The Amends Project is a Washington state Nonprofit with a mission to mend the loophole that has allowed for the cover-up of child abuse in private schools: implementing The Justice CORPS Initiative.
Goals of The Amends Project:
- Bring the truth to light.
- Hold leaders accountable.
- Enact lasting, positive change.
Core Tenets of The Amends Project:
- No further exploitation will be allowed on the way toward resolution.
- Success by means of fear/control is no success at all.
- Situations will be influenced only by the sheer power of honesty, a fierce insistence on accountability, and the encouragement toward true growth and positive change.
- The Project will only conclude when leaders admit to the cover up, and new policies are firmly in place to protect the rights and wellbeing of students for perpetuity.
- This is for everyone.
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Where in the world has the light of awareness reached?“Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Year 4, Week 12: Where Do We Focus? On What We Can See
When we see media about child sexual abuse, institutional abuse, and related social problems, what do we generally see? A child crouched over in pain… A woman devastated and accompanied by her savior attorney, an elder man admitting his long-held, shameful secret in shadowy film monologues.
Essentially, we see individuals in pain bearing the weight of others’ actions or inactions.
When you hear “healing from abuse”, what comes to mind? An individual receiving medical care, someone sitting in a therapist’s office, struggling to ‘recover’ alone.
Only – consider this wildly novel thought – what if all of that has absolutely nothing to do with it?
We (as a society) are so far from resolving a decades/centuries old issue because we are looking in the wrong places.
A function of privilege is effectively dodging the gaze of examination. If you can point a finger (via a reporter or a public statement) to someone or something other than oneself, then, we never have to look at our own behavior.
These issues continue because the source of the problem remains hidden from sight while the symptoms of the problem are sensationally plastered over media outlets (in a way that only evokes agony or futility).
We’ve had a Transparency Problem.
The challenge to even get language in print that looks plainly and directly at the source of these problems (secret meetings among affluent Board members and Trustees) exists at many, many levels.
Yet, in collaboration with the NAIS, we put a piece into print last week.
Enjoy this article on the NAIS Blog, question the media imagery you see, and turn your gaze toward the true source (and potential solution) of the problem. See the previously-hidden decision-makers and then imagine the true healing of a system that has finally accepted the necessary recovery of Transparency.
Year 4, Week 4: The International Perspective
“My rejection of patriarchy is a prayer for what we can all be, in the next highest expression of our humanity. I see an entire ecosystem yearning for our evolution. I hear the cry as an insistence that will not yield until we finally respond with the courage of change…” — Can’t Stop the Sunrise
This honest, fearless, and joyful conversation dives deep into what it means to be a man, to be a woman, even to be someone who is beyond and neither of these things. Most of all, we explore how to improve our world by looking truthfully at the forces behind old, established institutions.
Bobby hosts social innovators from around the world, and I am honored to be a part. Based in the UK, he brings both the male perspective and the international perspective to the issue of gender/power and the impacts of these systems in all of our lives.
“This conversation explores Vanessa’s story through the lens of a failing patriarchal system of governance and self protection. We delve deep into the social and fragile construct of masculinity. And remind ourselves of why the systematic and – what can feel like – innocent humiliation of boys is the source of these offences. We discuss why boys should be taught to embrace and nurture both masculine and feminine energies. And to deny men the benefits of emotional intelligence is a disservice to men as much as those who are harmed by men. Our societal norm however has delegated emotional responsibility to women.”
Please enjoy this highly-relatable conversation and discover a wonderful new perspective on the work of The Amends Project.
Year 4, Week 2: Seen and Heard
As seen in The Boston Globe, Sunday May 16, 2021
Year Four: Happy Birthday to The Amends Project!
This past weekend marked a number of significant milestones:
First, arrival of The Amends Project, as a presence in the world to “mend the loophole”, crossed the three year mark on Saturday May 8, 2021. We are now beginning the fourth year of advocacy for The Justice CORPS solution.
It was also the Five-Year Anniversary of The Boston Globe’s release of the Spotlight Investigation Report, Private Schools, Painful Secrets. This report revealed what many knew, yet so few dared to speak. The need for transparency and reform became very, very clear.
As the first of many gifts this week, The Amends Project is now a member of the National Association of Independent Schools, NAIS, as a Supporter Organization.
This is an honor, and a clear, obvious next step. It was years ago when I first connected with NAIS professionals about The Justice CORPS Initiative; their insights inform some of its structure. Now, The Amends Project is part of the many ways NAIS enhances the health of over 1,600 member schools across the country.
The Justice CORPS may now be found through the NAIS Community Market as a resource for Diversity & Inclusion.
Poignantly, it was also Mother’s Day.
I was reminded of the sentiment expressed by the Achuar people living in the Amazon rainforest, upon witnessing environmental destruction in North America, “Why don’t the women say, ‘Enough’?”. In their culture, the men go out to gather firewood for cooking and to hunt meat for sustenance. When they return home, it’s the women’s job to say, “That’s enough” – then the men stop. This way, the ecosystem remains viable, and capable of sustaining life into the future.
This is a collaboration between those who reap and those who keep a balance for the health of the people and their home. What might we learn here? Isn’t it wonderful to imagine the voice of women (any voice, really) learning of the abuse of children in exchange for prestige or “reputation”, saying, “Enough!“.
For the month of May, I will imagine a chorus of diverse and fierce voices rising up to say, ‘Enough’, by insisting on basic transparency and care of all young people in private education through Support of The Justice CORPS Initiative.
On a similar note, The New York Times also published an article over the weekend, “Schools Are Open, but Many Families Remain Hesitant to Return”.
Of course, the issues here are many and varied – most of them hinging on racial, socio-economic, and social/emotional frames. As families decide whether to send a child to school (or how), it seems the ideal time to reimagine what will truly make schools safer…
We know that abuse and response in private schools also often hinges on racial and socio-economic criteria. Who is protected and who is/is not held accountable draws a deeper dividing line in the sands of social justice. A line so deep that many young people and families are falling in.
The cover-up loophole creates the disparity gap. So, if a school embraces concepts like Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Moral Courage – it is justice in response to human rights violations where those concepts are proven in action. The reckoning in the police force across the country tells us this. The impatience over inequities implores us to act quickly.
Education is where social ideas are born and bred. Please join us in giving our young people a new idea now about how our society works. Enough of the old way – and time for the New.
Year 3, Week 51: True Safety at School, A New Perspective
Dr. Elanora Bartoli, a psychologist specializing in trauma, resilience-building, and social justice counseling, speaks on The Trustee Table Podcast – a project of the National Association of Independent Schools – in late March of this year. The conversation is titled “Prioritizing Health and Wellbeing as a School Leader”.
Her words are so clear, common sense, sane, and uplifting that I have to share a few here – and consider what they offer us, as a map of transforming policy from silencing toward transparency in independent schools.
“Because of our physiology… when we don’t know something, our anxiety goes up. This is another argument for always naming and making sure we address the totality of what students’ experiences are…
“So, the first suggestion I have for Heads of School is obvious from there: name what’s going on and invite those conversations and sharing into your schools. That says, ‘I see you’ and that fosters a sense of belonging… to really be open and transparent about what you stand for. Take all the guessing away.
“The first — You have to know what kind of experience
people have in your school.”
Hearing Dr. Bartoli’s perspective on Health brings up so many memories from this long road of achieving the goals:
Bring the Truth to Light
Hold Leaders Accountable
Enact Lasting, Positive Change
In 2018, a former student who watched me give a speech in 2001 about Lawrence Academy leaders’ choice to keep a child molester on campus, spoke to me about the aftermath of my speech. He recalled, “It was so surreal… to watch you tell that story, which I’ll never forget, and then have the leaders say absolutely nothing in response”.
Again, the first “obvious” suggestion:
“…name what’s going on and invite those conversations and sharing into your schools. That says, “I see you” and that fosters a sense of belonging… to really be open and transparent about what you stand for…”
I can imagine that the 300+ students in that auditorium that day all had a similar experience on ‘not knowing’ something. Among other things, they needed to know, ‘What is the school’s stance on backlash and retaliation for reporting abuse now?’. They didn’t know. The silence did not give them the reassurance they needed and deserved.
Even public statements which proclaim an “ethic of care” become meaningless when leaders fail to name what is going on and hope that a distraction will somehow remedy the problem.
- Will they protect me?
- What if I speak up about abuse?
- Why does the headmaster’s nephew get to do what he did and get away with it, while other students are immediately expelled for more minor offenses?
- What are their values in regards to student safety?
- Who is protected and who is covered for?
- Who is truly safe here?
The further I go down this road, the more I understand that invisible problems are often the most pervasive and impactful. How comforting it would be to believe this was an isolated incident (of silencing) or that time had somehow changed the practice…
A friend recently gave me a copy of Lacy Crawford’s stunning Notes on a Silencing because of the obvious parallels and relevance… I now imagine so many young people and parents — all hunkered down in similar trenches fighting a war they believe is fought alone. Now, thanks to The Boston Globe, we (collectively) have had the chance to stand up and nod to one another, seeing the network of incidents on a similar theme.
Poignantly, the inside flap on the back cover offers, simply, “Notes on a Silencing is an arresting coming-of-age story that wrestles with an essential question for our time: What telling of a survivor’s story will finally force a remedy?”
To that, I excitedly say, “All of them!”, and ask you to join me in bringing this remedy forth Now.
The Third Birthday, and start of the Fourth Year, for The Amends Project nears on the horizon…
Want to give a gift?
Year 3, Week 50: Lessons from Solving Invisible Problems
When working to Solve Invisible Problems, you encounter at least three kinds of monkeys on your back. You know these monkeys…
Different players fill these different roles, though, many can serve the purpose of Interruption. It is often cyclical (self-reinforcing) until it is disrupted.
Hear No Evil is at the top because it usually originates with one person refusing to take in uncomfortable information. ‘Hey, your employee is abusing kids’, or ‘That school you admire, they bully families into silence’. What have you.
Life holds these really-hard-to-hear truths. Sometimes, we’re just not strong enough to allow them into awareness (sometimes, refusing contrasting information becomes its own disease).
When it comes to The Amends Project and “mending the loophole”, here, we find administrators receiving a report or allegation of abuse, headmasters learning their employees are breaching conduct, coaches discovering bad behavior in their student athletes. Anyone who learns painful information and then refuses to hear, show up to a conversation, listen, or believe.
Speak No Evil is the person who is morally compelled to share this information (often to protect others), yet meets pressures to keep quiet. This is the teacher who gets the subtle/not so subtle message they’d better “let us handle it” if they want to keep their job, students who are threatened or removed for speaking up, families who are offered hush-money after their children suffer, even newspaper editors who (just maybe) receive a bribe for removing unflattering press about the school.
The tragedy of Speak No Evil is that here often lie the many potential bystanders – those who could be empowered to speak and alter the course of events… yet, silencing blocks progress.
At this point, people may witness all kinds of kicking and screaming (metaphorically) from the ones who do not want the information to spread. Defamation, Discrediting, Diminishing (see my book, Can’t Stop the Sunrise for an overview of these tactics) are all panic moves to keep painful information out of circulation – sadly, even when they hurt others in the process.
Let’s hop over Interruption for a moment to explore See No Evil. These are those who remain in the dark – by circumstance or by choice. It’s the unknowing new families who are considering investing $50-60,000 in a school that may be harboring abusers. These players are often casualties of the cycle because of the failures enacted at Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil. It is anyone who is making an uninformed decision – because crucial information has been withheld from them.
This is also where people who may encounter both sides of a message: “There is an abuse cover-up problem here!” & “Everything is completely fine and better now” are faced with a choice. Two points of contrasting information are laid out before them, and they must choose which to allow in or believe. This is often the families who have already invested money, trust, their precious child. The first point of information (there is a cover-up problem) causes dissonance and a whole series of potentially uncomfortable choices in the wake of accepting the information. The latter allows one to relax back into comfort and to let current investments potentially yield the intended return (a high quality educational experience).
See No Evil is often a choice.
Now, for Interruption!
Interruption is any truth-teller or whistleblower who relays the crucial information: the parent in the student pickup line who leans over and says to another parent, “Did you hear about what the headmaster’s nephew did?”, the student on social media who posts, “There is a rapist at our school”, the journalists who investigate decades of allegations kept under wraps.
Most excitingly, it is also anyone who puts a new move into the old dance. This is where transformation can happen.
An employee at the Speak No Evil phase files a complaint to the Accreditation body instead of looking away and simply doing their job. A student confronts an abuser and a leader who fails to act instead of just going away. A parent sends a letter to the press to bring silencing to light. A Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Director suggests that students examine the story of the school’s practices and whether they demonstrate moral courage.
This Interruption action breaks the cycle and moves toward the heart of an issue by instantly bringing new sight.
Yes, one or a few can choose not to hear. A denial cycle can be set in motion. Yet – and this is crucial – the Interruption can actually happen at any point on the cycle. A colleague can (again, metaphorically) shake their co-worker out of complacency by reiterating, “That child just said the dorm parent is abusing kids in their rooms!”. Hear No Evil suddenly becomes, “Oh, right” (see head-shaking as the cloud of confusion drifts away) and a new cycle begins.
Being Trauma-Informed means recognizing that the moment of hearing can be clouded by system-overload and trauma in the body. The person failing (or choosing) not to hear may be suddenly navigating an avalanche of untended pain sensations inside. Some people haven’t been given emotional intelligence skills or encouragement to deal with hard feelings. The Hear No Evil character just might be falling off a cliff in their own system and needing someone to stop their fall – before they land on denial and set the cycle in motion…
In this way, Interruption helps everyone involved.
Which brings us to the most important part in all of this — none of the players are Evil.
The only evil I reference here is Painful Information. How we respond (or don’t respond) corresponds to a sense (sight, sound, voice, etc.) and whether or not it fires in the crucial moment. Yes, there are choices to be made… it’s not always unconscious or beyond grasp. The opposite of evil isn’t powerlessness cloaked as innocence, “I couldn’t deal with it, so I am absolved from guilt!”
The opposite of evil is complex humanity.
Hopefully, these monkeys and diagram help to simplify what is often a complex process in the wake of Painful Information coming to light.
Let’s regard the role of Interruption as the necessary force to bring new sight so we can bring new solutions. The pandemic interrupted many painful, damaging cycles. Interruption often leads to necessary growth.
By the way, the Justice CORPS model needs just one or two more significant donors to be fully operational by the summer. If you’re in a place to add strength to the Interruption and New Sight, please Support the Movement!
Year 3, Week 48: World Day for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, Healing & Justice ~ April 8, 2021
I am delighted to share that The Amends Project (and the Can’t Stop the Sunrise book) will be featured exhibitors at the upcoming International Symposium on Child Abuse Prevention, Healing & Justice. The event is held in conjunction with Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, the Human Flourishing Program – and multiple child safety organizations.
Keynote Speaker Reverend Dr. Denis Wukmege will speak on uniting health professions and the faith community.
The event corresponds to World Chid Sexual Abuse Prevention Day, April 8, 2021. Speakers, discussions and sessions are being held April 8-10 online. Professional Development Hours are available. Take a look at the April 8 World Day for information on creators of this day of recognition, and to sign your name in support.
This, on the heels of a BBC report on abuse in schools as the “next national scandal”. Soma Sara, Founder of Everyone’s Invited, says, “Rape culture is a universal problem – it is everywhere, in all schools, all universities, all of society…”
From the report:
Norfolk Chief Constable Simon Bailey blamed the “volume of porographic material that’s being consumed”.
“There’s an erosion of an understanding of what normal sexual relationships look like,” said the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on child protection.
‘Normalising’ sexual violence
“We have a real problem here,” he told BBC News, saying that a police helpline would be set up and promising to “investigate those allegations which are of a criminal nature”.
The helpline will “ensure victims can access advice and support where needed”, said the Prime Minister’s official spokesman.
On Twitter, the Education Secretary for England, Gavin Williamson, said: “No school – whether an independent school or state school – should ever be an environment where young people feel unsafe, let alone somewhere that sexual abuse can take place.”
Read the full report here: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-56558487
What happens on a campus so that “sexual abuse can take place”? Culture is behavior that is learned and shared. Students and staff learn that abuse is ok when administrators fail to take corrective action. What is behind that failure?
A system of social pressures and/or personal interests that protect a few at the expense of many.
In the UK, students can now contact a police line directly in the wake of abuse. In the States, most independent schools are still guarding policy that allows headmasters, trustees, and attorneys to “decide whether to handle things internally” or whether to involve police.
This is the loophole. We need to mend it.
Hopefully, young people in the UK will feel safe enough to go directly to police after they have suffered abuse. If we consider that police may not feel like safe allies (remember, 33 year-old Sarah Everard was killed by police in London just this month while simply walking home), that brings us to the necessity of creating a truly safe place.
What if these is no current safe haven – not headmasters, not police – and it is our responsibility to create just such a haven for young people?
Please take a moment to visit this video on The Justice CORPS and imagine the possibilities…
If you are moved by the hope of this systemic change, please Support the Movement! The goal is to enroll two schools in the pilot program by early next school year. Planning and research are underway while we strive to reach full funding for the three year program.
It starts with two schools… then, more follow. Soon, we have set a new standard that all schools will strive to meet. It starts Now.
Thanks for your support!
Year 3, Week 47: 2020 Vision ~ Making Families Bigger than Reputations
This past year has shown us a lot about how we respond to crisis, as people. Some reach for what is most important, while some cling to the familiar out of an old reflex or insecurity. The difference can seem subtle, yet the implications are profound…
Consider the crisis moment on an elite boarding school campus. A young person is in distress. They need help. A student or member of staff has overstepped and violated standards of conduct to cause harm. An administrator (with a salary and a reputation to protect) might cling to a reflex of self-protection – instead of holding up what truly matters – the wellbeing of the child.
One school has even written this reflex right into their reporting policies:
The urge to be part of something larger than ourselves can serve a vastly positive function in our lives – until the ‘something larger’ looms too large over us and cast a shadow. A big-name does not have to mean the need a small need for public safety. When administrators are faced with a crisis, resisting the old reflex — to be overly-protective of reputations and endowments — requires outside structure and assistance. Support to make a necessary change for the better.
We have to see what has been there all along: a decades (centuries?)-old familiar pattern of guarding a reputation instead of kids and families.
The Justice CORPS shifts our perspective by truly Making Families Bigger than Reputations. Lip-service in a handbook or a public statement is easy. It’s only in true crisis when priorities (or destructive patterns) become clear in action. We enlarge what we defend. It is time for a significant change. Now, youth and families must decide what happens in the wake of abuse. It is time to put The Justice CORPS Initiative into place and set a higher standard across the country.
While we’re still in it (a pandemic), the one year mark gives us an opportunity to take a breath and look at what we See now that has always been there – and what Needs to Change.
You can be part of making that change happen Support the Movement now!
Year 3, Week 45: International Women’s Day 2021
Since Lawrence Academy “muted” me on social media after posting this lovely piece by Thrive Global, I decided I would honor International Women’s Day by making sure these additional voices are heard:
“Her book is a compelling hero’s journey with instructions on how to stand up to corruption with integrity and honor woven throughout.” – M.B.
“Abuse of power and authority is an all-too-common reality across many institutional settings, but Osage’s telling of her own experiences with clarity and conviction and her constructive proposals for reform of independent schools give one much-needed hope for the future.” – C.F.
“Incredible true recounting of one woman’s fight that is also the universal fight against corruption to bring the truth into the light. This book will make you laugh and cry and empower you to stand up to those in power with incredible courage. A timely and timeless story beautifully written with great depth, humanity, and wisdom throughout.” – N.S.
“So I cracked your book last night and I’m hooked! Who knew you could change an autobiography into such a page turner? It’s so enjoyably written with great wisdoms woven in (I am underlining and marking them). Thank you so much for this work. I was sort of afraid of dwelling in the realm of child molesters… but clearly with your Vanessa magic, this book is very good mind and soul nutrition. I’m so grateful for your blessings.” – T.W.
“Thank you for your determination, bravery and ability to continue to rise like the sun, shining light for the youth who are lost, giving a voice to the silent scream in the hearts of those who endured, offering peace to those who didn’t make it…
Everything about the story, and the way it was written and presented, was beautiful – and though I now sit head-swirling and heart-heavy with old emotions, I feel the sunrise on my face.” – T.S.
“Vanessa Osage has given us an inspiring book, very informational while also engaging. I’m the kind of reader who often reads about half of a book before being distracted by another. Not so with this book. I put down 2 other half-read books to read this one all the way through, staying up past my bedtime on a few occasions.” – J.E.
“In her thoroughly gripping book, CAN’T STOP THE SUNRISE: Adventures in Healing, Confronting Corruption & the Journey to Institutional Reform, Vanessa Osage dives into the courageous and magnificent tale of her ongoing efforts to hold pedophiles and other sexual offenders fully accountable for their crimes–along with complicit, abuse-enabling school officials, elite institutions… When a book comes along which is not only timely, but the kind of painstakingly detailed volume that can make a reader want to get involved, it’s cause for celebration, even in these unsettled times. Vanessa Osage’s CAN’T STOP THE SUNRISE: Adventures in Healing, Confronting Corruption & the Journey to Institutional Reform is just such a book.” – C.S. Holmes for IndieReader
This Year, I #ChoosetoChallenge silencing, institutional abuse, and all the ways people block the necessary progress that lifts our society toward justice.
Let it be heard!
Year 3, Week 44: Spreading the Message, Positivity, Vision & Tales of Self-Acceptance
The wonderful conversations just keep coming…
Coach HP has the #1 Positivity & Relationships podcast on the internet – and it’s easy to see why. What a fun, authentic conversation!
We talk about doing what it takes, gender, strength, and choosing to be the positive medicine to the dark things we’ve seen in our lives.
Recorded back in December, and finally available now at Apple Podcasts. Listen Here !
I also got the chance to return to “Brainfood from the Heartland” with Louie b Free on Friday February 26. He hosts a live radio show 5 days/week, broadcasting throughout the state of Ohio, via the CBS affiliate WFMJ. Louie and I first spoke back in December, and I was able to share news of the audiobook’s release and the first major philanthropic donor! Louie appreciates and understands this issue well.
We talk about the downfalls of punishment (such as lawsuits – which lead to more hiding), self-reinforcing systems (systemic problems), raising standards in private schools the same way organic standards have been raised for food, etc. (great point, Louie!). It was wonderful to reconnect and share my vision for lifting up these schools through insistence, encouragement and positive exposure.
Then, with a moment of downtime, I did some writing reflection on the flip side of holding leaders accountable – admitting that we all mess up. It’s important to keep the issue balanced, and human, so I invite you to check out this piece called, Messing Up & Showing Up, on Medium.
Year 3, Week 43: At the Intersection of Two Big Ideas
Believe it or not, the work of The Amends Project and Justice CORPS Initiative does touch the lives of everyone in this country. In this particular case, it reaches the lives of those far beyond America, too…
Mark Zuckerberg is the reason I do what I do.
Let me explain. In the 1990s, I attended Lawrence Academy, an elite boarding high school in Groton, Massachusetts. About seven years later, Mark Zuckerberg was a student at Phillips Exeter Academy, just 60 miles away in New Hampshire. The first time I left Lawrence Academy, I was 16 years old, devastated, and reeling from the insights into institutional corruption I’d witnessed. When Zuckerberg left Phillips Exeter, he was on his way to Harvard. When I left for the second time, I was 18 years old, running as fast and as far away as I could to the west coast of this country.
Schools are proprietors of ideas. These ideas are exchanged as curricula in a classroom, and as social norms in the human interactions on campus. As always, the leaders set the tone. As mini-societies, these college-preparatory schools say a lot about who we are as a nation. They occupy a unique societal niche, as well, by being exempt from Title IX and Clery Act protections (unlike most Universities they emulate), and often, exempt from taxation through “charitable” status. Tuitions range from under $20,000/year to just over $70,000, for one year of high school education.
Right now, we are at an ideological crossroads in America: the intersection of Corruption & Accountability.
If you trace one fork of the road back, you’ll find a root in these elite, educational institutions — some nearly as old as the Constitution that sought to define us. There are currently about 335 boarding high schools from coast to coast, sending out a population roughly the size of New Haven, Connecticut (about 130,000+) every few years. These generations of young people fan out into our country to create lives of impact and influence by design. Monkey see, monkey do.
When Apple CEO, Tim Cook, declared in June 2020 that the company would be installing privacy updates to their iOS 14 model — requiring apps to ask permission before tracking personal data — Zuckerberg told his employees that they needed to “inflict pain on Apple”. This move of Cook establishing a “culture of consent” would undermine the very business model of Facebook. The company earns revenue by mining and selling individuals’ personal data, without their permission, for targeted advertising. It exploits the privacy rights of many for the benefit of a few.
When I told Lawrence Academy headmaster, Steven L Hahn, repeatedly in 1994 that they needed to remove the child molester-employee I’d just confronted, he then told me, “There is no financial aid for you to come back next year”. I was sent away. The move of me insisting on protection for young people threatened a status quo — where a few careers were preserved at the expense of many young lives.
So, the idea some elite institutions are asking families to accept is that certain people can and will get away with a whole lot.
I returned to Lawrence Academy every year for seven years, even after running away, to ensure that man would not harm students again. While I was on my way east to tell the truth publicly in a speech, they finally let the man go. Headmaster, Steve Hahn, resigned the following year. What did students in 2001 see? A man, as a leader, walking away with nothing but praise, even after being exposed for severely unethical behavior. Monkey see, monkey do.
In 2018, Phillips Exeter faced its own revelations of decades of concealed abuse on campus, with 11 former staffers being accused. We may want to believe these are isolated or “historical” events. Yet, fact-based reporting reveals otherwise. The Boston Globe Spotlight Team reported from 2016 on, that over 300 incidents had taken place in more than one hundred schools around New England alone. We won’t even touch the numbers in the church. Is it possible that Mark Zuckerberg was absorbing the same atmospheric message about who is held accountable and who is/is not protected? What ideas do these schools convey about justice and human rights?
Of course, not every boarding school graduate will accept the idea that some are above the law or exempt from accountability. But, some have taken the idea and run with it. So, everyone will eventually be affected by that idea in action.
Facebook has nearly 3 billion users worldwide (I have never been one). In fact, 80% of Facebook users live outside the United States. Yet, the decision of whether to censor a US President for “hate speech” and the “incitement to violence” on its site came too late; former president Donald Trump was finally banned from Facebook only after the insurrection on the capital on January 6, 2021.
