the time to research and discuss a well-thought-out process."
He added that the school's trustees would be meeting to discuss the matter.
One of the more complex and profound reactions to the article unfolded on the Processing Horace Mann page on Facebook. The page, which is private and has a membership open only to Horace Mann alumni, was started on Thursday.
The posts on the page were initially focused on Mr. Kamil's article itself, with some expressing shock that the sort of behavior described had been going on while they were students, and with others voicing surprise that it had taken so many years for the allegations to become public.
In short order, the group's membership soared and the conversation expanded to include the full promise of the page's name, as members, in a kind of collective therapy, began reflecting on every part of their high school experience: teachers, the high-pressure academic curriculum, the general challenges of adolescence.
The posts piled up at all hours of the day and night. Many commented on how the Facebook group was the most meaningful experience they had ever had in social media.
"It's been an amazing reconnecting of a lot of different years of Horace Mann through this Facebook group," said David S. Bennahum, a Horace Mann alumnus and one of the page's administrators.
"It is cathartic in that it helps you understand a little bit what happened."
On Sunday morning, however, alarm spread among members when the page seemingly froze and rumors abounded that Facebook had somehow been compelled to shut it down. But about seven hours later, the page was functioning normally again.
A Facebook spokesman said the company had nothing to do with the problem, and suggested that the account may have appeared to freeze when one of the page's eight administrators changed the privacy permissions governing access. At dusk on Sunday, membership in the group was again climbing.
Jenny Anderson and Ariel Kaminer contributed reporting.