The world is watching.
How many times do we, as Americans, have to get our hopes up that justice and basic decency will be served — only to feel crushed by the failure to hold certain men to account, again and again? If we study recent US Supreme Court nominations, Impeachment Trials, or efforts at regulation on tech giants, we see a clear divide. As Tim Cook said, “Too many are still asking the question ‘What can we get away with?’ when they need to be asking, ‘What are the consequences?’”.
I do what I do because accountability matters.
If elite boarding schools are a unique pocket of resistance to civil rights-in-action, they also offer a unique opportunity. As President of the nonprofit, The Amends Project, I am working to change the system, so that these institutions became purveyors of different social ideas. We are talking about education, and any great teacher will tell you: they also learn from their students. So, it’s time the old-boy networks get schooled.
It begins by “mending the loophole”, of policy that states school officials can decide whether to “handle things internally” (aka: silencing, confidential payouts, etc.) or whether to involve police. That’s a big override of civic duty and moral obligation. So, we direct decision-making power to a diverse, local, strictly-non-affiliated group of volunteers to receive and track reports of abuse. The response by school officials is then also graded, based on recommendations laid out by The Independent Schools Task Force of 2018. Accountability. Reform.
What’s the new idea? A consistent standard for all — regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, position, rank, or socioeconomic status.
In other words, Justice.
This solution is called The Justice CORPS Initiative — the Committee to Oversee the Rights and Protections of Students. After three years of advocacy, I am partway to my fundraising goal now, and need your help to fully run the pilot at two schools for the 2022–2023 school year. There will also be two short documentary films of the first schools taking the brave step toward accountability. Can you see it now? Please visit https://theamendsproject.com/support-the-movement/.
Even Zuckerberg has assembled a “Facebook Supreme Court” to handle content management, striving for 40 diverse members worldwide to decide what constitutes hate-speech, and what must be taken down from the platform.
I also believe, if we focus on the ideas that harm us (and not people or cult of personality), then we might all rise together.
Mark Zuckerberg may — momentarily — embody the dark side of an idea from our shared boarding school culture. Yet, this is our collective evolution, and we can all find the strength to embrace a new idea.
Like they say at Apple, let’s Think Different.
Vanessa Osage is a two-time nonprofit Founder, President of The Amends Project, and Author of Can’t Stop the Sunrise: Adventures in Healing, Confronting Corruption & the Journey to Institutional Reform, published by Stone & Feather Press, 2020
Year 3, Week 42: Blessings, Hope & a New Chapter
Last week, The Amends Project received its first major donation to advance the work of The Justice CORPS Initiative!
This means we are so much closer to ensuring the positive, systemic change our civic institutions need now.
We know the old story – of corruption, secrecy, and greed. Now, as a society, we see clearly. So, it is time to turn the page and begin a new chapter – about transparency, accountability, and justice.
This is the power of speaking the truth and insisting on better – we get to write how this story unfolds.
Are you the next visionary, gracious donor?
The Support the Movement! page has many ways to give: by mail, Paypal, GoFundMe, fully anonymous, partially anonymous, or celebrated by name.
With profound Gratitude for those who are inspired to back up this vision with action, you are such a Blessing, for this moment and for generations to come.
Let’s co-create a beautiful new story!
Year 3, Week 41: Stitching a New Cloth – Mending the Loophole
Social Justice work can happen like a patchwork quilt. I wish I could remember which poet
brilliantly said of this time, “We need to stitch a new cloth”, speaking on the need for creating new systems that truly support us now.
This week, let’s take a look at the places of strength in society surrounding this issue – to see where this loophole The Amends Project seeks to mend exists, in relation to other progress…
1972 – The Federal Education Amendment, Title IX, is signed into law, stating, “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
A great step forward for public education – where schools receive federal funding. The “teeth” of the act is that funding may be withdrawn if a school or university is found in violation of the law.
Still exempt from Title IX protections today:
private secondary high schools
private undergraduate colleges
private colleges controlled by religious organizations
the YMCA, YWCA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and Campfire Girls
Title IX is Civil Rights Law, protecting the rights of individuals in the United States.
1990 – Title II of the Student Right-to-Know and Campus Security Act, The Clery Act, is signed into law to “increase the accountability and transparency of Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) in meeting certain responsibilities with regard to the safety and security of students on their campuses.”
See where this is going?
The Clery Act “requires universities and colleges participating in HEA Title IV financial assistance programs to disclose campus crime statistics and security information”. Again, the leverage for compliance is based on those institutions receiving certain federal funding. The act was renamed in 1998 for a female student named Jeanne Clery who was raped and murdered in her college dorm room. The tragedy called into question the rights of families to know whether a threat to students existed on campus.
Today, there are elaborate protocols for reporting, records-keeping, and response at most colleges and universities through the Clery Act.
Still exempt from Clery Act reporting today:
private high schools
private secondary schools controlled by religious institutions
Air Force, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine and other Military Academies
any private college or university that does not receive federal aid (including financial aid to students)
The Clery Act is Consumer Protection Law, protecting the rights of those purchasing educational services to know the quality of and risks involved in their financial investment.
… do you notice a pattern?
It has been these very institutions that have made headlines with stories of child/adult sexual abuse or harassment on a systemic level. Why? It’s a hole that needs mending.
2016 – Boston Globe Spotlight Investigation reveals over 300 incidents at more than 100 private schools around New England alone.
Certain elite boarding high schools have gone so far as to add another layer of discrepancy in reporting criteria by writing into their policies:
“The school determines whether to investigate the matter internally or whether an outside entity (such as law enforcement or an outside consultant) should be involved. In addition, the school determines whether the matter must be reported to government or law enforcement…”
This particular “loophole” is important because high school is where most young people learn how to navigate their sexuality – whether they need to respect the rights of those around them – and whether they will or will not be held accountable for violations enacted later in life.
On an institution-wide level, if federal funding is not a component (and therefore, not revocable), another kind of mending needs to take place. Programs that set a new standard in practice, for transparency and reporting, to protect civil rights, consumer rights, and student rights – without discrimination or biases – the rights of all young people.
2021 – Time to mend the loophole with new systems that protect youth, families, and justice:
Year 3, Week 39: Calling in a New Day
I know I am not the only one who feels a cultural rebirth upon us. With last week’s Inauguration, I noticed so many words on this theme…
“The new dawn blooms as we free it.
There is always light if we’re brave enough to see it.
There is always light if we’re brave enough to be it.”
– Amanda Gorman, Poet Laureate
“Joy comes in the morning – and this is the morning.”
– Lisa Blunt Rochester
Just as we are hearing messages of hope, light and a new day dawning, my audiobook, Can’t Stop the Sunrise, is now available at Audible!
Yes, it is me narrating my whole story.
Audiobook includes live-recording of the speech I gave in 2001 (age 23) to bring a reckoning at my former school – and additional male/female voices, for a touch of radio theatre!
Now, you can enjoy the story as you drive, run, clean the house, or settle in for long, winter evenings.
Here’s to the power of the truth that brings about positive change for all of us!
Can’t Stop the Sunrise: Adventures in Healing, Confronting Corruption & the Journey to Institutional Reform at Audible, Amazon, iTunes, and more
Year 3, Week 38: What is the Goal of Education?
Today marks the third year I have been compelled to honor the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in January, on my long road to bringing justice to American institutions…
Am I serving the youth of the elites? Am I advantaging an already-advantaged group? No. I am striving to sow the seeds of justice in those places from where the leaders of our society often spring forth. I am doing this for the mother whose boss may someday have to decide whether or not he is entitled to harass her sexually on the job. I do this for the father of color, whose senior colleague will have to decide whether to laugh along with a racist slur – or to speak up in solidarity.
Remember, This is for Everyone.
We have seen what can happen when someone is not held to account as they rise through the ranks of prestige and position. Now, let’s see what happens when we gather around an issue and insist on better – for all of us.
As always, Dr. King says it best.
The highest outcome of education is ensuring young people grow with a practice of a strong character. Character must be modeled by school leaders, educators, and everyone entrusted with the care of the next generation in order to be taught.
Here’s to a man who taught with both his words and his actions. Thank you, yet again, Dr. King.
Year 3, Week 36: Welcome 2021!
A handful of quotes to ring in the New Year…
“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”
― Thomas Paine
“It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
“The world over, give a guy money and it goes to drinking, gambling, and women. When you give a woman money, it goes to feeding, clothing, helping people.”
― Peter Buffett
“Try and identify where the money can go to create conditions for true systemic change.”
― Peter Buffett
“Corruption is preventable where people are teachable: in youth and in education.”
― Vanessa Osage
Here’s to a much brighter future, everyone!
Year 3, Week 34: What Can You Achieve in Ten Days?
The truth is, a whole lot!
Offering a generosity challenge to all visitors to The Amends Project site. If we can raise $250k in the next ten days, that means we can get to work running The Justice CORPS pilot program at two (2) schools for the next three (3) years!
If you’ve been touched by the issue, or feel moved in any way, please give $10 (or more!) and a share. Our future leaders will all be stronger for it. A small investment in teaching our young people Justice today, means a Big return for everyone’s future.
Let’s meet that goal by the end of 2020.
Happy Winter Solstice!
Year 3, Week 33: How to Write a Book that Sparks a Movement
I was interviewed by Authority Magazine for their series, How to write a book that sparks a movement.
“Speak with compassion for all sides of an issue — passion is a force that needs to be harnessed well to direct the energy people will likely feel in response. I consider this kind of writing to be like skillful fire-building…
While I’m passionate about positive change, there is nothing demonizing or shaming in how the story is told. It reveals the truth of a situation, which is crucial for growth. But, it’s spoken with compassion. If anything, I devote a whole chapter to the importance of humanizing as the ultimate point of transformation in social change movements. It’s not about making any one person or even one institution wrong or bad; it’s about fiercely, lovingly insisting we can all do better.”
Year 3, Week 32: What’s Your Master Plan?
This week, I was a guest on the Speak Loud Podcast, with host Tiffany Barnes. Tiffany was legally emancipated from her parents at the age of 15, and went on to become a Sterling Scholar (while financially supporting herself through high school), graduating top of her class, and later being a torch bearer for the Olympics. She created an advocacy group that soon evolved into a 501c(3) nonprofit called S.H.A.R.E. She continues to help others through her writing, speaking, and podcast. Her show highlights resilience and triumph on the other side of abuse. What an amazing woman.
The conversation is now live! Just look for Episode 36 “Can’t Stop the Sunrise with Vanessa Osage” at speakloudpodcast.org. During our conversation, she asked me, “What’s your master plan?”. While we’re awaiting the show’s release, let me outline that plan here:
Fund The Justice CORPS at $250k+
Help make it happen here! https://gf.me/u/y9tkk4
2. Arrange fiscal sponsorship with Tides.
This nonprofit accelerator will oversee organization management and finances, while the The Amends Project Advisors and I get to work. I then become an employee of Tides, working full-time to put the Justice CORPS model into action.
3. Run a pilot of The Justice CORPS at two (2) private, independent high schools in the US, for the 2021-2022 school year
4. Prepare two short documentary films about these first two schools’ experiences
with the help of filmmaker Elli Smith, of Children of the Setting Sun Productions.
Use these to help promote The Justice CORPS to more and more schools around the country…
5. Review Pre- and Post-Program Assessments, Revise & Strengthen the Model
What worked? What didn’t? How can we adapt the model from here for greater effectiveness?
6. Contact Massachusetts & other State Representatives for Endorsement
Some legislators have said they would consider endorsing The Justice CORPS as a mandate in their state once we run a pilot of the program! Follow up and stay involved with legislative opportunities at the state and federal level.
7. Open up the opportunity to more schools for the 2022-2023 school year
Write about our progress in their Independent School Magazine.
8. Shift the operating model to be more financially sustainable long-term
Working with Tides and other Advisors to create a long-term plan that scales to the national level.
9. Raise the Standard for Safety at private high schools around the country
Year 3, Week 31: IndieReaders Gives Can’t Stop the Sunrise 5 Stars!
“When a book comes along which is not only timely, but the kind of painstakingly detailed volume that can make a reader want to get involved, it’s cause for celebration, even in these unsettled times. Vanessa Osage’s CAN’T STOP THE SUNRISE: Adventures in Healing, Confronting Corruption & the Journey to Institutional Reform is just such a book.”
Also, as the reviewer gets into the details of the story…
“And here’s the most important part: school officials were aware of this, yet made — and continue to make today — every effort to cover it up from 1993, when Vanessa Fadjo Osage entered Lawrence Academy as a Freshmen, throughout the years in which she has since sought to eradicate the continued risk to students, while also requesting amends in the form of restitution and an apology.”
~C.S. Holmes for IndieReader
The present always offers an opportunity to make a situation right. When things are uncertain, doing the right thing (even when difficult) is a clear way to achieving the certainty of relief and hope…
Thank you IndieReader!
Year 3, Week 31: #GivingTuesday for a Rebalanced World
Once we see the truth of an unjust situation, we have to get to work on restructuring. Success of The Justice CORPS means success for all young students, no matter who they love, what color their skin is, or how much their parents make. True safeguards for Justice – in a world that makes sense. Let’s rebuild!
Would you give to see a day when institutional child abuse is no longer?
We can do better. https://gf.me/u/y9tkk4
Year 3, Week 28: #TruthHeals | A Conversation on White Collar Crime & Recovery
Some people hide from accountability, and leave a maze of confusion in their wake. Some people face themselves and their choices fully, then become a beacon of light for what comes next. Reverend Jeff Grant has been serving the White Collar community on the other side of these reckonings for eight years now. He provides counsel, facilitates a support group, and hosts two podcasts. This is the kind of social healing that can support all of us!
Listen through SoundCloud, Podbean, or watch on Youtube. All available at: https://prisonist.org/white-collar-week-with-jeff-grant-podcast-ep-17-truthheals-systemic-abuse-institutional-reform-with-vanessa-osage/
What an honor to share with these fine folks. Thank you Jeff Grant and Chloe Coppola!
Year 3, Week 22: The Answer Will Be Illuminated
Published by Stone & Feather Press, October 7, 2020. Available Now!
Year 3, Week 12: Stories of Rebalancing
When excess pressure is placed on a structure, all the pre-existing imbalances become unbearable. The coronavirus pandemic has put new pressures on all of us, on our physiological and emotional systems, on relationships, families, businesses and organizations. On and within nations.
When our foundation is strong, we can withstand the extra weight with as even a distribution as possible.
Yet, when you apply pressure to a foundation of inequity, abuse of power or inherent instability, things come crumbling down. Our social systems in America have revealed the weakness in their inherent imbalance over the last few months.
As with all lies, shameful hidings or deceptions, the time for allowing an imbalance always comes to an end. Sometimes, we can miss the danger of the imbalance, especially if we happen to sit atop the higher position at a given moment.
The beauty of things falling apart, though, is the opportunity to rebuild. Our economic system was built on the slave labor of certain people, and continues to oppress many. Our private, elite educational systems have woven abuse of power right into their policies. Once things fall apart, it is only foolish to cling to the previous imbalance that created the chaos in the first place. With the original order exposed as unjust or corrupt, we have to acknowledge the mess made.
Then, and most importantly, we have to restructure.
“Handling it internally” has created chaos for private schools (and churches) for decades. These systems are still yet to embrace the reform that is required from the current chaos. If institutions try to keep ‘we decide whether to investigate’ as a bedrock, it will only be more decades of crumbling, all over again.
Let’s not miss the opportunity to truly learn from what has surfaced in these particular imbalances. Letting schools decide whether to look into abuse on campus, and to say who will and will not be held accountable, is a forecast for tragedy.
This chaos asks us to look carefully at the internal imbalance that caused the rockslide to begin with. It is not one or two abusive men. It is a system of injustice and secrecy that has misled young people and mistreated families.
It is time for stories of rebalancing.
Stay tuned, as new kinds of stories are currently being told…
Year Three: It’s a Magic Number
Tomorrow, May 8, 2020, marks the start of year three in the public phase of The Amends Project!
During the early stages of creating my first nonprofit, Rooted Emerging, over a decade ago, a colleague for whom I have great respect said to me in encouragement,
“My mentor always says it takes three years to gather the people”.
There was truth in that – and I still watch the evolution of cohesion – especially when creating something that hasn’t existed yet in the modern world. I’ve also found this sentiment echoed elsewhere…
Ending and mending the cover-up problem will be deeply meaningful to so many. I’m selling transparency, here, to those who have benefitted from secrecy and the silencing of others. It is time. While the world (and I do, remarkably, mean the whole world) faces the reality of so many old systems breaking down . . . we must begin creating new systems soon. While we meet the necessity of adapting and forging new ways of being, I feel the moment is ripe.
Author David Kavady says this in his article on Medium:
The great news is – “buy in” on The Justice CORPS Initiative has begun and continues to grow! For those who follow this effort, I want to share that – while things may seem quiet – I am working quietly, determinedly, every single day behind the scenes. I have started a three-pronged approach. One arm has early confirmation with more coming. The second is nearly to completion. The third has news anticipated by July.
Here’s to the Magic Number 3!
Be well, everyone. Find a place of care, for yourself and those you love, so we can be proud of how we handle this time when we look back from a distant, new horizon…
Year 2, Week 49: Crisis : Opportunity
Year 2, Week 48: Hello, Racial Inequity
I recently enjoyed a full day training on The Groundwater Approach to understanding racial inequity across systems, through the Racial Equity Institute. Held at our local Whatcom Community College, the event was coordinated by the Center for Community Learning at Western Washington University and made possible through a number of local donors. The presentations were authentic, gripping and data-heavy. So, the picture of systemic racism was painted very clearly through graphs of actual research results gathered throughout the country. Their metaphor suggests, when something goes wrong, it’s not about the individual fish; it’s something in the groundwater. It was an eye-opening day.
Of course, The Amends Project and The Justice CORPS came to mind many times. Most notably, this definition brought back memories:
Institutional Oppression is collective group prejudice that is backed by legal authority and institutional control.
My insight into the intersection of race and institutional control comes from both heard and lived experience. Alumni of Lawrence Academy, Groton, MA, tell of the African American male student who was ‘made an example’ in the 90’s after an assault allegation – and immediately expelled. In the same year, the storyteller alleges, a white male student with family and money connections to the school was ‘covered for’ and, most tragically, emboldened to go on and abuse repeatedly at Lawrence Academy. Unequal protections? Are these practices backed by legal authority and institutional control?
My lived experience comes from attending Open House in 2018, as a registered guest and alumna. A young, female African American student (obviously a minor) was sent to follow me around campus and tell me where I could and could not be. A moment of appreciation, please, for the absurdity of a minor student sent to tell a woman in her 40’s that she cannot enter a building on her former high school campus.
It calls to mind the valid outcry of those who recognize that minority Americans are sent into battle first, for the country that does not equally support or protect them. Colored people on the front lines. When a line of police and staff/students approached me as I walked alone on the Lawrence Academy quad, I had my closest glimpse yet into the emotions and sensations of a combat situation.
Again – a moment of appreciation. If I attend Open House as a registered alumna, how does that become something reminiscent of a combat situation?! Institutional control.
Back to race. I thought often of that young girl, who was sent to scare me off my high school campus. After I resisted arrest (for, what? “attempted wrongful arrest”, as my lawyer calls it), I walked in the rain with a member of staff, and this young woman later approached with an umbrella. Did she have a glimpse of insight into her own role in this game? Was there a defiant change of heart as she watched me talk my way out of arrest? Had her parents given permission for their young daughter to be enlisted in such a special assignment at school? I imagined not. What does that tension and transformation look like in the eyes of a young woman of color on an elite high school campus?
The follow up question the Racial Equity Institute offers, after their definition of Institutional Oppression, is this – who was it set up to advantage?
The above stories shed very clear light on the answer. Hello, Racial Inequity. The question I offer, as creator and facilitator of The Justice CORPS Initiative is this – how could the very person a system is structured to advantage be the best person to decide how abuse will be handled on campus?
Students and families need somewhere else to go. They need a system that neutralizes for the effects of systemic racism, elitism and sexism. The balance of justice at its essence does not see these things – only the strength of moral character.
This is where we now must go.
Year 2, Week 47: Looking Good or Doing Good?
Someone just forwarded this information on to The Amends Project:
Of course, given what I know, there is a discrepancy here that needs to be resolved…
If a parent takes the effort to write me a paper letter and mail it across the country, after first writing to the newspapers along with other parents, I am going to believe that parent. A number of Non Disclosure Agreements have been signed at Lawrence Academy.
Now, this is an opportunity to call a bluff – or call for the actual release.
What I’m saying is – I know why even this new statement brings distress to those who have signed Non-Disclosure Agreements. I get it.
I asked administrators to ensure that this young man receive treatment, and the school where he currently attends be notified and allowed to create an informed, ethical response.
I have received zero settlement, and signed no agreements that protect the school.
“Come to me, [the one who repeatedly bullied the last student who came forward]” is essentially useless as a statement. People need somewhere else to go. Which, I trust, is why I received this message in my inbox this week.
Year 2, Week 43: For the Love of Language
This week, I sent some trans-continental love to all of 160 Massachusetts State Representatives, for the sake of advancing one particular clause of the Compiled Asks, in the Federal Initiative for Human Rights and Dignity. This effort represents the aligned vision of nearly 80 child safety and justice organizations from around the country. Kudos again to SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, for bringing us all together. After coordinating with these organization leaders throughout 2019, it was time for me to get moving on the ask closest to home in The Amends Project.
The love is in the way we can truly reach one another by honest, powerful words. It is enhanced by seeing the way original language holds the structure that can propel positive change forward.
As if the answer is in the question. When the definition has already defined the way forward…
February 12, 2020
Dear Massachusetts State Representatives,
I am writing today as a Massachusetts-born advocate and concerned citizen on a mission.
According to the Internal Revenue Service, IRS, charitable nonprofit organizations must abide by two important clauses:
- the purpose of preventing cruelty to children; and
- that no private interest may benefit by its operation
Right now, in the United States, private “nonprofit” high schools are concealing child abuse on their campuses, while high-earning headmasters and staff are benefiting from the systematic silencing of children and families.
We need your help to reconcile these core conflicts of interest and purpose in Massachusetts.
When the Boston Globe released their Spotlight Investigation into Boarding Schools in 2016, the country was rattled by the disturbing reality. An alarmingly high number of “respectable” organizations, many federally registered 501(c)3 nonprofits, were overseeing the unthinkable, and causing further damage by their efforts to conceal the truth.
It is time to bring about change, first on the state, and eventually, the Federal level. I ask you to be the leaders that Massachusetts residents elected you to be, and take steps to remedy this situation immediately. Specifically, I reach out today as President of The Amends Project, a nonprofit with the mission to “mend the loophole that has allowed for the cover up of child abuse at independent schools”. The Amends Project is one of 79 local and national organizations working on a Federal Initiative to protect the wellbeing of children, and heal the fractures in civic society.
Sister Organizations to this Federal Initiative include the #MeToo Movement, Child USA, RAINN, The US Human Rights Network, MassKids and so many more. We are grateful to SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, for leading this effort and creating a careful List of Compiled Asks, for changes on the federal level. With Boston at the heart of so many of these painfully revealed stories, I implore you as a Massachusetts Representative to act quickly.
The measure of any great unveiling is the power of the awakening that follows. This moment now calls for concrete action, to give positive momentum to urgency before us. We ask you to:
“Create and champion legislation that would remove nonprofit status of any institution that has failed to act in the best interest of children or vulnerable adults.”
On the fiscal level, a government cannot justify granting tax-exempt status and benefits to organizations where harms to its members cost our country’s healthcare infrastructure untold amounts each year. The national investment in tax incentives is meant to protect the Commonwealth. The costs of such harms must be borne by those failing to protect their members, and not by the people of Massachusetts or America as a whole.
Conflict of Interest & Purpose
To review the current IRS language for charitable nonprofits:
“The exempt purposes set forth in Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3) are charitable, religious, educational, scientific, literary, testing for public safety, fostering national or international amateur sports competition, and the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.”
The disqualifying language already exists in current legal parlance. Let it be restated here, in no uncertain terms: retaliation, defamation and/or the silencing of young people and families in the wake of abuse is cruelty to children.
The conflict lies in nonprofit, private schools proclaiming a mission to enhance the wellbeing of children, while simultaneously carrying out institutional abuse.
Benefitting Private Interests, “May Not Inure”
Federal Law also clearly states that:
“A section 501(c)(3) organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, such as the creator or the creator’s family, shareholders of the organization, other designated individuals, or persons controlled directly or indirectly by such private interests.
No part of the net earnings of a section 501(c)(3) organization may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual. A private shareholder or individual is a person having a personal and private interest in the activities of the organization.”
When a headmaster, trustee or other official seeks to protect his or her position at the expense of a student or organization member, they are directly benefitting their own private interests. Poignantly, the definition of the verb inure is, “to habituate to something undesirable, especially by prolonged subjection”. Our country has been too long subjected to the idea that a corrupted few will benefit at the expense of a vulnerable many.
The Role of Title IX & Exemptions
Title IX is the Federal Law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities that receive federal funding. Currently, a number of private school decision-makers enjoy exemption from Title IX, while leaving their students vulnerable to unequal protections under the law.
To review, this means that certain private, nonprofit schools in Massachusetts are exempt from taxation via their charitable status, and also exempt from upholding ethical standards in the treatment of their members under Title IX. Please consider for a moment, the risks this combination holds, and our obligations to our fellow citizens, equally deserving of justice.
Until these organizations can come into a higher level of compliance for ethical handling, it is imperative that we take a first step towards de-incentivizing abuse and corruption by removing tax-exempt status from organizations failing to protect children and vulnerable adults.
The First Small Step
While a problem of this size can often feel overwhelming, this specific ask – with all of its positive implications – is a simple, practice way to enact positive change now. We are trusting in you to take this first, small step.
Removing nonprofit status from Massachusetts-based organizations that fail to act in the best interest of children sends a message to the country that citizens of the state expect more from their charitable, nonprofit organizations. If Massachusetts led the way in revealing disturbing institutional inner-workings, it is only right that it now lead the way in proudly taking steps toward repairing the problem, once and for all.
As a leading member in a network of dedicated human rights organizations, I offer you this language, and the opportunity, to stand with us in protecting human rights and dignity for all.
President, The Amends Project
Year 2, Week 38: Existing Tools, Title IX & Civil Rights
This weekend I attended an incredible talk on the Evolution of Title IX, from its passage in 1972 to today, and looking forward. The American Association of University Women, AAUW, in Bellingham, WA hosted attorney Amy Klosterman to share her expertise. Her private practice law firm in Seattle specializes in Title IX Athletics, harassment or discrimination on the basis of sex, ADA accommodation and accessibility, race/color/national origin discrimination and training & policies regarding conduct.
Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education, including sexual harassment. It states “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Being so actively engaged in this issue for 25 years, I found the talk riveting. I learned that these civil rights protections were preceded by Title VII in the 1960’s which banned sex discrimination in employment. Educational institutions were excluded, which created the gap (or loophole) that Title IX needed to fill. I think of the current loophole that allows certain private institutions to bypass these protections. I also think of the current work of Time’s Up to prevent abuse of power in the workplace, and how that naturally must flow to education, as education precedes employment.
As a Sexuality Educator, I valued the ways sexual orientation and gender identity are now arising as necessary civil rights protections under this and other laws.
Most of all, as a person who cares deeply about human rights and social justice, I was absolutely reassured.
I noticed the rhythm that seems to accompany all movements toward positive change and progress: advocates fight very hard to stand up and speak up against injustice, they draw together and forecast a vision for a new way. When there are successes, there are those who fight against the change and seek to diminish the power of the movement (think racial equality, the women’s movement, and more). Then, as the collective lets these progress-blockers act out the anxiety of letting go of business-as-usual, humans calm back down and accept that progress must unfold. Our health as a species depends on it.
I saw my role in the far larger context, and felt profound gratitude for everyone working on this issue in the legal space, in state and national governments, in all levels of education and within families.
My biggest take away? It’s inevitable. Soon, hopefully very soon, private schools will be unable to slide under the radar of ‘exemptions’ from Title IX and will be forced to join progress toward protecting the wellbeing of all students. The time of harboring criminals, enacting silent retaliations, or giving preferential treatment to those in an ‘inner circle’ who break moral code will soon be long gone. Long Gone.
You can’t stop this wave.
Thank you to Amy Klosterman & the AAUW for your work in advancing civil rights!
Year 2, Week 36: 2020 – The Right Tool for the Job
I am setting the intention for 2020, that I will do my best to use the Right Tool for the Job as I proceed in achieving both the Mission and Goals of The Amends Project.
Looking over the past three years…
Goal # 1, Bring the Truth to Light
Tools utilized so far: voice, public speaking, the press, social media, private email and phone conversations, business cards at Open House, contacts with Accrediting Organizations, Universities, Legislators, Organization leaders, alumni associations and others, Wikipedia, media outlets of all kinds, and more
Goal # 2, Hold Leaders Accountable
Tools utilized so far: refusal to accept a confidential payout, saying no to a process that bypasses acknowledgement, Restorative Justice, a Public Response Event, naming every defense tactic observed, holding out for Honesty, persisting despite efforts by school leaders to intimidate/bully and more
Goal # 3, Enact Lasting, Positive Change
Tools utilized so far: good, hard work, research, collaborations, networking, alliance-building, strategic partnerships, whiteboard animation, grant applications, conferences and more
There is still much to be done.
Goal # 1 is largely achieved, even as the struggle to overwrite a controlled story onto the true and unruly one continues. In this Goal, I rest easy knowing that parents talk amongst themselves (I know, because they send me anonymous gratitude mail), and our bodies are so wisely attuned to detect inconsistencies in word/action. So, I feel accompanied beyond my own efforts here, in the success of this goal.
Goals # 2 & 3 reach beyond this one school, and interface with the current legal and educational reform systems. These are the extended root systems that have been awakened by this larger movement. So far, I’ve been able to see the big picture of lasting, positive change. Now, I am bringing together all the smaller pieces to make it complete…
Remember, the Mission is about mending.
With the New Year, I am laying out all of my tools and drawing up plans for what happens next. Stay tuned.
Here’s to a healthy, revitalized, growth-filled year in 2020
Year 2, Week 34: Love & Relationships, the Personal & Political
This week, I’ve overheard snippets of impeachment hearings and recognized my own tone, as echoed in these blog posts. The subtext I hear is a combination of, “This is so important, to defend the constitution and the values our society was built on” and “Your concern is not valid, in fact this whole thing is ridiculous, therefore, you are ridiculous”.
I see a truth chasing a fearful and defensive stance.
I think back on Bruce MacNeil calling me “unreasonable” to the Lowell Sun, after refusing to speak to me – and choosing to not attend the public response event in Cambridge, MA. I had pleaded, “This is so important, people are deeply hurt by your betrayal of trust and it is time to face the issue”. School officials responded with, “You are unreasonable, you only want money* (curious, have their decisions been financially based?) and everything you say is unproductive”.
A truth chasing a fearful, defensive stance.
* Note, I have received no settlement in my 25+ years of working for positive reform at this school
Yet, the truth remains.
That truth is – private schools, religious institutions and industries need to embrace transparency and justice regarding abuse of those in their care.
As I round out my client notes before the holiday break (see Love & Truth Rising for an overview of what I do) I contemplate on this year, personally and collectively…
I notice how the significant ruptures in the private sphere have now revealed their impacts in the public sphere. The truth has risen up – and it is time for us all to do better. I would say this year has insisted that we attend to our individual and collective integrity.
While I worked, I revisited a conversation titled, “The True, Hard Work of Love and Relationships”. Krista Tippet interviews Alain de Botton, and they are speaking of just this interface, the personal, the social and political…
“This is deeply, politically relevant.”, Tippet says. De Botton continues, “Political really means, outside of private space. We are highly socialized creatures who really take our cues from what is going on around us. And if we see an atmosphere of short tempers, of selfishness, etc., that will bolster those capacities within ourselves. If we see charity being exercised, if we see good humor, if we see forgiveness on display, again, it will lend support to those sides of ourselves.
“We need to take care what we’re exposing ourselves to. Because too much exposure to the opposite of love makes us into very hostile and angry people.”
Tippet speaks to the import of our conduct, and de Botton replies, “We’re far more sensitive than we allow for… we should think about this as we approach not just our personal lives, but our social and political relationships.
“Let’s not forget that one of the things that makes relationships so scary is we need to be weak in front of other people. Most of us are just experts at being pretty strong. We’ve been doing it for years… What we don’t know how to do is to make ourselves safely vulnerable. So we tend to get very twitchy, preternaturally aggressive, etc., when the moment has come to be weak.”
Yet, I wonder, what does the moment to be weak offer, as a promise for what we most long for as people?
Here’s to the courage of being truly seen without our defenses! This very tension is playing out, through ongoing impeachment hearings. It plays out where institutions who claim to care for children defame their own before ever admitting fault. Is it playing out in your life? How might we be brave?
So many of us will come together these next few weeks with those we love. Some of us will be among those with whom we disagree. Yet, love is there. I imagine the collective sigh of relief when defenses are laid down in safety, and a vibrant, warm thread starts to weave new life within and among us . . .
Year 2, Week 32: Anniversaries
After a wonderful stretch of new activity, rest, and many gratitudes… I want to simply share this:
* Be sure to scroll down on the page to follow along with the transcript *
Eighteen years ago this week, I gave the speech in the school auditorium to ‘break the unspoken pact to keep a secret’. True, seeing the bigger picture around this moment has brought both challenges and immense, strengthening clarity.
Here’s to getting real about bringing the Solution in 2020!
Year 2, Week 29: How Do We Get There?
How do we, as a human society, get to the point where our children and our grandchildren will be able to look back and say, “I can’t believe schools and churches used to abuse their own kids, and then get people to lie and cover it up. Terrible.” . . . ?
(hint: it doesn’t include lawsuits, or confidentiality/non-disclosure agreements, or secret tuition payouts)
This week, we revisit the most recent (unaltered) press about The Amends Project from The Lowell Sun:
Year 2, Week 28: Out There, Trying to Tell a New Story
“This idea of what we place value on… we have a certain way of thinking about change and how change happens – and that’s all up in the air right now. And there are people doing the work of deep culture shift but we have to value it as a society – with our money, with our time, with our journalism, with the conversations that we choose to have. This is a storytelling exercise, this era we’re living in.
And, who’s telling the story better? And who’s out there trying to tell a new story, trying to tell a different story – trying to shift the form of the story – and how do we get behind them?”
– America Ferrera, actress, activist & Founder of Harness
Year 2, Mid-Week 27: Happening Beneath the Surface
At midweek, I celebrate the ways undercurrents of change are always moving beneath the surface… It may seem a stronghold is at play – until the waters rise and the shift is undeniable.
One such current is the compiled asks in the Federal Initiative for Human Rights & Dignity, spearheaded by SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. A group of related child safety organizations is now meeting regularly to make traction on these positive reforms. Below is my favorite of the eight point list:
To the beauty of this! As a corrective measure, it just makes sense. Federal Charitable Organization status is a gift to those working for the greater good in our country. If an organization strays off-course, causing harm by protecting their reputation or endowments instead of their members, this gift is no longer a fit.
Federal laws also prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity and more. Again, if an institution disproportionately punishes students of certain racial backgrounds, while protecting others (with privilege or family connections, etc.), that discrimination would and should also be illegal.
This is where The Justice CORPS helps to address racial inequalities, as well as preventing discrimination on socio-economic status, orientation, identity and more. If a report of abuse is directed to within a school, leaders can be more lenient on their own kind (whatever that means) and more punitive on those they see as other. The Justice CORPS model directs those reports outside of school walls – to strictly non-affiliated adults.
Certain successes on the Federal level need to reach and positively impact private institutions – especially those enjoying nonprofit, tax-exempt charitable status. With the anonymity of reporting in the Justice CORPS model, quality of response is blind to certain existing privileges, and more fair, inclusive and equitable to all.
More on the undercurrents coming soon . . .
Year 2, Week 27: Control of Repair at Last?
Abuse Cover-up Scandal
Lawrence Academy played a role in the child abuse scandals at private boarding schools in the 1980s & ’90’s, by concealment of abuse on campus. Following two matching reports of child molestation in 1994, school officials chose to keep the accused person employed and living on campus. One of these students asked repeatedly what would be done, and was eventually told there was “no financial aid available for her return”. She was prevented from attending the following year.
In 2016, Lawrence Academy headmaster Daniel Scheibe issued a public statement, asking people with information to come forward. The former student who challenged their decision, Vanessa (Fadjo) Osage, ’96, came forward, yet again. She had returned to the school annually, from 1994-2001, to insist on protection for incoming students; school officials were knowingly employing and housing a child molester. The member of staff was excused from employment seven years later, on “permanent long-term disability”. The decision came when Ms. Osage was on her way to Groton, Massachusetts, at age 23, to give a speech in the Lawrence Academy auditorium on December 10, 2001. He was released just days before her arrival. Then-headmaster Steven L Hahn resigned the following year.
In 2016, following the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Investigation of Boarding Schools, Vanessa Osage retained attorney Mitchell Garabedian to represent her in a case against Lawrence Academy. In 2017, his office sent a demand letter to the school for $2 million in settlement. Soon after, Ms. Osage released the attorney, citing a mismatch of principles. She proceeded with resolution on her own. A feature article of her story was published in The Lowell Sun on May 27, 2018. Following publication, nearly a dozen former students, parents and families contacted her with stories of cover-ups at Lawrence Academy, with some allegations as recent as 2017.
Lawrence Academy officials offered Ms. Osage 1% and then 3% of the attorney’s demand, with a confidentiality clause, while “disagreeing” about what happened. She did not accept. Instead, she created a transparency and oversight model to prevent abuse cover ups called The Justice CORPS, the Committee to Oversee the Rights and Protections of Students, and incorporated her efforts into a state nonprofit called The Amends Project. Lawrence Academy officials hired attorneys from Sanghavi Law Firm in the summer of 2018 to create a report, after more former students came forward with similar allegations. Elizabeth Sanghavi is a former associate of Holland & Knight, the law firm currently representing the school. Some former students proceeded with lawsuits. The academy released their findings in a report on April 25, 2019.
The report tallied five separate accounts of child molestation with students from 1991-1994. The scope of the investigation was outlined roughly as only covering incidents regarding the one former member of staff. This did not include the original two accounts given on campus in 1994. At least five impacted-former-students chose to not participate in the investigation. Ms. Osage asked for verification that the report would not be edited or abridged, and the school would not provide this.
The former students’ accounts were found to be “credible”, and school officials apologized publicly for the employee’s behavior. Though, there has been no apology for the actions to cover up abuse. Another former student, “Student A” is cited in the report as saying, “There was a backlash against the students who made the allegations, and the school did not address this”.
The Lowell Sun continued press coverage on Lawrence Academy and The Amends Project from May 2018 to April 2019. In September 2019, Lowell Sun Managing Editor, Tom Zuppa, suddenly left his job after discovery of alteration of the most recent online article on the story. A phrase, “;school apologizes for response” was added to the headline, months after publication. A complaint has been filed with the Federal Trade Commission.
As of November 2019, school officials are yet to acknowledge the cover up behaviors, or to settle with Ms. Osage out of court.
Year 2, Week 26: Stories of Protecting What Matters
This week, I want to celebrate the release of three recent books on challenging systems of authority, for the sake of protecting what matters.
On October 1, Rachel Maddow released “Blowout”, the story of the oil and gas industries that have “…weakened democracies in developed and developing countries, fouled oceans and rivers, and propped up authoritarian thieves and killers.”
The expose shines a clear light on the question, “What has the web of corruption done globally to our world, and how can we fight for transparency?”
A fabulous read on the large-scale, global impacts on not ‘holding leaders accountable’.
“All the President’s Women”, by journalists Barry Levine & Monique El-Faizy, out October 22, asks the tough question, “Is Donald Trump merely a boor and a misogynist — or is he a predator?” Outdoing the Access Hollywood tapes, this book chronicles more than a dozen new allegations of sexual misconduct – as well as detailing Trump’s relationships with women from childhood to today.
With a blatant abuser having made his way to the highest office, what can we do now to create healthier social systems, from high schools to corporate offices to Capitol Hill?
Closest to home – in stories of private schools like Lawrence Academy of Groton, MA and others concealing abuse on high school campuses – is the recently released book by Ronan Farrow, “Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies & a Conspiracy to Protect Predators”.
“This is about what happens when [media] organizations enshrine in their corporate and legal practices a Cover-up Culture: a set of agreements and payouts designed to conceal abuse at a company.”
– Ronan Farrow
Enjoy this October 15, 2019 interview with Ronan Farrow.
“It meant that I had a moral obligation to get this evidence out before someone else got hurt.”
First, it’s a story about one abuser. Then, it’s a story about larger systems of deception and silencing that went unchecked – and are now revealed – until the pattern is clear as day . . .
It’s also time to share that The Amends Project is now part of a network of organizations working on a Federal Initiative for Human Rights and Dignity, specifically in response to institutional abuses of power.
Kudos to Tim Lennon and Zach Hiner from SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, for their persistent work in keeping related organizations connected and mobilized for the cause.
Look for updates on the upcoming All Survivors Day, November 3, 2019.
Thanks to all who work so beautifully for justice!
Year 2, Week 25: What are We Protecting?
Almost as if in response to the question of last week, this came from a supporter today:
Students in Maine are suspended for speaking out about abuse, and the lack of response by administration. They were sent away for doing the right thing. I suppose Americans do know why, sometimes, the women don’t stand up and say enough. Backlash.
My favorite line, from the voice of sane, healthy motherhood:
“I’ve never been so proud of my daughter and her classmates and I’m shocked that the school isn’t celebrating the leadership of these remarkable young women and men…”
How do we stop these abuses of power, the retaliation toward those who brave the discomfort so others can be healthy and safe?!
Coming soon, to a school near you . . .
Year 2, Week 24: Why Haven’t the Women Stood Up and Said, “Enough”?
In honor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I’d like to pass on some wisdom I recently encountered from the Achuar People of Ecuador. Since this institutional reform is based in education, it’s a great time to remember that we always have something to learn from those whose viewpoints differ from our own.
A dear friend shared a TED Talk by Sage Lavine on The Power of Female Entrepreneurs.
In it, Lavine tells the story of a conversation she had with the “jungle mamas” in the Amazon rainforest, who described the different roles men and women play in their village. The feminine role is to create, to make babies, and chicha their main carbohydrate drink. The masculine role is to hunt and to be a warrior, to bring home fish for protein and to cut down trees for shelter.
Yet, the women have one more role. It’s their job to say “Enough”.
When the men bring home trees for shelter, it’s the women’s job to say, “That’ll build shelter, don’t cut down any more trees”. When the men bring home fish for protein, it’s the women’s job to say, “That will feed the village. Don’t kill any more fish.”
When shown pictures of the landscape and the human impact in North America, they ask, “Why haven’t the women stood up and said, ‘Enough’?”
In connecting with the local university recently, I was also introduced to a book called, “Justice as Healing: Indigenous Ways”, with Wanda D. McCaslin, Editor, among over 50 contributors.
In the very first page of the Introduction, she writes, “From our experiences, most Aboriginal Peoples have never understood the exotic passion of Eurocentric society for labeling people as criminals and then making them suffer.” It continues to say the criminal justice system “displays the Eurocentric elite’s intolerance of human frailties and justifies a theory of social control by violence.”
The introduction is based on an article by James Sa’ke’j Youngblood Henderson, from the first issue of Justice as Healing, 1995.
Take in those lines, for a moment. Look through another lens . . .
Sometimes, it takes an outsider perspective to show us where we most need to grow. In the 2015 film “Spotlight”, chronicling the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Investigation into the child abuse scandals in the Catholic Church, the point is clearly made. It was only when a new Editor was brought in, a man of Jewish heritage from Florida named Marty Baron, when change really started happening.
An outsider can more easily say, “Wait, you tolerate this?!”, when insiders can often be lulled into complacency by the benefits of group belonging; they become more unconsciously accepting of the sacrifices asked.
That sight can be a great gift. When someone with fresh eyes comes in and reflects what they see, we can suddenly see ourselves more clearly. I have often thought this is the essence of what we give each other, the gift of our sight. That also means we can hone our sight to focus on what is most important, to see beneath the shields of prestige or status, and look to the heart of people, organizations and systems.
I was made an outsider suddenly when I asked for a necessary, positive change at one school in 1994. Their response? “Our way or go away.” At that point, they could send me away. Once on the outside, though, with people I cared about still on the inside, I soon gained much of what I needed to proceed on this path… I could see.
Where I believed the problem was one predator knowingly hidden on a campus in 1994, now, in 2019, I understand the larger systemic problem. It is written right into their policies. Now, when I ask for truth-telling and repair, they have only said, “we disagree” and sought to invalidate my perspective. Their response so far has remained, “Our way or go away.” How frustrating, then, that I haven’t gone away…
I am going, also and instead, to where growth is most possible – while not allowing a contribution to the “Be quite and go away” protocol this school has perpetuated. They are not the only ones. Most importantly, I understand from those who track quality and advances at other schools, that many are ready for a significant change.
Perhaps enough people in these places have started to say, “Enough”.
Enough abusing children and then staying quiet about it. Enough pressuring families into silence while the problems and the risks remain. Enough tuition-waiver payouts while no healing or justice ever unfold. No more ignoring the situation or the messenger.
This week, I ask the women, men and people of all genders who care about social justice to say it with me, “Enough“.
Tell the Truth.
Say Thank You.
Rebalance and Make Things Right.
Year 2, Week 22: Five Truths
Goal # 2: Hold Leaders Accountable
When you’re working to transform old, destructive systems of power…
Oh, what destructive system? Here it is, right here:
“the school determines whether to investigate the matter internally or whether an external entity (such as law enforcement or an outside consultant) should be involved.”
This is the “cover-up loophole”, and it is designed to keep a few people very comfortable, regardless of what happens – while putting many young people and their families at risk.
It’s time to change that.
Yet, some people are not ready. Some “disagree”. In this case, even admitting to a past cover-up is bringing a lot of unnecessary resistance. “Disagreeing” (Denial) is what keeps all addictions in check, until the time for healing is squarely upon you. Until there is nowhere else to go…
Coming out of denial can be hard – and sometimes, people act out. If you are among those working to insist on the falling away of destructive, old systems, you might notice this.
So, when you are working to bring about new, healthier systems in their place, you must keep in mind these Five Truths.
You can be the most gracious, high-minded, kind-hearted person they encounter… If you challenge their authority, they will defame you.
Hold a solid commitment to your own character – no one can ever reach that.
You will become a connoisseur of silence. Embrace and savor this.
“Ah, yes, the ‘if we ignore her, she’ll go away…’ silence. ‘Oh, a fine ‘I’m excited about what you’re doing, but scared to lose my job’ silence…
Know that gratitude for good work is ever-present, even if you don’t hear it immediately. People stand in varying degrees of readiness and personal safety. Have compassion for each one.
The bigger the counter-reaction to your efforts, the more likely the speaker has something to hide.
If you say, “Do the right thing here”, and they say, “You’re terrible! Unreasonable! Threatening!… you simply say to yourself, “Ahh… goldmine”.
Your job, at times, will be to disturb the comfortable – so the greater the agitation, the closer you are to success…
Of course, we all want to be comfortable. But, when certain people comfortably benefit at the great expense of others, a unique process unfolds. Listen and watch for the signs of agitation — these are openings.
Your goal, as a defender of justice & a re-balancer of power, is to cut through the disturbance and move directly toward the positive, new solution on the other side.
Stay the course
Stay true to your own integrity
Stay committed to the breakthrough and the health it will bring
Resistance to change may be natural – but abuse is not. Let the distracting tactics (defamation, silence, bullying, etc.) fall away. Name them and discard them. They are not the substance of this path. Hope, courage and positive change are.
Year 2, Week 21: Let’s Talk About Restorative Justice
Goal # 3: Enact Lasting, Positive Change
The Justice CORPS model, simply put, is this:
- non-affiliated adults receive and track reports of abuse
- they submit a monthly report of (anonymous) incidents to school leaders
- schools then either fall short, meet, or exceed the Guidelines laid out by the Independent Schools Task Force of 2018 in their response
- schools can exceed the guidelines by meeting the recommendations and also offering a Restorative Justice process to those involved
Why do Restorative Justice?
This wonderful short film on Restorative Justice shares these statistics:
Restorative Justice can reduce recidivism (repeat offense by someone who caused harm) by 88%
Restorative Justice has a 98% satisfaction rate among those who were harmed
Let’s think about those repercussions…
If repeat offense is decreased by 88%, that may be the most effective use of energy, time and human resources any institution (or government?) can offer – toward the goal of keeping everyone safer.
If 98% of those harmed report being satisfied, that (again) is less harms by preventing either the choice to harm another, or by the unintended harms that can happen when someone suffers without satisfying conclusion for too long.
We can question whether ‘punitive’ justice achieves these ends (and I trust someone is studying whether/how well they have).
The point I most watch for is the honest moment of reconciling. This week, I communicated to school officials, ‘If you cannot acknowledge the choices made to cover-up abuse, it sends a message – it tells parents that you would remove another student, or cause some other harms to keep yourselves comfortable… Would you?’
Restorative Justice is also a great fit in an educational setting, because it teaches so much about responsibility and the true consequences of our actions.
I regard the way Restorative Justice incorporates emotional intelligence into the process and outcome. When we have to face the person who was harmed by our choices, all sorts of physiological processes start taking place in our bodies. We register the experience of pain in the other, and see the connectedness of our actions in those we share the world with. That teaches perspective.
When facilitated well, it is a powerful opportunity to sift through how interpersonal responsibility works. We get to sort out where our responsibility truly reaches, and where it stops. Young people can practice a most crucial of social/relational skills – hearing another’s experience without defensiveness or shutting down.
I imagine all the marriages that can eventually be saved…
Beyond that, emotional intelligence is strongly correlated with professional success in our work lives as well. This article in Forbes describes how emotional intelligence is “a flexible set of skills that can be acquired and improved with practice.” contributing to success.
While this piece reports on research that links emotional intelligence with higher salaries and job satisfaction.
This is what these kids are in high school for.
This is also why there is such a strong movement for Restorative Justice practices to be implemented in schools at all levels.
High school, the in-between-space of childhood and adulthood, is the ideal setting to bring in these principles before students head off to establish their adult lives. People in this life stage strongly need healthy role models – they can detect BS with lightning speed – so, to have their leaders modeling this kind of responsibility and emotional intelligence is crucial. This is why it is so important that school officials live the principles to which their missions and words attest. This is where the question for young people will be answered, “Do my studies actually apply to real world life?”
I say, the answer we owe every one of them is YES.
Year 2, Week 20: Humor Heals
Moving old, outdated systems toward a positive reform, with honesty and accountability, can be tough work. How does one keep their spirits high?
When corruption is everywhere you turn . . . humor heals.
View at Medium.com
Year 2, Into Week 19: Goal # 1: Bring the Truth to Light
How many Lowell Sun employees does it take to reactivate an original, unaltered story?
No, it’s not the set-up to a joke . . . It’s a question that shouldn’t have to be asked.
Complaint to the Federal Trade Commission – filed.
Year 2, Week 19: The Power of the Witness
Goal # 3: Enact lasting, positive change
The Amends Project is proceeding outside the legal system… why? (I’ve been asked)
Well, first, unfortunately, the outcomes there can be too easily bought. Persuasion is strongly correlated to finances and nepotism. Conclusions in the human heart, not so much.
Second, the necessary growth of truth-telling is absent from the process (healing what, exactly?)
I’ve written on this before – but it’s time to revisit the concept again…
Punishment feeds a negative cycle and perpetuates disconnection, shame and hiding.
As someone in the field said, “You get better results with the carrot than you do with the stick.” Perhaps. I wonder, though, do we need to employ either?
It reminds me of the research on molding children’s behavior through praise. If you reward and reward what you like, then, logic suggests, you get more of it. Of course, there is the idea of the internal locus of control and motivation. With too much praise, the motivators become solely external and the internal locus is weakened. Any parents out there familiar with the research on the effects of too much praise?
I have to acknowledge a deep belief in the inherent strength of human nature. It feels good, and for good reason, when we do the right thing. Integrity has its own positive ripple effects. Loyalty is correlated to happiness. Authenticity keeps us healthy. Honest connections are the natural rewards.
The evolution of the ‘praise’ approach is that we can instead affirm the behavior we see, without even introducing a question of inherent worth or approval to the conversation.
“I really appreciated it when you helped your little brother without being asked.”
“You’re such a good boy! Don’t we love our little helper!”
Before I get too far into parenting psychology, let’s remember the underlying theme: doing the right thing only because of reward or punishment
Currently, the promise of justice in most legal cases is the promise of payment as punishment. Fines are meant to hurt the wrong-doer – not necessarily to heal the fracture between two parties. The threat of fines – especially without honest reconciling – breeds only fear. When exchanged by force, the money carries its own charge, and its own unfolding consequences (more secrecy & cover-up behavior by a wrong-doer?)
I want to suggest that both the carrot and the stick are extremes that miss the mark of growth and repair. We need to step off that first wheel entirely.
The same way, “I really appreciated when you helped your little brother…” feels calm and balanced, so too is an approach that simply looks clearly and directly at how schools respond to abuse.
Tracking incidents and the quality of response in the Justice CORPS model does not carry the weight of punishment or the promise of praise in its gaze.
It is the power of the witness alone.
Within this potency is the acknowledgement that we all care about one another, we value our own honor and (most of all) we regard our place in our communities.
Participation in the model doesn’t come with an immediate, “You’re such a good institution! Don’t we love our little administration!” right on the heels of one good choice. That does run the risk of making the whole endeavor too outwardly focused – too dependent on ‘carrots’ to keep moving forward.
The Seal of Excellence in Child Safety must be earned, over time. At least three years time. Just like earning trust and building a strong relationship, it is the accumulation of many good choices that slowly reveal an inherent character.
Right now, the work of the Independent Schools Task Force of 2018 rests as simple recommendations. Even accreditation (as I’ve learned) is very simply a statement of intentions. As such, a headmaster can say something like, “We renew our commitment to upholding these standards” and have it mean nothing at all in practice. For right now, there is no retrospective to look back and see whether the actions have yet or ever met intentions.
That’s where the Justice CORPS comes in.
The CORPS – the Committee to Oversee the Rights & Protections of Students – exists to bear witness. They do not judge. They do not praise. They do not threaten or offer reward in either extreme. They see and they make an honest account.
Then, the real motivators of human behavior get to kick in: care for one another, self-value, personal honor, regard for our place among fellow human beings
If this sight, and the opportunity for self-reflection it offers, leads to actions that consistently keep kids safer – that is worth celebrating. Then, we acknowledge excellence.
The Justice CORPS breaks the habit of (weak) institutional self-policing and introduces the wise and steady Witness.
Do you know anyone like this? That person who can hear your story and be so steady and nonreactive that you feel calm, safe and held… Even if you might crave a big celebratory moment, or fear a negative reaction, they are only solid. They see you. Their solidity lets you see yourself more clearly, through their unwavering gaze.
This is the spirit of the members who will be assembled to oversee each school. They are diverse, gender balanced, even minority representative and they simply SEE. They receive the reports, relay options and record. That’s it.
Let’s put away both the carrot and the stick and bring in the power of the witness. As the video says, “We can only solve the problem that we truly see.”
Year 2, Week 18: Where have I felt this before…?
Goal # 2. Hold Leaders Accountable
There must be a word… As I continually return to editing the Wikipedia on the school (it is the creative commons, after all!), after finding it repeatedly erased, my mind wonders to the question, “What is the word for this specific sensation of annoyance, eye-rolling absurdity combined with general disappointment in humanity?” I mean, these are adults.
The issue is the cover up of abuse and poor choices. Yet, there they continue, trying to hide and conceal the facts by erasing the details of the story.
Wait, this feeling is strangely familiar this week . . .
Instead of demonstrating the strength to say, “I was wrong. I made a mistake. I am sorry.”, buddies are pressured behind the scenes – and we watch someone we are meant to count on as a leader take action to hide the mistake (one with a delete button – one with a sharpie). Then, they lie about the cover-up action, and the saddest part of all of it is – the greatest consequences are caused by the cover-up.
In both cases.
The Lowell Sun – despite some valiant efforts by a few internal employees – is still unable to reactive the original story on the report of abuse/cover-up at Lawrence Academy from April 25, 2019. Even by putting the “new” (altered) article onto the old link – we still see the story as “updated” in August and also September.
Altering the reality. Changing the documents that relay important safety information to the public. . . Have you felt this particular feeling recently?
Yes, I went ahead and filed complaint with the FCC for the alteration on online information. Tom Zuppa had said he would get back to me once the original story was available again… Then (sadness again, here) he suddenly left his job. At a workplace he’s called his professional home for 24 years. After being promoted to Senior Editor just 9 months ago. “Personal reasons”, he said.
Ok, raise your hand if you want to feel better about the men who we count on for leadership.
It can’t be that the lesson on honesty and doing the right thing was actually missed… I wonder, maybe certain people let themselves believe that it simply didn’t apply to them. Maybe.
Either way, the teacher in me was compelled to offer this to school leaders, Trustee & attorney this past week, for constructive progress:
Here’s to learning from our mistakes! Here’s to making choices that start to build trust. Here’s to inspiring a different feeling in those who look to you for reliability, strength and leadership.
Year 2, Week 17: Now You See It, Now You Don’t
In last week’s post, I used the phrase, “controlled story”. What does that mean here?
- Well, first, if you did a search for “lawrence academy groton me” in early-August, you would see this:
If you looked just a week later, this:
(how do a dance academy & a comic store suddenly show up below a school review?)
2. What about Wikipedia?
Check for ongoing alterations here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Academy_(Groton,_Massachusetts)
Ok, the internet can be touchy . . .
Let’s just go direct, and reference the latest press on the story, from The Lowell Sun, April 25, 2019:
Hmmm, here is a very similar article, marked as “updated” on August 21, 2019
Wait, let’s compare hyperlinks:
Read the words carefully, please… one (the original) states the headline as it was published, and stops at “1990s”. The second (working link) has an added comment: school-apologizes-for-response/
Hold on! — can a newspaper actually Change a Headline retroactively? Add and change content to a published story?! If the original story is gone – and the new one is different – was has happened here?
3. What if you ask and ask the Editor (starting August 20) to fix that link ASAP…?
Now, for the larger questions…
Did Lawrence Academy actually apologize for their choices?
First, “We could have done more. We failed to do more. We apologize for those failings.” is obviously incomplete. This statement dodges responsibility and does not claim any of the actions taken to cover up abuse, or put others at risk. ‘Room for improvement’? That’s it?
On the eve of the report’s release, headmaster Dan Scheibe called me to talk. With his assistant listening in, he carefully spoke some of the findings over the phone… then, tension built as he shared a confusing, double negative statement regarding my experience as a child, gathered by Sanghavi Law Firm. Remember, I chose to not participate in the investigation, on principle that it could not be verified as unaltered by the school. The gist? They were preparing to defame me in a Much Bigger Way… It was the closest I have come yet to releasing the attorneys and filing suit, with multiple charges by now.
Dan was calling to test the waters, to see how I would react to their including the comment in their report…
Now, common sense tells me, if they actually intended to apologize to me, they would have included me in their mass email. They did not include me, and I received no apology – but I did have their statement forwarded by a friend. I had made it very clear to everyone involved the night before, if they took that step, I would file suit for multiple counts of defamation, in addition to the original charge of negligence, recent bullying and more.
It turns out, you can edit the report from an “independent investigation” at the last minute, if you assess the risk is too great for your possible reward. I mean, you (well, your donors) paid for it.
Now, let’s step WAY BACK . . . .
This is a school.
Their mission is … “to provide students with discerning mentors who support self-discovery and risk-taking” and, “to reflect upon, understand, and learn from failure as well as success”, among other things…
Their purpose is to prepare young people for adult life.
They charge upwards of $60,000/year to care for and educate other people’s children.
Is this how our public interest institutions act? Are they proving themselves to be trustworthy leaders in the community?
What are they teaching about right and wrong?
Oh, while we’re clearing things up, my actual statement to the Lowell Sun reporter on April 24, 2019 was, “I do expect them to settle with me, because it’s the right thing to do.”
(the reporter took out the “right thing to do” half of the sentence)
And maybe that is the larger point that’s missing from this whole unfolding… Doing the right thing.
It seems to me, you can spend excess time, energy and donor resources creating the ILLUSION of doing the right thing. You can waste all of these and more trying to control the story. Or, you can choose to do the right thing. You can pay SEO people, bully or scare others until they leave their jobs, so that it looks like you’re doing the right thing. Or, you can make good choices, and let your actions speak for themselves.
Which path would you want for your child’s school?
Year 2, Week 16: This is for Everyone
Core Tenet # 5 of The Amends Project is “This is for everyone”. How so?
The goal is to proceed on this path in a way that aligns with my values and is balanced in its ultimate outcome. Simply put, I will take no conclusion that benefits me and offers no lasting change to support others. Likewise, I will accept no outcome that benefits everyone else and excludes myself.
This is for everyone.
Of course, The Justice CORPS is designed to benefit more and more families in schools, and eventually churches – then, someday – other structures of power.
First, I go quickly in my heart and mind toward the many who have faced or are facing this issue (institutional abuse of power) in some way. There are so many varied stories (I hold a good deal of them, from those who have given me their trust) and I acknowledge their complexity. There is no one, right way.
I don’t imagine to understand all the circumstances surrounding someone’s decision, in finding their own experience of closure. If, for some, the right and best answer is to confidentially accept a tuition waiver, or to go to court and receive confidential settlement – I give my full acceptance.
Everyone’s path is unique, and I expect no one to mimic my path if it goes against what they know is right for them. I also believe that everyone is called to make a stand – in some way – in some aspect of their lives, at some point, to become fully whole and human. It may be confronting an abusive parent, or standing up for themselves to an employer, or refusing to participate in a system that destroys something they hold valuable. Each meets their own.
This just happens to be mine.
What I do know is that humans, by nature, thrive in an environment of truth-telling. Just today, on the radio, I heard someone say, “Reconciliation is about telling truths”. This is why the repair and peace-building movements across the world are referred to as “Truth & Reconciliation Commissions”. This is also why the school’s suggestion, ‘take our false story, and 3% (oh, and don’t tell anyone), and go away now’ is entirely unacceptable to me. I have a high regard for the physical, psychological and interpersonal benefits of an honest exchange. We are biologically adapted to seek and know just that kind of health.
When resolution can finally include truth telling in these institutions, we will all be better off for it.
As a brilliant colleague pointed out, when this school can settle with me in the context of honesty, respect and fairness – it sets a precedent for other people who may ever encounter an abuse of power of any kind. It will be an offering to the world that says, “It can be done.”
So, if Lawrence Academy says, “We disagree about what happened… (read: denial) and instead, we’ll hire our buddies to tell everyone what happened (in a way that misleads them and keeps us safe)”, there is so much waste of Public Relations time, energy and money. People are not fooled. True, some may be very literally invested in believing a controlled story and lie – yet a truth never stays hidden for long.
When the pattern repeats with their child, or with a child in a nearby social circle, the Truth returns loud, undeniable and clear. This is why the stories I hear from 2017 only affirm and reaffirm the biggest issue I see enduring from the 1990’s onward. Maybe you’ve experienced it. ‘How they do it there’ is to amp up the isolation, shame and fear until a family either forgets, believes it ‘wasn’t a big deal’, and/or accepts some quietly controlled conclusion.
(Again, my compassion to those who find themselves faced with no other good options)
There is another way . . .
So, back to This is for Everyone. There is a flip side to this, too, which is — what benefits others must also benefit the one giving the gift.
Yes, generosity is a remarkable virtue where the joy and benefit truly can lie in the giving alone. It creates more and sustains the heart and soul. “It is in giving that we receive’, it is said. Of course, there are Many places in life that call for a pure and altruistic giving. Places of trust, established reciprocity and love…
Still, there is a necessary wisdom in giving well.
As Lynn Twist beautifully says, “If you’re in touch with the pain and suffering in this world, and you’re really willing to open your heart to that – you will do something about it. You will do what’s yours to do. And, in order to do what’s your to do and to do it well, you need to take care of yourself, too.”
I have slowly learned over decades that I have to include myself in my generosity toward the world. If I give to others at the expense of myself, there has truly been a less-than-ideal exchange. If you’re real with yourself, you know where you currently fall on this continuum… Also, and this is an indicator of healing on many levels, reclaiming inclusion in the good of the world is an antidote to being excluded for speaking up for what is right.
Remember, regarding that settlement, the midpoint between 100% and 3% of demand is still a lot higher than 20%. When two people are negotiating for fair conclusion, or seeking to find the middle ground, both positions have equal value in stating their needs. I am showing up to this table in full possession of my equal value. I am talking about Balance, here.
What’s happening in The Amends Project is a rebalancing of order and power, in places that advertise (and handily charge) for the service of “preparing kids for college”. If one school gave the opposite service after taking excessive resources from my family, this is not the moment for lop-sided giving. There are larger principles at play.
Fiduciary Responsibility, as one alumna put it.
Accountability, as many have echoed.
Justice, as so many relate to this.
So, I am also unwilling to give an inconsistent message. If I make my efforts solely about other people and other schools without insisting on honest, positive resolution here – I have added a coin to the piggy bank of complacency. I am not making that investment.
It is also important to challenge the idea that “good work” should go unpaid. This mentality can stream through the nonprofit world in a way that weakens people and undermines missions. Did I mention recently I ran a small nonprofit in Bellingham, Washington for nearly a decade? I have explored this from many angles…
Now, I accept as an adult, that some endeavors require early sacrifice in the form of a trade-off. I don’t get to have consistent job stability and income while I give time to creating this lasting solution. The start-up phase calls for creativity. There is a place for devotion that becomes a long-term investment in something more enduring. I see that.
I give now, as a long-range investment in all of our betterment and evolution.
Still, we must also watch for ways we mis-assign value in our society. To again quote Lynn Twist, “What we appreciate appreciates”. I ask that we continually challenge the idea that only unethical work is rewarded with high income. If we see that, we can choose to feed another idea: Good work that benefits many is highly valuable.
I intend to be a model for this healthy balance as I carry on.
So, to recap, how is The Amends Project for everyone?
- Resolution with Honesty is a gift to everyone who has been affected by an incident
- Insistence on true accountability will set a precedent for others who have faced or may ever face abuse of power
- Giving well includes taking care of oneself while doing what is yours to do
- One way to heal exclusion is by claiming your equal value and a positive inclusion
- Challenging corruption includes valuing efforts that benefit the many by appropriately assigning value to good work in the world
Here’s hoping we ALL enjoy the benefits of this devotion very, very soon.
Year 2, Week 15: Back to School, Here We Go Again
When you’re working to interrupt a cycle and set it on a new course, you’ll always notice when it is about to repeat again, in the same old way. Sometimes, it takes a few very strong pulls on the wheel, to turn the ship until a new land is in sight.
School is getting started again, from kindergarten to elementary to high schools across the nation.
I’ve been thinking about culture, in the anthropological sense – behavior that is “learned and shared”. It’s amazing, really, how such subtle moments can give all kinds of information to those who are learning a new culture. If something bad happens, and you watch everyone around go silent/do nothing, you just learned the shared behavior. Almost the same way a child who falls and scrapes a knee looks to an adult to ask silently, ‘Do I need to be concerned about this?’, we are always signaling ‘how we do things here’.
I understand this to be the power of the Bystander Approach in gender violence prevention work. From the Mentors in Violence Prevention, MVP, website:
What is a bystander?
In the MVP Model, a bystander is defined as a family member, friend, classmate, teammate, coworker—anyone who has a family, school, social, or professional relationship with someone who might in some way be abusive or experiencing abuse.
“Bystander” also refers to anyone in a larger peer culture, whether or not they are present at the time of a specific incident.
The goal is to help people move from being passive bystanders to being empowered and active ones, and thus contribute to a change in the social acceptability of harassment, abuse or violence.
This really begs the question… What role do we each have to play? One of my ongoing hopes is that those who are standing-by (in very close range) shift from feelings of powerlessness (“I don’t make decisions here”) to empowerment: “I can shift the way culture happens here by even small acts of solidarity and resistance.”
- Do you choose to spread an ugly rumor about a former student, or challenge it?
- Do you follow orders to arrest someone who is breaking no law, or set a limit on what you will and will not do?
- Do you stay silent when a Committee President suggests a cruel counter-move, or speak up?
What does empower people in these moments?
We can all be agents of cultural change. For, what is learned can be un-learned. What is shared can be intentionally not shared, even while connection is preserved.
What will we learn this year?
Year 2, Week 14: Truth is a Foundation
This week, I’ve been laying the groundwork to announce the Open Call to Schools by January 2020, with a start of The Justice CORPS Initiative for fall of 2020. This means all the finer details of inviting schools to the opportunity, interviewing Justice CORPS members, partner organization collaborations and fine tuning the entire model have now begun.
I am also now welcoming interns from northwest area Universities as well, to enhance this phase of nonprofit development. Feeling grateful for the richness of this region, with such a strong social progress ethic. We are creating a solid foundation for getting this solution off the ground and into larger social life, in ideal timing.
I also got greater clarity on the other branch of the effort – for alternate positive resolution.
If I were to accept settlement without honest acknowledgement, I would still be complicit in a cover-up. The money does not buy me going away while a contrived and controlled narrative is distributed. To allow an incomplete, false story is to imply my acceptance of it.
Last week, I discovered another layer of corruption in that investigation. Elizabeth Sanghavi is a former associate of Holland & Knight, the law firm currently representing the school. That is a direct conflict of interest. That makes the report of April 25, 2019 even further from “independent”.
Besides, painting a detailed picture – again – only distracts from the larger issue.
When adults in positions of authority knowingly endanger other people’s children – despite pleading for ethical action by a young student – that’s an issue. That’s a big deal. Especially when you charge a tuition, greater than the combined annual income of the average American family, to educate those children.
We must expect more.
So, my new song is familiar, yet simple:
Tell the truth.
Say thank you.
Rebalance and make things right.
Year 2, Week 13: The Context Wheel
Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with a dear acquaintance – someone I hadn’t seen or chatted with for a number of years…
While trying to briefly and lightly explain the shift in my work – from puberty rites of passage to institutional reform – he reflected, quite remarkably, a number of core truths in the process.
He asked me if I’d heard of the victim/perpetrator/rescuer triangle. Indeed, I had. He spoke of how psychologists in Oregon had laid this out and it was picked up by popular culture, or popular psychology. I do know it well.
I’ve come across the concept in books on recovery, personal growth and spiritual integration. It goes like this:
When something bad happens, the lower road is to sort parties into one of two categories. Then, a third often arises.
victim – the person who was harmed
traits associated: innocence, helplessness, voiceless, thoroughly ruined
perpetrator – the person who caused harm
traits associated: malice, irreparable fault of nature, sadism
It allows the one harmed to be fully excused of responsibility and agency, both. It allows the one who caused harm to be completely denied of their woundedness or human potential for remorse.
The third point, is the Rescuer.
rescuer – a third party who defends the one harmed against the ”bad guy”
traits associated: noble, heroic, above scrutiny, strongly biased
If only I could bring my emotional intelligence class for 1st-3rd graders to adults of all ages. How else might we write the story line, instead of ‘good guys’ & ‘bad guys’? . . .
It was Two Years ago this week that my former attorney drafted up a Demand Letter to Lawrence Academy for $2 million in settlement.
I recall him using the word “evil” to describe the actions of the school against me as a child, while we spoke over the phone. In that moment, I recognized an inner discord. ‘Hmm…’, I thought, ‘I believe we have a different philosophy about how to approach this.’
There can be an attraction to this triangulation, especially for one who endured hardship (for me, that was mute or absent in 2017). There can be a draw overall, as well, because of ease and simplicity. Good | Bad, Innocent | Evil. Everyone assumes a known role then and fear and panic set in. We don’t have to look carefully. We don’t have to track nuance. We don’t even have to face each other.
Now, I do believe in holding a firm footing on solid moral ground. This is not about excusing wrong-doing in any way. It is about how we view the moment and all that contributed to its arising…
Most intriguing is this fact: The presence of the third party (rescuer) tends to escalate violence in the situation.
I remember reading that years ago and feeling blown away. Really?! Then, I saw it play out in a number of situations. The indignation of the one who interpreted themselves as ‘victim’ quickly found their ‘rescuers’ and allied forces. Once fed with justified anger, and ‘poor you!’s, they often retaliated — even when the known hurt was simply an echo of their own past…
How do we distinguish triangulation from regular-old supporting and standing up for the ones we love?
The higher road allows everyone to be human, and for everyone to be safe. There is a commitment to Humanizing.
Honesty & Clarity.
And how to recognize Triangulation?
If we immediately dismiss the one who caused harm as less-than-human, or unworthy of our own true sight, then we have started down the lower road…
As I told my old acquaintance this weekend, I believe strongly that we will always accomplish more by humanizing than we will by demonizing.
I want to offer another triangle to consider. One for the context. Here we go:
Though, as I write this out, maybe it is a circle. A direct feedback loop. Let’s try this:
Shame exists in the space between the victim and the perpetrator. It is actually shared. There is shame for the one who was harmed, and for the one who caused harm. Why? Because any violation of the space between people causes a painful reverberation in both directions. It is the disconnection that carries the echo of shame to both points. It will look and feel different from each position, but it is the discord itself that needs tending.
Punishment exists between the victim and the rescuer because it is the promise and the shared cause, if a destructive one. Sometimes, people substitute the word Justice here (as a nobler stand-in for punishment). But, wherever the mission is to ‘hurt you back’, we have met the ill of punishment.
Secrecy/Hiding, then, is the space between the rescuer and the perpetrator. This would have been my lawyer and the school, had we continued on that road. If the circle moves (bear with me on visuals, here) in counter-clockwise direction, then the promise made to the victim is carried out – and enacted – upon the perpetrator. So, naturally, secrecy and hiding are the consequence.
Here’s the catch — once this is set in motion, it is self-perpetuating.
We have all harmed. I know that in my weaker or more unconscious moments I have hurt others. It is a painful truth of being an imperfect human, and something we all share. It is something we all must reconcile in the best possible ways.
When someone hides or lives through secrecy (a gracious Hello to you, Dan, Bruce, Paul…), in hopes of avoiding punishment, they actually create more shame. Now, they have not only their wrongdoing to account for, but their choice to hide as well. Hence, begins the downward spiral.
It is driven by fear, yes. But it is reflective of something much larger.
We all need to be safe.
Headmasters who lie and cover up abuse by family members, need to feel safe.
Board Presidents who defame a young woman they don’t know, in hopes of not facing a terrible past, need to feel safe.
Lawyers who sit in on Restorative Justice Circles, and fail to maintain humanity in the face of pressure to ‘do their job and dismiss allegations’, also, need to feel safe.
So, now what?
What else can we do?
Maybe we can’t see yet just what shape exists at the center of this new wheel. But the context here has been clearly set: Honesty, Accountability, Positive Change.
Year 2, Week 12: Change & Its Forces
This past week, I got to meet some amazing people in Seattle, Washington. Foundation representatives, nonprofit leaders, school accrediting directors. I was inspired to remember how clearly so many people long for positive change – and devote their lives to it.
Change can bring fear, tension and resistance. That’s only part of it. But, to remember the other side of transformation, with strong people in real time – the hope, the health, the courage and conviction. This was such a gift.
While doing my best to be succinct about 25 years of effort to make one school stronger, I thought often of this moment:
(2:54 edited clips of a 20 minute speech – recorded on mini-cassette)
What felt like a very private effort to persist (over 7 years) to keep kids safe had finally gained enough context and urgency, I recognized I had to DO something. Asking those in decision-making power to do the right thing was yielding no results.
How did I coordinate this? After visiting the headmaster annually from 1994-2001, I suddenly received a standard mailing… way out in Northern California, requesting money and “feedback” from alumni. My guess was – their new admin employee didn’t get the memo about my relationship with the school.
This brought me an important inner moment of, “I am Done.”. The powerful, “That’s it.” A colleague reminded me recently that losing patience – in certain situations – can be a great asset. In lieu of my going to the press, Steve Hahn agreed to allow me to come and speak on December 10, 2001.
He called shortly before to “talk about content”, but I’d already left. In the days before cell phones, I was driving across the country to Massachusetts – and could not be reached.
This was the moment that finally urged school leaders to release a documented child molester from their staff. I got the news shortly before I arrived in the Lawrence Academy auditorium.
Now, the larger context around those decisions is much, much clearer. That moment was important for immediate safety in one place. Everything that allowed it to occur and continue is what I am working to address now, in 2019.
Like other wise and supportive friends and colleagues say – change always comes, but often not in the way you expect it.
Looking forward to getting started!
Year 2, Week 11: Anatomy of an Apology
Today, while researching potential funders, I happened upon a perplexing headline from the Groton (MA) Herald, “Lawrence Academy Apologizes “Unconditionally” for Former Employee’s Behavior“.
What’s the confusion, you ask?
Let’s do a quick Anatomy of an Apology:
- “I’m sorry” must always be owned by the speaker, and so, followed by “I” or “we”. For example, “I’m sorry I left your car keys at the park”, or “I’m sorry we didn’t come back when we said we would.” are true apologies. We can only apologize for what is ours to claim. You can feel how this language is riskier and far more powerful.
- “I’m sorry you” is always an avoidance of responsibility. Likewise, “We’re sorry he” only points a finger and confuses who is responsible for what. You may hear, “I’m sorry you feel that way”, or “I’m sorry you’re hurt about this”. Are we? It may be more accurate to say, “I’m disappointed that you’re upset about this”, or “I’m scared about facing my role in hurting you.”
- “I’m sorry I”, then, is always followed by an action word. So, in the being late example, “I’m sorry I’m too flexible for you” would still not qualify as an apology. Can you read the displacement of blame there? A true apology speaks from the first person AND includes the action chosen by the speaker:“I’m sorry I chose to keep chatting at the end of the party instead of meeting you when we agreed.”
There is, of course, more to regret, remorse, ownership and personal responsibility. For our purposes here, let’s just recap by saying that a True Apology must have two key components:
- “I’m sorry I/we…”
- + action word (chose to keep chatting/left your keys)
In this model, how does the headline hold up?
“Lawrence Academy is relieved to focus on the behavior of a former employee, taking the scrutiny off current administration” Or “Lawrence Academy is disgusted by the actions of a former employee; remains unwilling to address their own choices”
Here’s the thing: We have to expect more from our school leaders.
They surely expect a lot from their students (academically, behaviorally) and their families (financially, personally in giving their children). Reciprocity and Balance are such integral parts of healthy relationships. They expect a lot – and so should we. If no one expects honesty or sincerity from these decision-makers… how will they ever rise?
This effort has two branches.
One is understanding the systemic nature of cover-ups by tracking the response of one school when held to an honest account outside of court.
The second is the implementation of a system-wide solution to bring transparency, oversight – and ultimately greater health – to our social systems.
. . . The true nature of the problem informs the details of the solution.
Most importantly, the headline – and the message it conveys – does nothing meaningful to those most impacted by institutional abuse. It doesn’t reassure parents who are still concerned about mishandling of abuse from 2014-2017. It doesn’t help heal the families who were betrayed by sending their kids to a school where leadership knowingly sheltered a predator (1994-2001).
It does nothing for the one who was sent away for speaking up about the abuse, and challenging the decision to put further kids in harm’s way.
Lastly, it must be said that a truly noble apology is designed to serve the one who was harmed. If it keeps the wrongdoer comfortable and does not move the one harmed in any significant way, it has been ineffective.
I say it is time to call these kinds of fuzzy, confusing public statements unacceptable from the schools that ask for so much. I am continuing to ask this school to issue a second, honest and sincere apology – not because they’ve demonstrated high character yet – but because…
holding a higher standard has to start somewhere.
Year 2, Week 9: So, You Want to Change the World?
Oh, Fantastic! You are in the right place. We do, too. The approach is transforming systems perpetuating institutional abuse – into ones of transparency, oversight and accountability. We are placing power back in the hands of youth & families.
. . . Ready to begin?
Five Ways to Give!
1. Donate Directly to our Nonprofit Paypal Account
Clicking this button allows you to donate directly
to our nonprofit bank account at any time.
2. Send a check to our mailing address
Checks may be payable to “The Amends Project”
PO Box 1559
3. Send an Anonymous Cashier’s Check directly to the credit union housing our nonprofit bank account
Simply make payable to “The Amends Project” and mail to:
Whatcom Educational Credit Union (WECU)
PO Box 9750
Bellingham, WA 98227
4. Give to the GoFundMe which funnels to the nonprofit bank account
* Find a detailed budget for the three-year program here! *
5. Give to the ongoing GoFundMe (started by a fellow alumna at one impacted boarding school) to support the facilitator in reaching this goal!
Donations are welcome here until the minimum is reached for fiscal sponsorship and the pilot program is rolling.
What about Transparency & Accountability in the donations process? Here are the criteria for giving:
1. Donors may be affiliated with Lawrence Academy of Groton, MA, or other private independent schools, only if they agree that their gift is unrestricted.
2. Donors do not earn positions of decision-making power or influence by their gift.
3. Donors may receive copies of the Annual Report made by the nonprofit Registered Agent, DB Services of Bellingham, WA, and any records exchanged with Tides or other accelerators; and also enjoy weekly updates online. No additional communication will be exchanged privately.
4. Donors, and their immediate family members, may not act as Justice CORPS members.
5. Principles of Transparency and Accountability will be applied to all decisions, reports and records-keeping.
. . . Can you give freely, knowing this investment will pay off in the wellbeing of children for generations to come?
The Goal is to reach $250,000 to secure fiscal sponsorship through the nonprofit accelerator, Tides.
There is still time!
From the generations of the future, we Thank You.
Year 2, Week 7: What is The Justice CORPS?
Year 2, Week 6: Truth & Its Irrepressible Rise
This week, I am blessed to receive another message of acknowledgement and gratitude… No, not yet from school leaders – though, we are in conversation (i.e., I am stating and restating terms of positive resolution). Over these past 25 years, I have received MANY expressions of appreciation for speaking up, doing what is right and holding firm to my principles in the face of pressure.
Today’s letter feels especially meaningful, and so, I thank the parent who took the time to send mail to my PO Box here in Bellingham, Washington.
First, let me tell all readers, families-impacted, and supporters of this movement that you are welcome to send mail directly to the PO Box 1559 Bellingham, WA 98227. I’ve updated the contact page to make this clear. No need to go through the organization address (or email) at Rooted Emerging. I am the primary point of contact for that post office box, so you can rest assured, it will reach me.
It is also the official mailing address for The Amends Project nonprofit.
I recall how important it was to me that Lowell Sun reporters include the words “The Amends Project” in that feature article of May 2018 (they did not) – and how concerns about being sued skewed the story, even then. So, I’ll take this opportunity now to also thank Every person who ventured finding me through my work since spring 2018 to reach out and concur about cover-ups and the necessity of change. Thank You.
I appreciate this letter on so many levels. One, just when things seemed a bit quiet with school letting out for the year, this reminds me how immediately pressing this issue remains. Secondly, it confirms a number of things I’d heard from other sources: recent cover-ups have been happening on campus, parents are disappointed and distraught over the poor handling, settlements and non-disclosures have been used to maintain silence. There is a whole web here, of nepotism, elitism and corruption. Yet – it can be undone and remade in the image of health!
Best of all, the author of this letter demonstrates the crucial step to navigating this issue well — watching the choices people make beyond what they say or appear to be.
The internal report by Sanghavi Group (curious how I know it was highly edited? Go ahead and email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll tell you the story of the eve of its release) contained a grand apology for the behavior of a former employee. It did not demonstrate remorse for endangering further students, or for the backlash enacted on the student who spoke up about the problem. It didn’t even speak to the facts of the man’s removal, or the true story of Steve Hahn’s quiet resignation the following year. And, no, it did not address or rectify the most recent cover-ups on campus (2014-2017).
Consider the action of pointing a loud and condemning finger at an employee long-gone – while saying nothing directly or responsibly about their own choices (they “could have done better”). If it is common knowledge now that school leaders concealed hiding a predator on campus and punished the student who spoke up about it, how does it impact people to not have the fact admitted or addressed?!
I can say with absolute confidence, People are Unnerved by it.
Could it be that by denying my requests (as of yet) to acknowledge the backlash and to repair those damages, Lawrence Academy sends a specific message? Might that action say, “If you speak up about our wrong-doing, we will unapologetically retaliate and attempt to smear your reputation.”
Charles Chandler knows about these kinds of consequences. Mike Rinaldi knows about these kinds of consequences… Only in Mike’s story (as of yet) do we see this fully run its course. Advocacy was finally rewarded and changes are now firmly in place so that similar harms are prevented in the future. Rinaldi was given the position of Principal at Westhill High School, and it is now illegal in the state of Connecticut to “pass the trash”, or avoid dealing with abusers by knowingly endangering others.
Could Headmaster Dan Scheibe & Trustee Bruce MacNeil be acting out of such gut-level fear they do not even see how their actions speak of guilt and secrecy far more loudly than any attorney-crafted public statement speaks of “good faith”?
What does all of this do to the culture of safety and learning on campus?
When I landed in Boston last fall to attend Open House in Groton, Massachusetts, I felt it physiologically: this would be much harder to do at close range. So, I offer my empathy here, for those who see this web of corruption as clearly (or, possibly even more clearly) than I do, yet feel unsafe to speak out or put their name on the message of dissent. Even this letter’s author understands, “…if everyone agrees to keep things ‘confidential’ the situation will not improve and lives will continue to be damaged.”
The speaking, in all its forms, is crucial. The seeing clearly through public statements to whether actions truly align is crucial. If we carefully track the school’s actions to date, there does seem to be a clear message: If you speak out, we will deny and defame you. We would send you away and then tell you nothing of the sort ever happened.
Does this stance welcome feedback, or the positive growth it brings?
If school leaders now issued a second, honest public statement showing remorse for punishing those who speak up, would YOU feel reassured? If they made the situation right – living their mission of “learning from their failures” – would the healing truly begin? We can learn from watching how these things resolve and insist on truth, all the way to completion.
Whether you are able to attach your name or not, I invite you to reach out. Do you know something about this school and cover-ups? Do you have information you are burning to share, yet can’t risk your name in public? Send me some mail! An anonymous letter, or postcard. I’ll make a montage and include it in the next expose…
Such a massive relief, when Truth rises up.
The Amends Project
PO Box 1559
Year 2, mid-week 5: Growing Up Men
To add some context and balance to this week’s update, I want to illuminate the other branch of this effort. One is learning about the patterns of cover-ups through engaging one school toward a higher resolution outside of court.
The second branch is the content and implementation of a solution to bring transparency and oversight to strengthening all institutions, through The Justice CORPS.
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan monk who speaks wisely about the inner life of men and the journey of growing up. To readers of all genders and ages, I highly recommend this piece:
Listen especially for his metaphor of the three boxes: Order, Disorder, Reorder. He says, “There is no nonstop flight from order to reorder.” Rohr suggests that some, when faced with disorder, will simply remake and remake the first box – even if it doesn’t match with facts or reality. He shows how progress happens from a state of order, moving into disorder, and finally arriving at reorder.
This makes very clear sense in watching the behaviors of resistance and denial in the the five key men at this one school – who abuse, fail to respond, cover up, pretend everything is better now and pull the puppet strings. Rohr speaks so compassionately and fearlessly to the experience of men, I had to bring it to this forum today.
These schools, like the related institutions alongside them, find themselves in a state of disorder. See if you can track which steps seek to simply remake and remake the first box of order (despite facts or reality) and which can bring us through the uncomfortable phase of disorder… all the way to Re-Order.
Here’s to going gracefully into the necessity of positive change.
Year 2, Week 5: The Dance of Denial & Holding Firm
Last week was a rare moment of rest. What transpired? A bit more email exchange with Executive Committee President Bruce MacNeil.
Wouldn’t I take that offer without any honest acknowledgement? It’s sitting right there on the table until June 15… was I really sure about turning it down? Oh, yes.
Some highlights from my response back:
“There is a consistent theme of actions that send the message, “Be quiet or go away.”. Then, when I do speak, “You cannot trust what she says.” There is a clear pattern here that I am sure is difficult to face.
Every one of these choices made a terrible thing far bigger than it ever had to be.
You have repeatedly hurt me and the trust the community has in the school with every one of them. Facing the pattern now frees you from a trajectory of mistakes that weaken you and Lawrence Academy.”
. . . What’s it like to have someone who refuses to speak with you – yet speaks poorly of you at every opportunity – tell you that your lived experience simply did not happen?
Pretty darn strange.
I’ve attempted to clear up accounts:
I’ve invited to a new Restorative Justice process…
What Does one do when a removed and distant person tries to obfuscate facts about your own life to keep themselves comfortable?
Hold Firm To Your TRUTH.
Have a good week, Bruce.
Year 2, Week 3: Goals 1, 2 & 3 – in what order?
June 4, 2019
I am writing to acknowledge your time-sensitive offer for financial settlement, expiring June 15, 2019.
Without an honest moment of admission, for the sake of recovery and growth, I cannot accept financial payout.
I am declining your offer as it stands. I am, as you know, seeking funding to support the Justice CORPS Initiative – to bring positive reform to the first two willing schools for the 2019-2020 school year. My current fundraising goal is $250,000, the minimum requirement to secure fiscal sponsorship through the nonprofit accelerator, Tides.
As a counter offer, I suggest that you apply $75,000 toward that effort. I have done all the work to register The Amends Project as a nonprofit in Washington state. Your donation would be greatly appreciated.
As for the conflict between the school and myself, I consider it unresolved.
Tenet # 4 of The Amends Project states that the project only concludes “when leaders admit to the cover-up . . . and new policies are firmly in place to protect the rights and wellbeing of students for perpetuity.” I accept that my goals may not be accomplished in this order.
Over these past two years of our active engagement, you have employed defamation, slander, dishonesty, denial cloaked as “disagreement”, a duplicitous story, intimidation (do you really need that many police to try to arrest me at Open House?), disrespect for my limits, my time and more. These are your crimes. Choosing to dig in your heels on a stance of refusal to admit or to grow causes such harms.
You know what I need. Acknowledge to me, and to all, that it was wrong to remove a student without cause after she confronted one of your abusive employees. It was wrong to keep him employed while sending a young student away. Apologize for derailing her education and damaging her sense of safety on campus, and in the world. Thank her for working quietly for many years to ensure that no new, incoming students would suffer in the same way.
As for your numbers – it occurs to me often that nowhere in society does the defendant also get to be the judge. Your opinion on your offer is of no substance to me. Secondly, if my former attorney, the undisputed expert in the field, concludes that we will reach a certain settlement – even before detailed documents surfaced – then I am sticking with that number.
With settlement, I seek the stability to continue my work of reforming schools to embrace transparency. I want this so that all kids can graduate high school safely and go on to begin their careers and achieve their aspirations sooner.
Again, I can only accept financial settlement that is accompanied by acknowledgement. Honesty is what repairs. You let me know when you are ready to proceed on that road.
In the meantime, here is the new fundraiser: gofundme.com/dm3bsq-the-solution
Or, you may put donations directly into the nonprofit PayPal account: https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=RK795646F5NYY&source=url
Year 2, Week 3: The Need for One, Unifying Story
Lawrence Academy officials turned down the invitation to a second Restorative Justice process this week. Remember, the first effort occurred on March 1, 2018 – when the time, place and agreements had all been set… but headmaster Dan Scheibe chose to cancel the Circle while a former student was on her way across the country. She was expecting a cooperative and peaceful process, yet met with something else entirely.
When she arrived in Massachusetts, she learned that school leaders would not honor their confirmed plans; Dan Scheibe simply left a letter at the hotel desk informing her of the change. An abbreviated process did unfold (after her fierce insistence), yet the school’s attorney was present, and ensured that no acknowledgement of wrongdoing was accidentally uttered. No honesty, no repair.
More than a year of efforts by school leaders to deflect the message of a former student unfolded… Lawrence Academy hired a law firm to create a report to support their case in subsequent lawsuits. With it, they retained final editing rights – and the former headmaster did not even participate.
Has there been a true repair since their internal report was released? Has anyone been reassured?
Tomorrow, May 31, another graduation ceremony, the 226th, will happen on the campus in Groton, MA. There will likely be celebration and words to proclaim their greatness. Will those in attendance feel the discord?
Human beings need consistency to feel safe. When we hear one thing and perceive another, we are unnerved – rightly so.
Here’s to the possibility of one school coming into alignment, so that words and actions finally match – and healing may finally begin.
Year 2, Week 2: Would Never = Hasn’t Yet
This week flew by, as I announced The Amends Project to my email list of about 250 people…
Hello to my lovely local & professional networks!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the statement, “That would never happen.” I’m also revisiting “unreasonable”.
Back in August of 2018, I asked headmaster Dan Scheibe and Trustee Bruce MacNeil to a public response. People were very upset over the truths that were surfacing – and many had a natural urge to be honestly met. They needed an honest response. I’d asked that these leaders make the most recent cover-up right, so that kids would be safe. In response, these two men ceased communication with me. In August, though, the event location was set and reporters were prepared. Neither man showed up. I simply gathered more supporters instead; and Bruce MacNeil submitted comments to the press about my being “unreasonable”.
For him, I offer this quote again:
“The reasonable wo/man adapts her/self to the world. The unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to her/self. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable wo/man.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Indeed, we do count on those who see beyond a current situation to what could be and what needs to happen. It wasn’t all that long ago, when people were reconciling these shifts:
“Women would never own property.” became “a woman hasn’t owned property yet.” Then, she had.
“An African-American man would never be president” became “an African-American man hasn’t been president yet.” Then, he had.
And on it goes. It’s important to remember this long-range view, as we move forward…
“Private schools would never choose to be transparent about abuses and how they respond to them.” has become, “a private school hasn’t accepted transparency yet.” Until then, two had…
If we only look backward to inform what is possible, we miss so many opportunities before us now, for great improvements.
This one is the most fun, to round out the week:
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
– Lewis Carrol, “Through the Looking Glass”
Year 2, Week 1: If You Carry a Strong Heart
It’s the start of new cycle, one year after going public with The Amends Project. There have been many important steps along the way: two years since seeking (and eventually releasing) legal counsel; sixteen years since exposing the school for sheltering a child molester; and 25 years since first confronting him. What keeps you going through all of that time and resistance?
Knowing there are so many among you, with a strong heart for positive social change.
I recall something a musician-friend once said, “If you carry a guitar, you meet people who carry guitars.” Fortunately, over this past year, I’ve also learned, If you carry a strong heart and a commitment to positive change, you meet people who carry a strong heart and a commitment to positive change…
This week, I am proud to introduce our Organization Partners.
Justine Finn of the Relation-Shift Project, at Harvard Innovation Lab, was the first official Advisor to join The Amends Project’s efforts, back in October 2018. With her profound work with schools, using data-driven assessments and trainings for educators and students, Relation-Shift brings a strong focus on prevention and also resolution. With my decade of experience in sexual health, and now, systems-level change with The Amends Project, we have recognized a similar mission in the world. Relation-Shift is working to “End Sexual Violence, Promote Healthy Relationships, Create Safer Schools.”
Safe BAE is youth-led, national peer-to-peer organization that changes culture through empowering students with tools to become activists, by raising awareness about our rights through Title IX, teaching bystander intervention and affirmative consent.
I have seen Shael in action, in my hometown of Bellingham, Washington and found her work truly moving and paradigm-shifting. She has been a quiet advocate behind-the-scenes of The Amends Project efforts, and I welcome her as an organization partner!
Here’s to Carrying On Strong into a new year!
Week 52: Authenticity & Long-Range Vision
Tomorrow, May 8, 2019 is the one year anniversary of going pubic with The Amends Project story and efforts. To that end, I’ve been thinking a lot about milestones/where this has been and where it now needs to go . . .
Every step has a part in the unfolding. Speaking up, holding out for acknowledgement, turning down the path that causes more pain, creating a vision and the persistence of holding true to that vision.
This is about making our basic institutions more worthy of trust, so we can have a society of greater integrity and health.
In that spirit, please enjoy this recent article from Forbes, about Authenticity and How to Recognize Genuine people, leaders, organizations… https://www.forbes.com/sites/travisbradberry/2016/05/10/12-habits-of-genuine-people/#2045572c461d
“Authenticity requires a certain measure of vulnerability, transparency, and integrity.”
– Janet Louise Stephenson
End of Week 51: He Who Owns & Controls the Story
Lawrence Academy of Groton, MA released the report from their investigation on Thursday April 25, 2019. Here, you will find the larger context (more significant statistics) on the report’s finding. Most importantly, you can learn about the current effort to implement a transparency and oversight system called The Justice CORPS, to protect the wellbeing of students at all private, independent high schools.
How did the school finally release Peter Regis? What are those facts?: The Story
Week 51: By the Numbers
“He who goes looking for a lack of evidence will surely find it.”
“He who writes the check shall be exonerated.”
7: number of times former student Vanessa Osage approached Lawrence Academy headmaster Steven Hahn in his office, from 1994-2000, pleading first for her protection, and then, for the protection of incoming students.
7: number of years Lawrence Academy officials decided to knowingly employ a documented child molester on campus.
300: number, as an estimate, of students, faculty & staff in attendance in the Lawrence Academy auditorium, on December 10, 2001, in which former student Vanessa Osage (then, 23) gave a speech revealing that leadership had been knowingly exposing them to the dangers of a child molester on campus.
(Peter Regis was finally let go, only when she was on her way to campus from California and could not be reached; he was dismissed on “permanent, long-term disability”)
4: number of sexual misconduct incidents, by former employee Peter Regis, recorded by Sanghavi Law Office during their investigation.
9: number of of sexual misconduct incidents, by former employee Peter Regis, tallied by alumni in the fall of 2018 (individual accounts by different people)
5+: number of alumni who refused to participate in that investigation/internal report on a matter of principle.
1: number in rank that “lack of trust” was cited as a reason to not participate.
19: number of alumni who have pledged, in writing, to not donate to Lawrence Academy again, or until they make this situation right.
11: number of people who have contacted me, Vanessa Osage, privately since the Lowell Sun feature article of May 27, 2018 to concur and share their stories of painful cover-up behavior by Lawrence Academy (both former and current administrations)
2017: year of most recent account, given by the parent of a former student by phone, about current Lawrence Academy leadership’s efforts to silence, bully, “buy them out” with a tuition refund, and more, following an assault on their child by a faculty member.
1991, 1993, 1994, 1995, 2014, 2015, 2016
: years that represent the remaining cover-up stories shared about Lawrence Academy
3: number of stories shared, with accounts from 2014-2017, of Lawrence Academy officials offering families free or reimbursed tuition in exchange for silence (leaving and/or not pressing charges) for child abuse on campus.
22+: number of hours I, Vanessa Osage, have spent on the phone since May 2018, with alumni, former Trustees and/or parents of recent Lawrence Academy students; to console, affirm and corroborate their stories of unethical behavior by administration following abuse of themselves or their child.
(number does not include hours spent in collaboration with other alumni, professionals, and child safety advocates from around the country, to address this)
:number of ways, or extent to which, Dan Scheibe, Paul Lannon and/or Bruce MacNeil will attempt to defame or discredit former Lawrence Academy student, Vanessa Osage, ’96.
:extended costs of current leadership choosing to mislead, hide facts, silence, avoid, bully and/or coerce any member of the Lawrence Academy community.
:the quantitative impact on families, who must question whether to believe a former student (students) or Lawrence Academy school leaders who are responsible for the care of their kids.
2: number of years since headmaster Dan Scheibe asked people to come forward.
2: number of private, independent high schools from across the nation, to be engaged in the pilot program of The Justice CORPS – the Committee to Oversee the Rights & Protections of Students, for the 2019-2020 school year.
4: number of times The Justice CORPS model was proposed to Lawrence Academy, as part of resolution, from July 2018 – February 2019; also the number of times rejected.
3: the current number of professional Advisors to the nonprofit, The Amends Project, in addition to myself, who are lending their time and expertise to seeing that positive change is secured at private, independent high schools, for the sake of kids and families.
(number does not include additional people who offer their high quality support, expertise and wise counsel, behind the scenes)
0: Zero, the cost of looking at what people do, instead of what they say, to inform your decisions about what is true.
1: the number of readers it takes to make a significant, positive impact on the outcomes at Lawrence Academy (and beyond).
You Are 1
Stay tuned, dear reader . . .
Week 50: National Child Abuse Prevention Month
We are midway through April 2019, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, as
designated by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
Prevention is always multi-layered, so let’s delve into some of those layers here…
A recent editorial in The Lowell Sun regarding The Justice CORPS suggested that simply teaching kids to call police after every abuse incident was, instead, the way to go. I have to disagree. There are layers of subtly to this issue that need to be accounted for. First, is the truest piece of prevention…
Know Your Rights
When students enter a private high school setting (or most schools, for that matter), they are largely unaware of their legal rights, in regards to safety and protection from abuse. Title IX may not apply at private schools, but every young person in the United States still has legal rights to safety. Having their bearings on what they can and cannot do about a mistreatment is the very beginning. Even if a young person never utilizes their rights or legal options while at high school, ensuring that all kids know what is expected of them in the sensitive world of abuse serves its own preventative function. Too often, it is the naive lack of knowing that creates an opening for adult:child abuse, especially.
We all act differently when we know where we stand.
* The Justice CORPS model begins each school year with an all-school assembly on 1. Knowing Your Rights 2. Expectations for Behavior 3. Defining Abuse 4. What Happens When You Contact Justice CORPS Members
* CORPS members and supporting organizations also return mid-year to familiarize all on campus with both the system, and the people working to support them
The Experience of Children During Institutional Abuse
A young person may not be willing to immediately expose themselves to the lack of control that comes with involving police. The decision to press charges or file a report needs to be a secondary, thoughtful step. Utilizing The Justice CORPS, the Committee to Oversee the Rights & Protections of Students, creates a way to track incidents without placing undo (and untimely) pressure on young people to jump from one perceived frying pan and into another fire.
The Intersection of Parents & School Officials
The Justice CORPS model also helps to prevent the pressure officials (in some schools) are inclined to apply to parents. This practice – of approaching parents with a hush-hush attitude – adds to a mother or father’s confusion and pain in many ways. It puts them in the highly difficult position of choosing from among 1. protecting their child’s safety 2. looking out for their child’s privacy 3. considering their child’s future 4. weighing whether the investment in a “good name” education is worth following through on.
Absolutely, the police need to be involved – as soon as a child and family are ready to make that decision – without input from school officials.
Let us remember, that child abuse happens in a larger system – as children are raised into the larger systems around them. To solve this kind of abuse, on private high school campuses and beyond, we must thoroughly address the sometimes persistent accompanying institutional abuse.
Institutional abuse is any practice that uses reputation, clout, intimidation or the threat of “conditional belonging” to discourage people from utilizing their rights or protecting their wellbeing.
For a moment, let’s reference the parallel issue of child abuse cover-up in churches.
There is a clear power hierarchy that places some at the very bottom and others in a seemingly untouchable top. After tracking Lawrence Academy for decades – and watching the unfolding with church scandal reckonings – I see it this way:
Priests are perceived as having the keys to the after life.
Headmasters are perceived as having the keys to the good life.
Of course, neither position truly controls the destiny of young people in their care. Yet, it is this perception that is exploited in the function of abuse and its concealment. To suggest that a child’s soul may be endangered for speaking up – or to imply/threaten that a child’s future would be derailed for calling a spade a spade – the abuse of power is the umbrella for both child abuse and institutional abuse.
It has been a very long road of speaking up, managing consequences, continuing to speak up, and also pursuing right action to Prevent Child Abuse at Lawrence Academy and beyond.
The Justice CORPS is born from insights into institutional and child abuse from the inside of an institution, out. It also has a decade of professional experience in prevention and youth empowerment in the hands of its delivery. Alumni, parents, legislators, school leaders, organization founders, educators, attorneys, advocates and more have contributed to its structure.
Now, we just need to give it a try . . .
The Amends Project is now a Washington state nonprofit. With tax day upon us, very practical tasks are falling into place: securing an EIN, filing a Business License, preparing a designated bank account, taking all necessary steps to operate with fiscal sponsorship with Tides (see Middle Week 47) or another nonprofit accelerator.
My personal goal is to have all pieces in place to open the Call to Schools by May 8, 2019. This is the one-year anniversary of my decision to bring my efforts to light publicly by launching this website, circulating petitions, working with press, and more.
Goal: Secure funding to run this program at two schools simultaneously in the United States for the 2019-2020 school year. With success, and continued review of implementation in action, we may then encourage more schools to adopt Justice CORPS models via their own simple funding methods.
I am preparing to bring a whole new way of preventing child abuse to fruition…
To join or support this effort, please email: email@example.com
End of Week 49: Obfuscation / Clarity
See Clearly. Act Accordingly.
|Apr 11, 2019, 1:31 PM (12 hours ago)|
I spoke with the school about your questions below. I can confirm that yes*, at the time the investigators’ report is released publicly the school and the investigators will also be addressing publicly the scope of the investigation and the nature of the engagement. I don’t have further information to share at this time.
There was not a yes/no question in the original message. If there was, the answer would be, “No, we will not provide any verification.”
I did not ask the question, “Will the school retain control of all information – including the scope of investigation and the level of disclosure with Sanghavi Group – until they can orchestrate a precise release when it best suits them?” To this question, the answer would be ‘yes’.
2:19 AM (0 minutes ago)
Thank you, Paul,
I am interpreting this vagueness to mean (as was confirmed to fellow alumni by phone) the investigation has only focused on the actions of former employee, Peter Regis.
I also conclude that the school has retained the right to control the contents of the report, so that findings will be released only according to their interests.
I will have more for you by Monday.
Remember, we track the unfolding with this one school to better understand the patterns of cover-up – so that they may be recognized, and finally transformed.
Deny, Deceive, Discredit –> Diminishment
must, for the sake of health, become…
Reveal, Record, Repair –> Resilience
We want stronger schools. We want healthier systems. Healthier, Safer kids and families.
This is about finding a new way forward.
Middle Week 49: Accountability vs. Punishment
The idea of “holding people accountable” can often sound threatening or unnerving. I believe this is so because of a general confusion or lack of distinction between accountability and punishment. Yet, I see a very clear distinction between the two. So, I’d like to illustrate those differences here.
Accountability asks people to step up.
Punishment seeks to put people down.
Accountability seeks answers and acknowledgement, to make sense of a larger reality beyond one person’s experience.
Punishment seeks to relieve the suffering of one by causing pain to another, thereby continuing the cycle of abuse.
Accountability reinforces our connectedness.
Punishment breeds isolation and shame (and often, therefore, more violence)
Accountability is thorough, ties up loose ends and encourages greater completion to an unresolved issue.
Punishment creates second, third and more waves of painful emotion that ripple outward to create an unchecked level of consequence on all of those around the issue.
Enacted with skill, accountability inspires greater excellence through the difficult process of owning the consequences of our actions in a way that brings greater clarity.
At its best, punishment brings about a discouragement that postpones the urges to act in harmful ways, for a time.
In all of my efforts from 1994 to present, I have sought to bring positive change to the school. No harms, no further exploitation (as in Core Tenet #1). This is why the legal road was not a fit, as it omitted – Acknowledgement – which is the only thing that opens the door to healing, and then positive change. The legal road sought results by fear and pain. A value behind The Amends Project work is that results are achieved by encouragement/non-punitive. True, growing pains can happen. Yet, it is for the kind of necessary cleansing that brings about healing.
The most important “findings” will not be about the actions of one sick man long-gone. Most significant are facts about:
* what school officials knew
* how they communicated with families whose children were involved
* the steps they took (or failed to take) following
* how they have responded to those who’ve spoken up about abuse
* what kinds of silencing efforts continue to this day?
I trust the most important truths will rise up in the coming weeks.
Week 49: Questions, Big & Small
What kind of society do we have when “trusted” adults can let kids down to that extent (knowingly employing a child molester despite years of pleading for right action) and then pretend – for decades – to have done nothing wrong?
What does it tell young people, both the choice and the pretending, about what will be expected of them? What about the strength of the fabric of adult life they hope to weave themselves into? What is the impact on the larger experience of hope among adolescents?
Sat, Dec 22, 2018, 11:29 AM
Wed, Dec 26, 2018, 2:31 PM
11:51 AM (0 minutes ago)
I ask politely, again, for verification that findings from the investigation will not be edited, abbreviated or altered by the school. Additionally, any agreement about the scope of investigation (whether of actions by school officials or a former employee) is highly relevant.
As we learned in the New York Time article, where you yourself were quoted as questioning how truly “independent” these investigations are, these parameters make or break the believability of such reports.
“But critics say that the firms, often described by administrators as “independent,” can be too close to the schools they are investigating. Ultimately, it is the schools that pay their bills, and decide what information will be released.
“If they do this full time, there is a perception issue, that they’re not going to draw tough conclusions in all cases,” said Roderick MacLeish, a lawyer who represents victims of abuse at private schools. “If you’re going to keep doing this, how tough are you going to be on some private school client, when you are basically marketing yourself for other investigations in the future?”
Even the firms that conduct them acknowledge that the investigations are not free of conflict.
“It’s important for institutions to be careful about the word ‘independent’ and be transparent about what this means,” said Paul G. Lannon Jr., a partner at Holland & Knight. “They are paying for these services, it’s not like these are volunteers coming in.”
“…At the outset, schools generally outline parameters for the firms they hire. Some ask investigators to focus on a specific span of time, or on adult misconduct, as opposed to student-on-student sexual violence. They will decide whether the inquiry will culminate in a written report, or some kind of oral presentation. A budget is discussed. Some reports name several perpetrators and the administrators who protected them, while others present almost no information about what happened.
Some pledge ahead of time to release their findings, while others wait to see what is uncovered before they decide what they will make public.”
If I do not receive this verification by Monday April 15, 2019, I will conclude that all findings will be subject to the school’s discretion; and I will proceed accordingly.
Also, from the article, with direct mention of the law firm hired by Lawrence Academy in 2018:
“The Sanghavi Law Office, a Massachusetts firm founded by a former civil rights lawyer at the United States Education Department, has conducted investigations at a number of schools, including Phillips Academy in Andover. The school released a letter to its community last year with some findings, and then in July, it released the full report, which named perpetrators but provided few hints about what administrators knew or what they did with the information they had.”
What is the Real Question the investigation by Sanghavi Law Office is trying to answer?
Whom and what do they serve?
Where else might we focus, to ensure that cover-ups never happen again?
Week 48: Rounding Out the Story, Filling in the What, How & Why
Thanks to Rick Sobey, of the Lowell Sun & Boston Herald, for keeping residents of the New England area updated on developments in The Amends Project!
Last week, I attended a Sustainable Business Summit here in NW Washington. The theme was strengthening your quadruple bottom line: People, Planet, Profit & Purpose.
The triple bottom line was familiar to me from understanding cooperative models, and in researching business structures when I expanded from a nonprofit to a Social Enterprise. So, after an a few hours of excellent speakers, a high-quality panel, and more, attendees filtered into workshop stations. This first session helped us clarify our Purpose.
We talked about the Mission of our work as the “what”. The Purpose, by contrast, spoke to our “why”. True, I was primarily attending as business owner of Love & Truth Rising. Yet, my experience running a nonprofit for 10 years came quickly to mind. Mostly, though, I kept considering these criteria through words chosen for the newly established nonprofit, The Amends Project.
The “what” is outlined in the Secretary of State application as the purpose. What are you trying to achieve? Specifically, “to mend the loophole that has allowed for the cover-up of child abuse at private schools: implementing The Justice CORPS Initiative.”. This statement actually identifies what with a brief overview of how. How to mend that loophole? Implement the Initiative.
More of the “how” is anchored in a business or organization’s values.
The Amends Project has these core tenets:
- No further exploitation will be allowed on the way toward resolution.
- Success by means of fear/control is no success at all.
- Situations will be influenced only by the sheer power of honesty, a fierce insistence on accountability, and the encouragement toward true growth and positive change.
- The Project will only conclude when leaders admit to the cover up, and new policies are firmly in place to protect the rights and wellbeing of students for perpetuity.
- This is for everyone.
Which can be distilled into these values:
- Growth by Encouragement (non-punitive)
- Lasting, Positive Change (systemic, root-level)
- Equality (this effort is designed to benefit all)
Why are we doing this?!
The larger Purpose is “to reduce the incidence of child abuse on campuses by 50% or more in three year cycles, until there is none.” Yes, it’s a lofty goal. So, why?
- This is an entirely worthwhile and necessary goal.
- I also believe, it is achievable.
- Beyond this, I know it is time.
Check back soon for an updated GoFundMe campaign to reach the budget requirement for fiscal sponsorship with Tides…
Middle of Week 47: The Tides of Healing & Positive Change
The Amends Project has now applied for fiscal sponsorship through Tides, a philanthropic partner and nonprofit accelerator with more than 40 years of experience in scaling over 1400 social ventures, fueling social change in 120+ countries, and mobilizing over $3 billion for impact.
Yes, they are singing our song! Goal # 3: Enact Lasting, Positive Change
What does fiscal sponsorship mean? From their website: “Tides supports over 140 projects with fiscal sponsorship, providing them with 501(c)(3) charitable status (and, thus, the ability to accept tax-deductible donations) as well as financial administration, human resource and benefits management, governance, compliance, and risk management. This allows social change leaders to leave the administration to us, focusing their time and energy on bringing their visions to life.”
To qualify, entities must meet these requirements:
“Confirmed funding and budget
To start your social venture at Tides, you must have an expected annual budget of at least $250,000 with confirmed support and formal grant commitments for 100% of your budget for the first year at Tides.”
So, here we go!
A few grant applications have already been successfully submitted, to reach this goal. The securing of funds must occur before fiscal sponsorship – so, we officially welcome private donors to help us achieve this goal on time.
Private Donor Criteria:
- Donors may be affiliated with Lawrence Academy of Groton, MA, or other private independent schools, only if their gift is unrestricted, and the donor signs an Acceptance Policy agreement.
- Donors do not earn positions of decision-making power or influence by their gift.
- Donors may expect to receive exact copies of the Annual Report made by the Registered Agent, and any records exchanged with Tides or other accelerators; no additional private communication will be conducted.
- Donors, and their extended family members, may not act as Justice CORPS members.
- Principles of Transparency and Accountability will be applied to all donations, and outlined in an Acceptance Policy.
How will this all work?
First, the timeline…
April 30, 2019 – Secure $250,000+ in unrestricted funds for the Project’s mission, to meet the guidelines for fiscal sponsorship with Tides.
May 8, 2019 – Announce the “Open Call to Schools”, a 30-day period in which two private high schools will apply to participate in The Justice CORPS pilot program for the 2019-2020 school year.
June 8, 2019 – Close the Call to Schools and select the two schools to run the program simultaneously (preference will be given to schools from different accrediting bodies).
June 17, 2019 – Announce the two participating schools (possibly through the National Association of Independent Schools, NAIS, as a communication hub) and begin detailed agreements.
June 30, 2019 – Begin application, screening and training process for two sets of Justice CORPS members; and planning out the year ahead with the two participating schools.
What are the components of the Project/Initiative that require funding?
- Facilitation of the model, including applications, interviews, in-person and remote trainings, travel to attend the two all-school assemblies, and coordination of all moving pieces.
- Delivery of information to schools – happening at the all-school assemblies – and in support training to staff and administration.
- Additional consultation on implementation of the program.
- Hiring a film company to document the journey of this revolutionary new approach to the handling of child abuse at high school campuses, for one or both participating schools.
- Records keeping, systems creation, communication tool adjustments and additional support.
The model will be implemented over a three-year cycle at these two schools, through philanthropic funding for innovative solutions.
With successful implementation and review of the model’s strengths and weaknesses, a new system will be created for additional schools to fund the operation of Justice CORPS policies at their institutions. The model may then scale to an increasing number of schools throughout the country.
Remember, schools that are able to tally a true count of abuses, and record both incidents and quality of response, ultimately reducing the incidence of abuse by 50% or more in three year cycles may be awarded a Seal of Excellence in Child Safety.
Look for publication of the Donor Acceptance Policy to be posted here on the website by early April…
For Questions, Contributions and Donor Criteria details, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Week 47: Words of Wisdom, from the Other Side of Success
Those who are following the week count may notice we are rapidly approaching the one year mark (52 weeks) in the public phase of The Amends Project! In that time, many significant developments have taken place…
In practical service of our goal, enact lasting, positive change, we have identified – by observation – the formula for institutional weakening, in the wake of abuse.
Deny, Deceive, Discredit —> Diminishment
This passage from Ray Dalio’s epic tome, “Principles” helps illuminate the strength of the alternate response…
Dalio was Founder & CEO of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world and the fifth most important private company in the U.S. (according to Fortune). Bridgewater has been called, “The Apple of the investing world”. On page 61, he writes,
“SYSTEMIZING OUR LEARNING FROM MISTAKES
“One of our most memorable mistakes happened in the early 1990’s, when Ross, who was in charge of trading at the time, forgot to put in a trade for a client and the money just sat there in cash. By the time the mistake was discovered, the damage was several hundred thousand dollars.
“It was a terrible and costly error, and I could’ve done something dramatic like fire Ross to set a tone that mistakes would not be tolerated. But since mistakes happen all the time, that would have only encouraged other people to hide theirs, which would have led to even bigger problems and more costly errors. I believed strongly that we should bring problems and disagreements to the surface to learn what should be done to make things better. So Ross and I worked to build out on “error log” in the trading department. From then on, anytime there was any kind of bad outcome… the traders would make a record of it and we would follow up. As we consistently tracked and addressed those issues, our trade execution machine continually improved.”
Those who have been following the progress of the Amends Project will instantly recognize the parallels between Dalio’s system – and The Justice CORPS model. We can only solve the problem we can very clearly see.
He continues, “Having a process that ensure problems are brought to the surface, and their root causes diagnosed, assures that continual improvements occur.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
So, to distill down the message of almost a year of reflections, observations and efforts toward positive change.
Deny, Deceive, Discredit —> Diminishment
can be transformed into…
Reveal, Record, Repair —> Resilience
We want resilience for young people and their families; we want resilience for schools.
All of this is possible.
Look for further updates by the end of the week…
Week 46: Articles of Incorporation, Nonprofit!
What is The Amends Project? A movement, an effort… a nonprofit entity in Washington state. This week, a structure has been designated to house The Amends Project as a nonprofit. BD Services Corporation, of Bellingham, WA is the Registered Agent.
Purpose of Corporation? To mend the loophole that has allowed for the cover-up of child abuse at private schools: implementing the Justice CORPS Initiative.
What does this mean? Now, The Amends Project can interact with the larger world of child safety organizations, affiliates and other entities in a more official way. The pool of potential funders for The Justice CORPS also expands, with the new filing status.
State nonprofits function differently than federal, 501(c)3 charitable organizations. Donations are not yet tax-deductible. Though, many doors now open…
Next steps? Submit applications for a 3rd, 4th and 5th potential funder to support the pilot run of the Justice CORPS at two private high schools, from two separate Accrediting bodies, anywhere across the United States.
Arrange for fiscal sponsorship, so that donations may be tax deductible and philanthropic support may be more accessible.
Forge an affiliate relationship with a related nonprofit, to award the Seal of Excellence in Child Safety, to schools that can: 1. accurately tally a true count of abuses (student:student -or- faculty/staff:student) 2. demonstrate a high-level response to these incidents in action (meeting or exceeding the Recommendations laid out by the Independent Schools Task Force of 2018), including a Restorative Justice option 3. reduce the incidence of abuse on campus by 50% or more in a three-year cycle.
Let the healing begin!
Open Call to Schools is scheduled to be released in May 2019 . . . stay tuned.
Week 43: A Gathering of Sorts & A Call for Filmmakers
It’s been a remarkable week in terms of coincidence and gathering together around The Amends Project.
About a week ago, a member of my local Sexual Health Advocates Group reached out to ask colleagues for volunteer help with the upcoming “Big Consent Event” in Bellingham, Washington. I had a few morning hours available, so I headed out to the local community college just after 8 am to act as a greeter. There, in the cold, I excitedly welcomed groups of middle and high school students to the day’s activities. At times, it was a trickle – at other times, a flowing river. Local schools participated by arranging bus service for high school students who would volunteer to miss a day of school to learn more about Consent.
It was incredibly impressive. What I caught of opening speeches, videos and workshops inspired such hope and relief, along with the necessity of heartbreak. If I counted correctly, there were nearly 200 young people in attendance – teams as they had organized themselves – showing up to prepare to change the culture toward interpersonal, relational and sexual health.
I recognized a supporting organization, Safe BAE, as I’d spoken with founder Shael Norris in the weeks leading up to my trip to New England in early November. I slowly realized as I watched presenters… there she was! This bold, accomplished woman who chatted with me from New York months ago had landed, serendipitously, right in my hometown!
We made a date to follow up to talk, again, about the Justice CORPS Initiative…
Then, when it came time for another check-in with The Amends Project Advisors – I learned one has landed, for six months at least, all the way from New England just south of me in the Seattle, Washington area!
All of my various works in sexual health seem to be enjoying a beautiful confluence as the latest evolution of the Justice CORPS Initiative 2.19.19 takes hold.
There will be more news to share soon… For now, I’d like to make a call to help bring this model to successful fruition.
Once we are ready for the Open Call to Schools – inviting private schools around the country to participate in the first run of The Justice CORPS (May 2019 is the goal), we have a special offer for the very first one who steps forward with courage…
A beautiful development with the Justice CORPS Initiative is to now give that first school the opportunity to produce a short (3 minute) movie about their experience with prioritizing transparency and reducing abuse/cover-ups through the Justice CORPS. Tell us the story! Schools that meet the Guidelines as laid out by the Independent Schools Task Force can balance out their tally of incidents. Schools that go a step beyond to utilize Restorative Justice can earn even higher scores for child safety. Schools that reduce abuse by 50% or more within three year cycles are awarded a Seal of Excellence in Child Safety.
It is sure to be a compelling story of how we can finally turn the tide on this. We’ll be happy to feature the institution that truly walks its talk as a leader among schools…
Both small and large-scale grant applications have already been submitted. Are you the filmmaker or film company that can document this important tale?
Please, reach out! (I’ll add your work into the budget line for larger grants)
Let’s show the world how it’s done.
Week 42: Long Overdue, Feeling the Love
Last week, the coastal Pacific Northwest braved (and enjoyed) unheard-of amounts of snow throughout the region. People were huddled into homes, snowed in and otherwise stranded without roads for all the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. Kids even enjoyed a full week of snow days!
It makes this week’s warmth and thaw all the more meaningful now…
While we talking about thawing from the cold, it seems the ideal time to announce an important development in the structure of The Justice CORPS.
Now, for those who are new/er to this effort, you would have to understand that this model to correct for institutional abuse and its cover-up was first drafted in July 2018. Since then, it has undergone four major updates and revisions. Each time, it has been proposed to Lawrence Academy of Groton, MA, where accounts of very recent abuse cover-ups are still taking place.
Change happens one way or another, as well all know. So, whether a certain school is ready to step up to accountability and brave leadership is a different story. The more compelling piece for this week in mid-February is how the model is evolving and finding broader-reaching support.
Inviting you all to take a look at the new Justice CORPS Initiative. For nation-wide, institutional change that is long overdue. Enjoy!
Week 40: Birthings . . .
I was honored to enjoy a lengthy, in-depth and inspiring conversation with two women doing incredible work for Independent Schools this week. Thanks again to National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) President, Donna Orem & Vice President of Media, Myra McGovern, based in Washington, DC.
Updates will be posted soon . . .
For now, here are the final recommendations from the Task Force on Educator Sexual Misconduct, as shared by Myra McGovern; both women are members of the Task Force.
Week 39: Growth Curves & Coping Mechanisms
We are beginning the 39th week of the public phase of The Amends Project! Most parents will recognize this now resembles a human gestation cycle . . . might we be birthing something important, here?
This past weekend, I hosted the 4th “Raising Sexually Healthy Kids” seminar in my hometown in NW Washington state. I adore my work. Spending hours with parents who are so eager to recognize where they’ve come from, and how they can strive to do better by their own kids is awe-inspiring.
A theme that came up was our willingness to acknowledge to our kids when we have messed up or fallen short of our own ideals. We discussed the long-term gift of modeling to our kids this healthy relationship behavior and even shifting the power dynamic to allow them a fuller space in the family.
As I reflected on the experience, I naturally got to thinking about Lawrence Academy and the issue of cover-ups of abuse on high school campuses. What is the growth curve for these institutions?
The biggest thing that came to mind was Coping Mechanisms. I am also reading a book that references the idea that “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” (see also, “How Women Rise” by Sally Helgesen & Marshall Goldsmith). These speak to the idea that a certain behavior works for a time – and then – if we cling to it, the same behavior starts to stall our progress and/or even destroy us.
It may have helped institutions survive decades ago, to compulsively conceal any terrible incident that happened on campus. We weren’t as connected then, as a species. School leaders didn’t know if theirs was the only school where these horrible abuses were taking place. The instinct was to hide the truth. People were clearly scared – and their choices reflected the poor response.
As a coping mechanism, this may have offered a temporary reprieve and way to cope with this painful reality…
Yet, by now in 2019, the coping mechanism itself has proven destructive. Hiding the reality of these incidents from families, faculty and the public has severely weakened schools. Every time the rug is peeled back to reveal what was swept beneath – everyone connected to these places shudders. Sweeping more recent truths under there is both confusing and messy, to say the least.
Of course, seeking to only minimize the events, or discredit those who reveal them, or frantically superimpose a misleading/false story (“everything is fine now!”) only has weakened schools further.
This behavior helped these long-standing institutions to survive an era when child abuse was secretive and shameful and better responses were entirely out of reach. Now, in the plain light of awareness, continuing that behavior is stalling and retarding growth. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, as Marshall Goldsmith says.
What and Where is There? Where is this healthy, new place schools must now go? Transparency and Accountability, as represented in The Justice CORPS.
From Hiding —> Airing Out
From Pressuring Families into Silence —> Allowing Them Full Access to Their Rights
From Pretending All is Well —> Taking a Hard Look at How Schools Are Responding
From False Messages to Families —> Trackable Records of What Happens in the Wake of Abuse
From Remaining Isolated as a School Regarding Abuse —> Going Toward Connection to Create a Better Response Together
From Making These Decisions Behind Closed Doors —> Opening Up The Conversation to Include All Stakeholders
If you were the leader/public representative of an educational institution, would you want to know the preferences of the families whose children enroll at your school? Would you feel willingness to act according to those preferences?
If you were dealing with the intense repercussions of the surfacing of decades of silencing (and even oversaw one yourself, when it came to a member of your family), would you want to continue with the old way that created the problem – or would you feel compelled to try something new?
What would encourage you to break from negative tradition to embrace a necessary stage of growth for the league?
Might the inner conflict of “claiming all is well” and “knowing I was very close to a recent cover-up” be uncomfortable enough to inspire action?
What else would?
. . . What if families and faculty and alumni were expressing a steady stream of discontent with the old way and the strong desire to be included in the decision to accept a new system? What if you heard from them Every Day? Would you eventually see the rightness of that choice?
Independent Schools have reached a crucial point in their Growth Curve. Either make the leap and change now or let more-of-the-same bring them all down. Let’s make the leap now, together…
Tell Dan Scheibe and Bruce MacNeil this needs to be a public conversation, with a vote on where the school goes. Your Vote.
Dan Scheibe: email@example.com
Bruce MacNeil: firstname.lastname@example.org
Week 38: A User’s Guide
Hello, and Welcome to The Amends Project & Justice CORPS Movement!
I recognize the number of visitors to the site has suddenly spiked. Fantastic. Not knowing who you are (only how many), I thought it would be wise to lay out a nice, brief-yet-comprehensive overview of what this is. I will speak to a general population of concerned parents, reporters, educators and/or child advocates of all kinds.
Please keep in mind this first of three main points:
- I am doing this because I care.
What is the issue?
Institutional cover-up of child abuse on high school campuses. It is centered on Lawrence Academy of Groton, Massachusetts – yet extends to address the problem throughout the Independent School League (New England) and beyond to the west coast of the United States.
This is, sadly, not a past-tense issue. Since The Amends Project went public in May 2018, a number of people have come forward to say that cover-ups are still happening at Lawrence Academy (see FAQ’s for more on the school). Accounts are recorded from 2014, 2015, 2016 & 2017. Notably, and not surprisingly, these stories have not gone to the school itself, who has enacted the cover-ups; Not even to their privately hired law firm of investigators.
Headmaster Dan Scheibe assured us in a public statement that things that happened in the 1990’s would never happen on campus today.
There may be truth in saying that exact cover-up would not repeat itself now. Of course, what would happen is always speculation. What we know for fact is that a document came to the press – again, after the Amends Project went public – that recounted sexual assault by a student very close in family to the current administration which had been improperly handled and subsequently covered up, putting more kids at risk.
I went ahead and addressed this with Dan Scheibe over remote video conference in June 2018. I watched body language as he spoke. He said, “We are aware of this – and if you have any questions or concerns, I can direct you to Paul [Lannon, attorney for Lawrence Academy].” Do I have any concerns?!
I did, of course, follow up with Paul Lannon. I shared the scanned document of the letter and asked, “Is this true? Is any part of it true?”
I am yet to get a response.
The Lowell Sun, The Boston Globe and every member of the Lawrence Academy faculty has access to it. School officials sent me a Cease & Desist letter following my contact with faculty members regarding the incident (now, what does that action say?)
Which brings us to the second point.
2. I persist in this because people continue to tell me it is an ongoing problem.
Is this about you getting money?
I absolutely expect a settlement – (I, as a former student, have a history with the school) in accordance with the opinion of legal experts – not the opinion of school leaders. That issue doesn’t go anywhere until it is addressed. But for now, that must be a conversation for another time. It is between me and the school (well, and all the petition-signers).
I am setting that matter aside, for now, to tend to the more pressing issue: making sure cover-ups of child abuse don’t happen again.
How do you know they are doing anything wrong? How can a school with proclaimed “safety policies” even do cover-ups?
The answer is outlined right here in their Reporting Policies:
Let’s read that line carefully together, one more time: “The school determines whether to investigate the matter internally or whether an external entity (such as law enforcement or an outside consultant) should be involved.”
Again: The School Determines whether to handle things internally or whether an external entity should be involved.
One More Time: The School Determines whether to handle things internally or to involve law enforcement.
The school decides.
Implicit in this language is the suggestion that the school can override a child or family’s rights by a simple decision. Hence, the ability to give a family member of staff a different set of accountability standards than other students might have in a comparable situation.
The policy is written to protect the interest of the school. Protecting the reputation of the school has become a conflict of interest with protecting the rights and safety of students and their families. It is time to resolve that conflict on a broad scale.
So, you have a solution?
I have a carefully created model, which has been reviewed by numerous professionals, edited, revised and updated four times since July 2018.
I have the willingness to devote .25 time over 18 months to getting The Justice CORPS pilot program off the ground for the 2019-2020 school year. I have a sister school on the west coast in mind to run the program simultaneously, so we can learn as much as possible about the model. I have a short list of possible mediators to ease communications between the school and myself. I have the support of a few established child safety organizations who can oversee the initial run of the program.
Oh, I also have a lot of experience – as a mentor, sexuality educator, Founder and Executive Director of a nonprofit youth development organization, success in writing and receiving project grants, three (remarkable) dedicated Advisors (meet them HERE) and a number of new connections in the field of child abuse prevention and advocacy to help see it through.
I am ready to go.
So, what is stopping this?
Communication from school leaders has stopped. They want an indeterminate amount of time to “look into it” (decades-old issues from a man no longer employed). Time to talk about that “Independent Investigation”…
A bit of context here: In late 2016, I retained an attorney (the most experienced in the field) to represent me in a case against Lawrence Academy. In mid-2017, he sent a letter to the school demanding $2,000,000 in settlement.
Then, I soon recognized the approach violated a number of my principles. I learned there would be no acknowledgement, and we would use fear to get results. I was pressured to make a case for my own in/sanity and cautioned that my “seeming really together” was going to make this a tough sell. I stopped. I protected my own self-respect. I thought of the kids. I stepped off that path.
I attempted Restorative Justice, but school leaders actually cancelled our scheduled circle while I was on the plane flying east. The process was woefully incomplete.
They later offered me 1% with a confidentiality clause. I balked. They offered 3%, same criteria. Absolutely not. (FYI: I am currently holding firm at 20% of demand – a bit less than what I carefully calculated as my losses and damages)
Then, the effort went public.
Another former student has come forward and decided to sue the perpetrator and the school. Bravo, I say. I offer my complete support and respect for each to choose the best path for themselves in this situation. It is also important that the former employee finally be on the sex offender registry. So, I am grateful that her effort will likely achieve this.
Lawrence Academy hired Sanghavi Law Firm to “investigate” in an effort to support their side of that specific case in court.
The internal report has no bearing on me, my alternative effort, or on positive reforms. I can verify that many former students refuse to participate, largely because of broken trust. Most importantly, I have asked attorney Paul Lannon to send verification of the scope of the investigation (word is – they are only looking into the former employee, not school officials) and the agreement to share the contents without any editing by current school leaders.
Again, I am yet to hear or see any of that verification.
~ ~ ~
Phew. Ok, that’s the rough part. If you’ve come this far, it means that you, too, must care about seeing this systemic problem transformed. Now, the exciting part…
Current Headmaster and President of Trustees have turned down the Justice CORPS proposal three times. They don’t see the need, they say. Paul Lannon claims there is no problem (isn’t a “problem” always relative, though? Surely this is not a problem for school leaders – yet, it is plainly a very significant problem for any family whose child may face abuse on this or other campuses).
They are entitled to their opinion. The thing is: We All Are.
I have been advocating for right action to protect students at Lawrence Academy for over 25 years. I am now in my 40s. I invite you to read my fuller story HERE. I am committed to seeing this through to completion. I am convinced that the time is ripe. This is the time, and this is the place to begin a new era of how these things are handled.
For another point of context, please see this article in which New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald assisted in dealing a new kind of ruling to St. Paul’s – that the school must pay for a private “overseer” for five years.
Like a gift that keeps on giving.
This move has direct echoes of the Justice CORPS model. Only, instead of one attorney doling out oversight as a kind of punishment (though, I would say, an appropriate one), this model provides a trained group of non-affiliated adults to oversee abuse incidents, before school even starts. It is a preventative model.
This is the first step in an overhaul of systems that have been structured to allow for secrecy. The Justice CORPS starts at Lawrence Academy and then extends to include more and more schools. The quality of response is ranked and measured for parents to review. Schools have the chance to earn “Recovery Points” by demonstrating excellent care. The Independent School Task Force of 2017 laid out clear recommendations for how schools respond to incidents of abuse on high school campuses. Right now, these are filed away as static recommendations. The Justice CORPS finally puts a level of enforcement and measurement to the Task Force’s great work by making school responses trackable and measurable.
Wouldn’t you want to be a part of that? If you are a parent and/or a faculty member, wouldn’t you like to be part of the school AND be among the first families to enjoy the benefits of such a solution?
Somebody needs to take the first step to set a new standard. Here it is. We’ve found it and the path is all laid out. Many, highly intelligent and experienced professionals around the country (and even right there on Lawrence Academy campus) want to see it happen.
Maybe you do, too.
When it comes to protecting our kids, we all have a say. Especially when it’s our own kids.
That is why I am asking Dan Scheibe and Bruce MacNeil to give all current parents, trustees, faculty and alumni (including any and all donors) the opportunity to VOTE on whether to participate in this pilot program. Starting TOMORROW! Say you’d like to see a vote on putting this system into place.
Tell them your kids are worth it.
Which brings us to the Third & final point:
3. I insist on the Justice CORPS because these harms are preventable – but only if we all insist on a larger oversight structure to place the needs of students and families above all else.
Let Them Vote!
call headmaster Dan Scheibe (978) 448-1526
Email Trustee Bruce MacNeil email@example.com
Middle of Week 37: Better Yet – an Anonymous Voting Period: 1/22 – 2/1/19
January 16, 2019
Dan, Bruce, Paul,
First, I regretfully acknowledge your choice to remain silent following my requests, even as your stated goal is resolution.
This is an important conversation for the future of the school, the league, and most importantly – the kids.
I am asking that you put this decision, whether to participate in a run of the Justice CORPS pilot program for the 2019-2020 school year, to your current parents and trustees. Better yet, let’s open up a voting period where all stakeholders may have a say. Instead of a real-time count, let’s talk about the possibility of an anonymous voting system over a period of 10 days: January 22 – February 1, 2019.
I have come to understand that an anonymous system may be necessary to minimize social risk. It is my hope that Lawrence Academy one day becomes a place where speaking one’s opinion on sensitive issues inspires no fear of retribution. In the meantime, we have many tools at our disposal to achieve a fair count, while allowing people the comfort they need to speak honestly.
We may also then have an online, moderated forum for questions to be posted and answered for all to see. Transparency. Trust.
With your willingness to cooperate, I will contact MassKids or Child USA to request an oversight of the vote and its system. Lawrence Academy trustees may be sent a code to allow access, while parents are given another. The same code will apply to all within each voting category.
I also suggest that your alumni (of which I am one) be given a voice in what happens at their alma mater. Perhaps the simplest criteria must be – all who give or are asked to give financial resources (regardless of amount) to the school have the right to a say in its future.
Keep in mind, my goal is not to make anyone wrong or weaken ties. Quite the opposite. My goal is the preservation and long-term safety of students – in fact, the profound strengthening of Lawrence Academy and its community.
I ask for your respectful engagement as soon as possible.
Vanessa Osage, ‘96
Week 37: Time to Review Our Rights!
Monday January 14, 2019
Hello Dan & Bruce ~
Just sending a courtesy reminder that I have asked for a response today, January 14, regarding allowing your families and trustees to vote on The Justice CORPS Initiative.
Just twenty minutes during your Parents Association meeting on January 22, 2019 to give voice to the families who entrust their children to Lawrence Academy. This decision effects them, and their children in many ways.
Also, let me be clear – I am setting aside the issue of our settlement, for now, while we tend to the more pressing issue before us. Again, time is of the essence, as this pilot program needs ample research and outreach to be most effective for the 2019-2020 school year. I’ve already extended the deadline from January 3 to February 4, 2019.
I’d also like to remind you to consider how much can be gained by venturing such a program. Your students will be empowered to know their rights and how to respond when any incidents happen on campus. Parents will be able to make well-informed decisions. You, as administrators, will have the ease of knowing that all details are on the table, with the chance to address touchy situations thoroughly while they are still small and manageable. It is an opportunity to shine as an institution.
It is my deep hope that you will rise to the occasion.
I look forward to your reply.
Vanessa Osage, ’96
While we wait, I thought it would be fun to do a little preview of one of the key aspects of The Justice CORPS itself. Time to review our rights! First, can you imagine?! All 14-19 year old high school students starting every year knowing exactly what their legal rights are. Not just their rights within their set school, but their federal and state-level, legally protected rights. Pretty wonderful, yes?
Of course, there is more to the model. The trust to allow families free access to their options whenever something challenging happens on campus, from minor theft or harassment up to more serious assaults. No matter who does it, families get to choose how to respond: whether to investigate, press charges or find another route. Full decision-making power resting in the adults whose children are attending high school.
I invite all visitors again to review the Justice CORPS Proposal 12.28.18 . You will now find a summary to start, with full details following.
Here We Go:
You have the right to know how well schools handle sensitive issues of violation and/or abuse when your child is away at school.
You have the right to demand a higher level of service from those who accept tuition to provide an educational service.
You have the right to know the opportunities presented to this institution in full, unobstructed form – especially when they impact the quality of your child’s life.
You have the right to express your preferences and choices, as a consumer of educational services.
You (as faculty of this or any school) have the right to express discontent at a certain response or system that has harmed young people in the – very recent – past.
You have the right to express an opinion, to challenge a policy, and to still enjoy job security.
You have the right to the full, unedited, true story of these incidents, from all sides without recourse.
You have the right to live free from fear while at work.
You have the right to job security and an opinion/voice at the same time.
You have the right to live free from fear.
You have the right to feel secure in your housing situation, if you have chosen to live on campus as part of employment.
You have the right to communicate with absolutely anyone, as an adult.
You have the right to decide for yourself, the quality of my character and the nature of my intentions, by watching my actions.
You have the right to be a determining factor in how your place of employment evolves and grows.
You have the right to speak up and to still live free from fear.
You have the right to question the choices of those in decision-making positions.
You have a right to fulfill your calling as an educator, a coach, a counselor, a librarian, an advocate for equity, and to live free from fear while doing so.
You have a right to get as much information as possible about issues that effect the quality of your child’s experience.
You have the right to think for yourself and draw your own conclusions, when learning of a complex and important social justice issue.
You have a right – whether you are a parent, a faculty or staff member, an administrator, an alumna or a concerned citizen connected to Lawrence Academy – to have a say in whether the school adopts a new program to oversee the rights and protections of students.
Let them vote.
January 22, 2019 @ 6:30 pm
End of Week 36: Growing in Strength & Momentum
Movement is gaining momentum now in 2019 as we welcome another high quality Advisor to The Amends Project.
Mike Rinaldi knows what it means to stand up for what is right, and endure despite resistance or consequences, for the sake of kids. He is currently Principal of Westhill High School in Stamford, Connecticut, where he was born and raised.
The Amends Project has been blessed with Mike’s insights and wise encouragement. Please see our People page to read Mike’s full bio, from the MassKids Conference Speakers of 2018.
To learn about Mike Rinaldi’s journey through the trials of speaking up and staying true to his convictions, please see this article from the Stamford Advocate: https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/amp/Angela-Carella-I-m-not-talking-in-private-any-6298115.php
And this one, on the eventual rewards of his persistence: https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/local/amp/Rinaldi-gets-big-reward-as-student-advocate-with-11101653.php
A big, hearty Welcome to Mike Rinaldi!
Week 36: The Legacy of This Moment
As we get into January and 2019, I find myself thinking often of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. With his memorial holiday coming up, I realize this day has become a personal anniversary of significant efforts in my own professional life, for my mission. It was the first time I led a training of all-male mentors in the coming of age program, the date of significant Board meetings I’d held, the weekend of a seminar for sexual health and raising young people. I recognize this is often a season of focused and concentrated efforts in my work. An awareness of Dr. King’s life and efforts is very much with me this time of year.
Like so many, I have drawn inspiration from the man and his message. Maybe, even more than the powerful messages, I find resonance in the way he delivered them. I continue to admire the fierce clarity with which he could articulate an injustice, paired with a higher call to our humanity: the call to actively live a life of passionate purpose. His fury seemed forged in a fire of the beauty he knew the world could be. I have a deep, heartfelt regard for his way.
His words are sprinkled throughout the site, a living document to my own, relatively small, efforts at justice. MLK quotes show up in cards and emails sent by friends who feel for how much I have given and sacrificed on this long road to justice. There is something eternal and universal in what he still offers us – as insights into the nature injustice in all its forms.
I quoted him myself at 23, when I stood on the Lawrence Academy auditorium stage – 7 years into my efforts to at least remove a perpetrator and known predator from campus: “An injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The way I see it, we don’t always know exactly which injustice we will face up-close in our lifetimes, until we are staring it straight in the face. That is when we have a choice. While Dr. King’s journey was to confront something so daunting and tragic, it seemed insurmountable to many – his lessons and guidance ring true in every form of injustice humans come across.
He asked people to look at a dark and disturbing situation in our world – one that was quietly tolerated and rarely questioned at the time. It was woven into the fabric of our country’s beginnings. Pervasive as it was, he still implored us to look at it – to assess it through our own moral lens. It was a dynamic some benefitted from, yet at the great and terrible expense of many.
Did some refuse his message? Were there those who sought to smear his good name so an existing dynamic could be preserved? Did those in power seek to make others afraid of a person with a contradictory suggestion?
While there is no comparison to the exact social ill Dr. King confronted (though there is an important intersection of race and child abuse – see Week 26 for more), I believe that all people recognize injustice once they are close enough to see it clearly. It rattles the system and stalls the breath. Just after this moment of recognition is when the true road to “love correcting that which revolts against love” begins…
Right now, in 2019, across the Independent School League of New England, a few protected officials have the power to decide whether incidents of child abuse will be investigated – or even reported – without oversight. Many students suffer a secondary blow by those who claim to care for and protect them. Young people and families are reeling from the aftershock of learning, in the wake of abuse, they then must fear the loss of their investment in their child’s future. They are enduring subtle but real pressures to deny their own rights, stay quiet, and “go along” with preserving an image of perfection – at the expense of their own health and sanity.
It may be insidious. It may not affect you or your child right now. But your child will go on to colleges and universities where young people have suffered this secondary betrayal. They will grow and socialize and learn among them. The effects of that dynamic cannot be isolated – eventually all things are connected. Even if some families’ silence temporarily keeps school/s more comfortable following abuse, the practice is defining the kind of world all kids are growing into. They will be every child’s eventual colleagues, spouses, neighbors and friends.
I’m reminded by wise confidants and encouragers that our actions toward justice often have ripple effects we cannot see. I have been meditating on motion and movements and the nature of big, inevitable shifts. How does resistance and privilege yield to an expression of health the world so dearly wants to bring about?
“Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.”
Monday January 21, 2019 is the national day of honor and remembrance for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In his lifetime, he worked diligently to transform a system he recognized as unjust, with great negative consequences for those without decision-making power.
I am offering to work with you to transform a system that has harmed many people in the Independent School League for decades. You did not create this system, but only inherited it. You know I have created a new system, in the Justice CORPS, to address this power imbalance; and I implore you again, to give your families and trustees the opportunity to learn about and weigh in on this opportunity.
I see a higher future for the Independent School League. You have the chance, now, to be an exceptional leader in walking a new path for the wellbeing of young people. I will facilitate this program at Lawrence Academy, alongside a sister school on the west coast, for the 2019-2020 school year. I only need your cooperation.
The day after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is a scheduled meeting of Parents Association Families, some of whom, I understand, are also Trustees. I ask you to designate 20 minutes of your scheduled meeting to allow a representative to speak to the Justice CORPS Initiative, answer questions, and then hold a vote.
Those who give their resources, and most importantly their children, to the care of Lawrence Academy deserve to weigh in on this decision.
Tuesday January 22, 2019
Giving All Parents & Community Members a Vote on The Justice CORPS
6:40 – 7:00 pm EST
There are two weeks until the nation takes a day of rest to honor a man who spoke consistently, passionately and lovingly about the necessity of Justice.
In his honor, I ask you to give this effort a sincere moment’s consideration before those who it will impact most.
I will not attend, but remain entirely willing to communicate in the days prior. I am also willing to provide facilitation, resources and any other support you might need.
Communication is the basis of understanding, and therefore, potential progress. In honor of my decades of service to the betterment of the school, I ask for your respectful engagement and reply by Monday January 14, 2019.
Vanessa Osage, ’96
I’d like to close today’s post with a new collection of high-minded words from the Reverend, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right?
There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”
“People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
“There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”
“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Week 35: New Year, New Advisors
Though she has been a support and advisor for months now, today we officially welcome Abby Yanow of the Boston Facilitators Roundtable to The Amends Project. Welcome Abby!
Abby Yanow is a Leadership coach and Organizational Development (OD) consultant. She coaches managers and directors to lead change, to better engage their teams and to improve their management skills. She also helps leaders understand the organizational dynamics that impact people’s performance. Abby is known for her skill in facilitating group process and learner-centered workshops. She has facilitated retreats for senior leadership teams, team development, visioning, strategic planning, cross-organization collaboration and focus groups.
Abby facilitates meetings to improve collaboration and innovation across organizations and among stakeholders. Her meetings are designed to help people work collectively and to share their knowledge, which enhances their ability to problem-solve and to identify solutions. Abby helps people take a systemic approach to problem solving, by understanding the connections and the impact of the individual components on the whole. Abby is skilled at helping people surface their underlying assumptions, in order to generate buy-in and to create sustainable action plans.
Since 2001, Abby has served as President of the Boston Facilitators Roundtable/ OD Network (organizational development), which is a professional community of organizational consultants and coaches who work on leadership, team and organizational development. Under her leadership, the BFR received the 2015 Outstanding Regional OD (Organizational Development) Network Award. Abby has a Master’s degree in Education and Intercultural Communication. She is an ICF certified coach (International Coaching Federation) and is certified in Organizational Development (National Training Labs).
See the newly published People page, for a compilation of those working toward positive change through The Amends Project.
Welcoming a New Year, 2018 – 2019
“When we treat man as he is, we make him worse than he is; when we treat him as if he already were what he potentially could be, we make him what he should be.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Lawrence Academy, Please, Let me help you. I know you can rise to this moment and take a step toward sincere transparency, while empowering youth and families. Even if you do not see a problem, I hope you could agree – we all see an opportunity.
Gather your Trustees in January 2019, keep the doors open, and talk about how we can move this forward!
2018, The Year in Review
WE CAN DO THIS! Here’s to a Year of Courageous Growth Throughout the Independent School League – Starting NOW with Lawrence Academy of Groton, MA
Ask Board of Trustees President Bruce MacNeil to hold an Open Door Board of Trustees Meeting in January 2019. For a peaceful, constructive conversation on how we, as parents, faculty, alumni and staff and child advocates can keep all kids safer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Week 34: Tying up Loose Ends – Reasons & Resolutions
2018 is rapidly winding down to a close. With this, I thought it was time to tie up loose ends, and address a question that has come up from various sources. Sometimes, as a suggestion: separate out your efforts for restitution from your efforts at positive change. Other times, as a doubt: is keeping these two things connected hampering your efforts?
I have pondered on this all along the way. On the urging of my attorney friend, I attempted in August to first settle – and then come back to positive change with the school. Settle first, he suggested. This is the idea of “settlement”; it allows the issue and those involved to settle down. I wrote very detailed agreements for a settlement of 25% of demand, with a promise to come back to positive change (I called them “Change-Making Conversations”) two months later.
What happened? School officials refused to answer my calls (even pretending to be “on vacation”) and submitted defaming comments about me to the press. Sigh.
Every time I revisit this, my instincts and my principles tell me they must go together. So, here, I offer my own countdown to the Top Ten Reasons Why.
The Top Ten Reasons Why Restitution + Reform = Right Resolution
10. Because, I was only 16 when I confronted the Lawrence Academy employee and child molester, to make sure he never harmed anyone else again
9. Because, when the school failed to take action, I started showing up in the headmaster’s office (at 16) to see that something positive was done
8. Because, I had to come back another 7 seven times annually, until they finally stopped exposing new kids to the risk of a documented child abuser living on campus
7. Because, I was an A/B student before that initial confrontation – and then dropped rapidly to C’s/D’s, and even had to attend summer school, after being sent away for seeking protection and positive change
6. Because it took that much effort, years of my young life, to achieve what should have taken those in ‘power’ five difficult minutes
5. Because, I spent most of my twenties running away, and dealing with abdominal pain/surgeries, instead of optimistically attending college and building a career
4. Because, despite our philosophical differences, Attorney Mitchell Garabedian is the undeniable expert in the field; and if he is confident we would settle in at least “the low to mid-six figures”, even before detailed documents showed up, then I am holding firm at that amount
3. Because, current headmaster Dan Scheibe promised me I would be safe when we first spoke by phone in early 2018; then he and other school officials enacted institutional abuse on a large scale: cancelling the Restorative Justice Circle while I was flying east, violating legally binding confidentiality agreements, invasion of privacy, defamation, spreading terrible, unverified rumors about my family (slander), and threatening to arrest me for trespass while attending Open House as a registered guest and alumna
2. Because, instead of just taking my big settlement by means of fear, I have worked diligently by researching, collaborating, editing and revising, to craft a solution to a pervasive problem – a problem pleading for attention across the independent school league – in creating the Justice CORPS
1. Most importantly, because, as a mentor, teacher, coach and guide to young and old, I always remember that my very life is a teaching tool.* To be effective in my life’s work, I have to live in alignment with my values, knowing that my actions speak far louder than my words. I teach by how I live. In this, I would not ever say to a young person embarking on a journey for social justice, “Spend decades of your life working to right wrongs and protect those around you, but deny your own needs and experience.” No. I would only ever say to a young person in my care, “Yes, spend as long as it takes to see that you get the results you know in your heart are necessary to make this world a better, safer place. And, you absolutely remember this – defend your own rights, needs and wellbeing along the way.”
* See: “Ascending, On Being a Mentor”, my published essay in Circles on the Mountain, 2016
I also understand that some may look at this effort, recognize “conflict” and recoil away. I accept that can be the nature of dynamics among people. We all need to feel safe to stand with and for something. Yet, I ask you – who better? Who, When and How can we best achieve resolution?
While we’re on the topic of “Why”, I’d like to share my reasoning behind another important choice in The Amends Project. I have chosen to keep details about the incident with the former employee private [the school violated this right by printing details in a public statement without my or others’ consent]. Why am I making that choice?
- Even when someone has endured a hardship, they still have a right to their dignity. In this day, when so many advertise their successes and apparent ‘perfections’ online, there can be a strange flip-side: once someone is revealed as having suffered, they are cast into some lesser-than, spectacle category. Like breaking the code of ‘present-only-perfection’ means it’s now a free-for-all. I do not support this. The truth is – everyone has suffered something. Even those who have suffered have the right to decide what they do with their personal information. I am affirming the rights of all people who have endured anything by my choice.
- People have a visceral response to private details – and this reaction is what lingers. Surely, most of you have encountered the press that lavishes in the grim and shocking details from other private school abuse stories. Do you remember the context in which the events happened? Probably not. You (as a human) are only rattled by physiological impact of having read those details. Being disturbed is the main impact.
- If someone is only disturbed by the news, they lose the subtly and more importantly, the larger, surrounding picture. I am asking all visitors to The Amends Project to see the larger picture around this story. After all, it’s not about me. This is about a pattern of secrecy, complacency and disregard that has harmed far too many, and for too long. It continues to this day. It is the systemic silencing around these events that needs updating now.
** Take a look at the newly updated Justice CORPS Proposal! **
Lastly, I ask you again – who better to see this change through to full transformation? Who else would recognize the problem from both the inside and the outside as clearly? Who would endure the negative consequences of the institution’s resistance to change? Who would persist after being mistreated for decades, to keep coming back to say, “We need to do something about this.” ?
OK. Hopefully, now all these points are neatly cleared up before the end of the year.
Week 33: Put This Opportunity to Your Current Parents & Trustees
Bruce, Dan, Paul,
Week 32: The Prophetic Imagination
From an interview with Krista Tippett and scholar & theologian, Walter Brueggemann:
“They imagine their contemporary world differently…
I just think, they are moved the way every good poet is moved, to have to describe the world differently, according to the gifts of their insight.
And of course, in their own time, and every time since…
The people that control the power structure do not know what to make of them. So, they characteristically try to silence them. What power people always discover is – you cannot finally silence poets. They just keep coming at you in threatening and transformative ways.”
– Walter Brueggemann
December 22, 2018
Bruce, Dan, Paul,
I understand it will be hard to come to conclusion over the holiday break. Therefore, I ask that you hold an Open Door Trustee Meeting to discuss the Justice CORPS Initiative by Thursday January 4 or Monday January 7, 2019 at the latest.
Again, the deadline is necessary because – in order to run the model successfully – we will need a number of months for research and development to be fully prepared for the 2019-2020 school year. As I said on December 18, 2018, I’ve extended the start date now to February 4, 2019.
Not up for discussion is whether the school has a problem or has done anything wrong. The sole focus must be: Will participation in the Justice CORPS Pilot Program enhance the safety and wellbeing of students; and will the decision to be a leader in transparency and trust-worthiness become a fiscally responsible choice for Lawrence Academy.
I acknowledge your individual opinions about the necessity of the policy change. Yet, I remind you, that a number of key stakeholders – including all current parents – deserve to have their opinions counted, en masse, most importantly. This gesture will demonstrate your willingness to make decisions in a respectful, responsive and honorable manner. Lawrence Academy is, after all, a public interest educational institution.
Key Points to Keep in Mind:
- I am willing to arrange for a third party facilitator (whose names I suggested by email) to act as intermediary for communications between the school and myself during the 18 months from February 2019 – June 2020.
- I am also willing to coordinate with MassKids or Child USA, to oversee implementation of The Justice CORPS for the first school year, 2019-2020.
- Lastly, I am willing to find a Seattle-area independent, private boarding school, to run the model simultaneously as a sister school in the pilot program. I am confident this approach will teach us as much as possible about the strengths and weaknesses of the model.
I respect that you likely have concerns about the implications of such a change. I welcome the chance to learn more about them. I want to see the school take this moment of collective crisis among independent schools and rise to the opportunity it provides. As I recall from sitting in on Open House activities, this is one of the core philosophies of life and learning at Lawrence Academy: taking challenges and turning them into opportunities for growth.
I eagerly await your confirmation.
Vanessa Osage, ’96
Beginning Week 31: A New Conversation
It was two years ago this week that I retained attorney Mitchell Garabedian to represent me in a case against Lawrence Academy. That’s a lot of lifetime, two full years. Why did I not follow through on that path?
Well, I was acutely aware of what would be left in the wake of its conclusion. Sure, I would have gotten a nice, big settlement months ago, by now. But, what would have changed for the better? Given the tenor of my conversations with Lawrence Academy attorney Paul Lannon, I likely would have endured a good deal of dismissing and denying of my experience. Hi, Paul. My sanity would have been the focus of trials – as in either ‘not damaged enough’ or in pointing to ‘feelings’ as being cause for dismissal or discrediting.
I painfully learned last week that school officials have already tried to demonize me over the course of my alternate resolution efforts, scaring parents with false stories and stoking their fears with ‘us vs. her’ propaganda.
So many D-words on this long, and uncertain journey . . .
Most importantly, though, I thought of the kids who would come after me and my decision. If I’d proceeded with the legal path as it was laid out in 2016: “scaring the school into settling”, how would the next kid fare, who came forward to say something bad had happened on campus?
Clearly, they would have endured MORE pressure to be quiet. Families would have faced MORE intimidation and secret bargaining efforts, while their rights were brushed aside. If my ‘representation’ scared the school into releasing big money via fear and punishment, most likely, young students after me would have suffered further.
The thing I see in all of this is —- These Harms Are Preventable.
Sure, there’s something about the turning of the year, and my birthday, and the dark, quiet of almost-winter that gets me contemplative. I stepped off the legal path because I knew nothing would change as a result of following it to conclusion. The current system would have only been reinforced. All along, I have most wanted for this tendency of Lawrence Academy to, 1) hide the evidence; 2) control the story; 3) pressure good people into quietly ‘going along’ with their actions… I have needed to see this CHANGE.
My simplest reflection is expressed this way:
The Conversation, 1994 – 2017
Me: “Hey, let’s do the right thing here.”
LA: “Go away, we’re fine.”
(a child molester is finally removed after I come to speak in 2001, the school asks people with information to come forward in 2016…)
The Conversation, 2018
Me: “Hey, let’s make this right some other way, and then talk about positive change.”
LA: “Here’s 3%, but don’t tell anyone, and we disagree about any wrong-doing.”
Me: “No. We need to do the right thing here.”
LA: “You’re unreasonable! Everything is fine now! Go away.”
Me: “So, even though you’ve given no acknowledgement or restitution, I’ve worked really hard to create a system that would prevent these kinds of harms in the future – and I’m willing to devote 5-10 hours/week for 18 months to implement it for the 2019-2020 school year. We just have to come to agreement soon, because I’ll need that much time for additional research, planning, etc.”
LA: “We’re looking into it. There’s no cover-up problem. We won’t talk to you until our [internal report] is complete.”
Me: “And what’s that timeline?”
LA: “We can’t say, of course. They need an indeterminate amount of time to ‘gather facts'”
Me: “Well, people have been sharing many stories of recent cover-ups with me, and few are even willing to participate in that internal report. I think it’s a dead-end (and a waste of resources). What if we just come back to ‘whether there is a problem’ later and get working on the solution now?”
Me: “What would parents want? Who do we serve here?”
The New Conversation, New Year 2019
Me: I am eager to get to work on implementing this solution. I ask you to settle with me out of court by December 31, 2018 at just 20% of the attorney’s demand, and agree to participate in The Justice CORPS. I have arranged for a skilled mediator to support communications between us during that time; I’ve lined up an independent boarding school on the west coast to run the pilot program alongside Lawrence Academy; and I’ve brought in an established child abuse prevention organization to oversee this first run of the system.
LA: Ok. Even though we are not ready to admit any wrongdoing, we want to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation. We will settle with you and participate in this program for accountability and transparency. We want to earn the trust of parents, families and our donors. We are willing now to be leaders in demonstrating our ethic of care and responsibility. We accept.
Week 30: Thirty Weeks!
Today, I ask us to contemplate this image.
Then, for another simple contemplation… what would Independent School League families want? In regards to knowing how well schools respond when abuse happens on campus, would they be invested in having a system that tracks for quality response – and even ranks schools on their demonstrated care?
What might be the fiscal value of having such a system in place? What about trust as a wise investment?
Let’s ask all current parents, and those of alumni over the past three years. This will yield a robust sample size for data analysis.
Would families be more likely to invest in a school that participates in a system like The Justice CORPS?
Transparency. If it’s good enough for Harvard… might it be good enough for Lawrence Academy?
End of Week 29: Intervention Time!
** First, if you are a Trustee member, who received a message about cover-ups at Lawrence Academy, Welcome. I’m so glad you’re here. Please read on to understand what I am working to achieve here, for the benefit of all Lawrence Academy families. **
What is an intervention?
An intervention is a carefully planned move, by concerned people around someone struggling with addiction. The goal is to give a message of care by stepping in with a consistent presence, until the problem is faced and reconciled. When done by calm, steady measures, the person who is ill will eventually stop resisting treatment and relax into being helped.
“During the intervention, these people gather together to confront your loved one about the consequences of addiction and ask him or her to accept treatment. The intervention:
- Provides specific examples of destructive behaviors and their impact on your loved one with the addiction and family and friends
- Offers a prearranged treatment plan with clear steps, goals and guidelines
- Spells out what each person will do if your loved one refuses to accept treatment”
. . . Wait, addiction? How does that relate to Lawrence Academy?
A key function of addiction is an underlying desire to control aspects of life beyond one’s reach. Whether the urge is to control (and suppress) unpleasant emotions through drugs or alcohol – or the shape of one’s body through eating disorders – or the behavior of a loved one through domestic violence… one common aspect of addiction is a desire for control.
Wasting donor resources on a dead-end investigation (that few will cooperate with because of a hostile environment/lack of trust), so that the school Can Control the Narrative – this is a sign of addictive behavior.
Of course, the beauty of moving through addiction is that, once we relinquish unhealthy control, we gain freedom.
So, how is Lawrence Academy acting out an addiction? They are deep, decades deep, into a destructive habit of taking all measures to control the outcome when abuse happens on campus. They have created a pattern of being untraceable (only phone calls to report incidents to families), intimidating families into silence (such as threats, both subtle and/or direct), bargaining to avoid repercussions (such as offering free tuition to make a problem go away).
Unfortunately, silence or complacency around these behaviors has allowed them to continue. There have been too many unintentional “enablers” and so, the problem has continued and worsened.
NOW IS THE TIME OF SHIFT.
People understand now that more damage has been done by these extreme measures. We understand that people must step in now and insist on recovery.
Remember, the beauty of moving through addiction is that, once we relinquish unhealthy control, we gain freedom.
In the case of Lawrence Academy, there is both freedom – and Trust – to be gained. When families are asked to send their children to live away from home, or even spend 80% of their waking day away from home, Trust is Crucial – and, Trust Must Be Earned.
From The Amends Project, to Attorney Paul Lannon:
Proposed Meeting Questions for Trustees of Lawrence Academy
- What would make it easier for the school to accept participation in The Justice CORPS initiative?
- What adjustments could we make to the model to allow you to accept? (keep in mind, the directing of sensitive information to non-affiliated adults outside the school is non-negotiable)
- If I secure an experienced mediator, to act as an intermediary between the school and myself for those 18 months, would you accept?
- If I can find a private, independent boarding school on the west coast to participate simultaneously, would this support your willingness to run the pilot at Lawrence?
- If I bring in strategic partners, such as MassKids or Child USA (I have been in communication with both), to oversee implementation of the model for the 2019-2020 school year, would you agree?
Most importantly, what would your families want? While there will be an increase in reporting initially, you will then have the chance to demonstrate your commitment to care, and have FEWER incidents of abuse at school over time.
I ask you to gather your Trustees with Voting status NOW. Open your door, address this issue in plain sight, and consider this “treatment plan with clear steps, goals and guidelines”. The Justice CORPS.
Re-Distributing the Balance of Power, Protecting Kids & Families, The Justice CORPS
Tell them you want this positive change NOW!
Please direct all correspondence about the proposed Justice CORPS Initiative to Trustee Bruce MacNeil: email@example.com
Week 29: The Price & Cost of “Owning the Story”
Back in summer of 2018, Lawrence Academy officials decided to hire lawyers from the Sanghavi Group to make an internal report about abuses by former employee Peter Regis. The choice arose in response to a new lawsuit against Regis, following The Amends Project going public. In all written statements, school officials have referred to this as an “independent investigation”. Of course, they are paying these people (a lot of money) to report sensitive details to them. So, let’s face it, biases are clearly outlined here.
Then, for months, these lawyers have been approaching people who may be connected to the issue of child abuse and cover-ups at the school. They’ve followed them on social media and reached out to individuals to push them into sharing very sensitive information – with strangers hired by the school.
So, what has happened? Very little. Why? Well, humans are inherently wise enough to know that ACTIONS are the true indicator of trustworthiness. We respond to what we see play out in choices more than we do what is written in carefully crafted public statements. People of many ages, who suffered while at this school, have watched the ACTIONS of Lawrence Academy officials since The Amends Project story went public. Simply put – they have seen how Dan Scheibe, Bruce MacNeil and Paul Lannon have treated someone who came forward . . . and they’re saying, “No, thanks.”
So, now what?
Well, as coordinator of The Amends Project, I am the one holding the stories. People connected to this issue have watched my actions, and the school’s, and they have made their choice on which one will honor and hold and respond to these details best.
When Lawrence Academy officials offered me 1% of the attorney’s demand, but only if I’m quiet about it, I naturally declined. Not even 3% (without acknowledgement) and a confidentiality clause even gets close… They call this an “impasse”. I call it a lack of willingness to admit wrongdoing.
More accurately, the situation of former students, families and others Not Sharing Details with lawyers of the Sanghavi Group – while I hold many – is a truer impasse. Since language has been so muddied on this journey, let’s clarify, once again:
n. A road or passage having no exit; a cul-de-sac.
n. A situation that is so difficult that no progress can be made; a deadlock or a stalemate: reached an impasse in the negotiations.
In this way, maybe each have their place.
The path of paying sizable sums of money to Sanghavi, to be the one to hold all the sensitive information and relay to the school, has clearly reached a dead-end. It is a cul-de-sac where school officials continue to direct donor money into an effort (as a fellow alumni puts it) to “Control the Narrative” without any results. People are not sharing; and “looking into it” has failed as a path to clarity or resolution.
(Though, as a response by the school, “We’re looking into it” serves two functions: 1. a momentary, false sense of reassurance; 2. the impression that they are the authority and therefore, the ones to decide what happens next)
Perhaps, there is something of truth in calling our lack of progress an “impasse”. By my not simply accepting a tiny payout, without acknowledgement or promise of any change, I have created a situation so difficult that the school is experiencing its own impasse…
What is so hard?
I have wondered on this a few times – I can guess at the fear driving this position. If they did right by me (we’ll talk about The Justice CORPS later), then, they might have to do right by other people who came forward! My guess is they fear the opening of floodgates, and setting an expectation that they would make amends with all former students who were abused.
Let’s take a moment here. This is not a gold mining industry. This is not the diamond trade. This is not an oil company with layers of political nuance and alliances around the world…
This is a school. This is an institution that earns it income, its endowment, it donations – by CARING FOR KIDS.
So, while I recognize a stance of fear from the outside, I often ponder… Would that really be so bad? What if they did make right by people who suffered abuse while under their care?
What would be the harm?
(…and more importantly, to whom?)
Now it’s a parallel dance. I invite the school to ease into owning mistakes (this is how we learn from them!) and taking a brave step toward accountability and safety for kids in the future by participating in The Justice CORPS. Over these TWO YEARS without any settlement, I have made a safe space for people to share their stories – and created a template for a solution to the underlying problem; I am still willing to see it through.
I ask them to come toward me, offer fair settlement (we’re talking just 20% now) with agreement to demonstrate CARE In ACTION.
They are standing still. Their own impasse. Yet, what is playing out beyond the dance floor?
Has anyone actually experienced greater trust in the school throughout this process? Have school leaders earned more donors? (see Here) Have any families relaxed into knowing their kids would be safer? Have the futures of young people been Better preserved?
I have asked every one of the faculty and staff at Lawrence Academy to make a vote for the school settling with me at just 20% – no confidentiality clause – and agreement to participate in the Justice CORPS.
Secrecy and ongoing punishments (of those who speak out, in the hopes of this message going away) are creating more than an impasse. Anyone who understands addiction will tell you – that which you deny soon begins to take over your life until it becomes “unmanageable”. Continuing to direct the donations of families and philanthropists toward a dead-end is a mismanagement of resources. Never mind the collateral damages of broken trust and dis-engagement from alumni and future donors.
Take a step forward, Lawrence Academy?
Week 28: Giving Thanks
Even when we are tired and depleted beyond measure, when justice is delayed and denied, and when resistance to positive change has caused even more damage . . .
Gratitude. Gratitude . . .
to friends who stood beside and behind when facing a wrong was needed to make a right
to the friend who trusted and did what we were taught, and told an adult
to whomever staff heard, and acted, and believed leaders would do right
to the first of those who found me, to concur (#metoo) and thank me for the confrontation at 16
to the school friend who called every week of my subsequent year in exile, to remind me I was not forgotten or even truly lost
to the friend’s father, who convinced me to not run away at 17
to the open road, and its surprising graces and medicine
to college professors, who taught me the larger context of social justice and protecting human rights,
to west coast friends and loved ones who supported my long trek east to speak truth & bring a reckoning at 23
to the next round of those who found me, to concur (#metoo) and thank me for this bringing forth
to the boy who sat compelled in the auditorium, who became a man, and found me to speak so clearly in support
to the ways the body strives to protect us and then strengthen us, until it eventually heals us
to every place of sanity, health and love discovered afterward
to the inevitable gathering of molecules of social renewal that force a larger surfacing for healing,
to the Boston Globe investigative reporters, Mitchell Garabedian, and yes, all that the internet makes possible
to the creators & advancers of Restorative Justice
to Saroeum Phoung and decades of courage & dedication
to the women of the Center for Restorative Justice at Suffolk, for rallying so promptly and beautifully to allow this first new step
to brilliantly clear and supportive friends on the west coast,
to enduring, stalwart friends who listen and show up and listen and show up
to mothers who keep all sorts of important documents tucked away
to all mothers who stand up and speak up,
to Rick Sobey and Jim Campinini at the Lowell Sun
to the thousands of viewers, sharers and petition signers
to the next round of those who found me, to concur and thank me for speaking so loudly
to everyone who has bravely endured silencing or institutional abuse alone
to the brilliant, clear, enlightened alumni advisor for hours & hours of insightful bolstering and guidance
to west coast alumni travelers and defenders of justice
to agitators and circulators and vocal old friends of all kinds
to so many alumni – and even friends of alumni – for lending voice and leverage
to Abby Yanow for generous, skillful advising
to coordinators of the Somerville, MA Green Room for support above and beyond
to deeply loyal, supportive, loving west coast friends
to Marci Hamilton, Child USA, Mass Kids, S.E.S.A.M.E, Jane Doe, Shael Norris, Safe Bae, Massachusetts & New Hampshire legislators, progressive media and numerous professors, advocates and advisors around the country
to Justine Finn of the Relation-Shift Project at Harvard Innovation Lab
to the continuous waves of those who find me to concur/confirm and thank me
to all the donors of the GoFundMe page
to the synchronicity of encountering profound generosity while in pursuit of justice,
to the organizers of All Survivors Day and the courage to not waver in the face of brute force
to all weavers of resources and gifts in so many forms, to allow me to simply keep going
to the woman with shaky hands who registered me at Lawrence Academy Open House
to Jamie Baker, for profound humanity, integrity and fortitude amidst the surrounding confusion & fear
to every Groton, Massachusetts business that willingly, eagerly displayed The Amends Project information so prominently
to every moment of shift in the hearts of Lawrence Academy faculty, staff, donors and trustees – away from lockdown/fear – toward the warm hopefulness of possibility
to every moment of aligned courage, in those unseen to me
to the promise of The Justice CORPS, and a time when institutional cover-up of child abuse is no longer
to the latent goodness in Steve Hahn
to the latent goodness in Dan Scheibe
to the latent goodness in Paul Lannon
to the latent goodness in Bruce MacNeil
to the willingness of every strong and humane adult around this issue, to stand and speak and act,
Happily Holiday ~
Week 27: Three Reasons
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” – Theodore Roosevelt
“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
“It is not enough to be compassionate – you must act.” – The Dalai Lama
Week 26: Anniversaries, Rights & Intersectionality
Today, November 9, 2018, marks a full 6 months of public work in The Amends Project. In honor of my 1/2 year of unpaid efforts for justice and positive change at Independent Schools, I gave myself a giftt by exercising and defending my rights.
I filed a police report for Bullying by Lawrence Academy.
Really? Bullying, you say? Yes. It’s not just an accurate categorical way to refer to the school’s handling of me since coming forward in 2016. Turns out, there are legal protections against such behavior. See: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXII/Chapter71/Section37O
How have they bullied? Violating a legally binding confidentiality agreement; spreading ugly rumors about my family on campus this year; submitting defaming comments to the press (and then refusing to speak to me directly); threatening arrest for trespass when I am in violation of no laws, or even requests for limits on behavior.
Ok. Deep breath. Moment of silence for the sadness of prolonged institutional abuse, when a student is only asking that adults do the right thing.
Remember, if a former student approaches school officials outside the legal system to find a more constructive path toward resolution, this does not mean school officials are then (or ever) above the law.
In other anniversaries, it has now been well over Two Years since headmaster Dan Scheibe “Asked Sex Misconduct Victims to Come Forward”. Why did he do that?
… so that he could demonstrate his “ongoing, generational care”, to honor All Survivors of abuse?
The school learns of the intention to gather for an International Day of Recognition for Survivors of Abuse. They are aware of numerous accounts of abuse under their care and proclaim to strive for the best possible response. How do they respond? Make a space for young people they have called “community members” and stand in solidarity with them? Commit to reforms that will keep kids safer over time? No.
Extra police are called in to patrol all entrances. Many police. Young people within the school, minor students, are enlisted to serve in this effort. They are taught to respond with fear and alarm to achieve this internal goal of preventing their presence.
Right. This is an institute for higher learning. These are kids under their care. Does anyone else see an ethical violation, here? Staff are paid to carry out orders. Parents pay the school to carry out the of care and education of their kids. Is this right or fair?
Most notably, a young female, African American student was asked to walk alone and follow one adult advocate across campus to tell her to leave. A wall of police and staff are then sent to approach this former student with the threat of arrest.
Did school leaders get parent permission before enlisting a minor student to their effort? If a parent sends a child to a school that boasts “diversity and inclusivity”, what can they expect? Will the the same things be asked of their child as of other children attending? . . . Something more?
If the school has an agenda to discredit an individual with a message they deem threatening, do they also have liberty to put young people on the front lines of their war? Might their choice to have a female, African American student acting alone on their mission be an exploitation for personal gain? What do you see?
Which brings us back to All Survivors Day. The recognition is meant for ALL – just as Lawrence Academy’s motto is “The light shines for all.”. It must be said that the issue of child sexual abuse disproportionately affects people of minority racial groups to a far greater extent. This issue also impacts those of minority sexual orientations and gender identities far more frequently than it does their mainstream counterparts.
Is there something larger at play?
Child sexual abuse is also perpetrated by both males and females against males and females. Statistics show that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys under the age of 18 are impacted by sexual abuse. So, gender lines are interwoven here. Remembering that the spread across racial and socio-economic lines is not evenly distributed, how can we address the overarching issue?
Are there truly different standards for family of well-paid staff or donors than there are for minority students? Would a minority student face a higher penalty for violations? Would a minority student inversely find less protections when abused? Who sets the standards and who holds and enforces them?
(Please visit again, Justice CORPS Initiative 10.18.18)
How do we define abuse of power?
Perhaps the answer lies in the balance of power with responsibility. When power is granted and responsibility not held to account, we can expect an unhealthy tip. We know that oppression is a web and we may not always see the weaver. We can pick up a thread and examine it. We can pay attention when the movement of one thread reverberates in another.
Today, I ask every one of us to focus in and out on what is happening at Lawrence Academy through this lens. See the larger web, notice and recognize the individual threads. Look carefully at what you are holding. Consider that you can always lay down a thread that was handed to you, or one that does not ring true in your conscience.
What if . . . Lawrence Academy had instead sectioned off an area of campus for those who are moved to honor survivors? What opportunity was lost here, to make a show of support on an important, worldwide issue? Where was that demonstration of care? . . . Did they not speak of how challenges are turned into opportunities on campus? What if the words they spoke to prospective families actually held true in their actions?
What do their actions say about their quality of support for survivors?
I assert that the First Core Tenet of The Amends Project has been violated, and calls for repair. 1. No further exploitation will be allowed on the way toward resolution.
I made my police report this morning. What else might be done to restore balance?
Go ahead and check in:
Dan Scheibe firstname.lastname@example.org (978) 448-1526
Bruce MacNeil email@example.com
Week 25: The Amends Project is designed to work a bit like an immune system. Consider the root of the word “Amend” is to mend. Something is broken, and needs tending to repair and restore to proper functioning.
So, what is broken? Where is the root of the disease? In practical terms, we see it here in Lawrence Academy’s reporting protocols:
“Once a report is received from Ethics Point, the school determines whether to investigate the matter internally or whether an external entity (such as law enforcement or an outside consultant) should be involved. In addition, the school determines whether the matter must be reported to government or law enforcement agencies consistent with the school’s policies and legal obligations. We expect Ethics Point to improve significantly our capabilities to identify and respond effectively to concerns raised by our community members. ” https://www.lacademy.edu/page.cfm?p=1812
This is the very apex point where power and responsibility tip the scales to un-health. Too much power without consistently taking responsibility has created an imbalance. The current communication system for Lawrence Academy directs all sensitive information to school officials. They decide whether anything “should” be reported to outsiders. Ah, ha.
So, if the sensitive information involves a family member of one of the “deciders”, they have the right to determine whether others will be alerted or not. If a star athlete, who brings great esteem to the school is a perpetrator, again the decision on whether to act rests on internal “deciders”. Inversely, if a minority student is exploited or abused, the school determines whether this offense is severe enough for reporting.
We’ll have more on the intersection of child abuse, gender, race and class in an upcoming post. For now, let’s take a moment to consider what it means to be a collective, human immune system. When a pathogen is identified, antibodies such as Helper T Cells move in to direct immune response to perform the necessary tasks. Resistance to or weakened immune function allows for continued disease.
What is necessary here? Oversight. Transparency. Outside Accountability Systems. How do we get there?
We choose. We choose whether to direct energies toward suppressing immune function, ignoring disease and allowing it to spread, or being an agent of help in preventing disease. Every one of us makes this choice…
Which brings me to The Sanghavi Group.
To Kate Uphatham & Elizabeth Sanghavi of the Sanghavi Law Firm,
I trust you are regular visitors to The Amends Project page, so I figured it was time now to address you directly. Hello.
I understand you have been hired by Lawrence Academy to investigate only incidents related to former employee Peter Regis. I am well aware that his stay on campus ended abruptly in December 2001, when I was on my way to speak about his and Steve Hahn’s actions, and could not be reached by phone.
I am disappointed to learn that handling by school leaders is not under investigation.
I also feel discouraged to know that the findings of your report will not be shared in true and full form with parents, alumni, or anyone outside the school. I received message that the decision about what details to release rests solely within the hands of school officials.
For these and other reasons, I refuse to participate in this internal investigation, falsely referred to as an “independent investigation.”
I do want to approach you, however, to ask you consider an entirely new approach to your line of work…
I understand you see things. I imagine you grasp the scope of this problem in a way that few truly do. Therefore, I invite you to make a brave and inspired move. I invite you to consider the impact you will leave on your world by your life’s efforts. I don’t know your age, but this kind of life review is always a worthwhile exercise. What will be Your impacts? After years of seeing and secretly conveying facts about child abuse back to schools – I ask you to shift your focus now to finally doing something about it.
I like to think this idea brings a sense of immediate relief, and a breath of fresh air as Hope. We all are responsible for what we contribute to the world through our livelihoods. You are in a unique position now to help turn this tide.
If you haven’t already viewed the most recent draft of Justice CORPS Initiative 10.18.18, I encourage you to do so now.
I don’t know what your compensation agreement is with Lawrence Academy (though, I trust you have already out-earned my absentee settlement of 18% the attorney’s demand). So, you’ll have to carefully consider the timing of your next steps.
Given what you see, and the conscience you must have within you, I invite you to submit either a letter of endorsement or statement of support to Lawrence Academy officials. You may find them here: Letter of Endorsement Template & statement of support template. Of course, there are many ways to make a statement by your actions, here.
My goal is to run a pilot of the program simultaneously at two schools for the 2019-2020 year. I am prepared and willing; Dan and Bruce have detailed agreements in their email. I am sure this is the best way to learn about the strengths and weaknesses of the model.
Again, DO NOT contact me by email or phone. You can send your statements directly to:
Dan Scheibe firstname.lastname@example.org (978) 448-1526
Bruce MacNeil email@example.com
It’s never too late to make a change. A life change, a career change, a change for the true betterment of young people and families.
Here’s to an impact you can be proud of.
Week 24: Open House & All Survivors Day ~ Welcome to The Amends Project!
Maybe you are a prospective family, or maybe you are a local resident. However you come to be aware of this movement, I welcome you.
What is this about? Well, this poem is a great place to start…
“Peacemaking doesn’t mean passivity.
It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice,
the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer,
the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful, arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice.
It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free…”.
-Common Prayer: A Liturgy of Ordinary Radicals
So, what is the issue?
Like the card says, Lawrence Academy has a cover-up problem. Covering up what? Child abuse. By whom? Faculty, staff, students, family members of school officials and leaders…
I know, it’s painful to face.
And yet – if we are to grow, any of us, we must face our weaknesses as bravely as we do our strengths. We are only as strong as our weakest moments.
I read The Story, and it’s about things that happened in the 1990’s – isn’t this a historical or past-tense issue?
Unfortunately, no. It would be reassuring if it were. Since this effort went public in May 2018, many have contacted the Project facilitator with similar stories of silencing, pressure to not exercise one’s rights, bullying, secret compensation deals and so on. These accounts continue well into this decade, and up to 2017. A painful pattern has emerged that, sadly, has stood the test of time. That’s why I’m here. I want to help.
Who are you? Who is behind this?
Hello. My name is Vanessa Osage. I am a graduate of Lawrence Academy, class of ’96. I am a sexuality educator, consultant and professional coach. I also am Founder/Executive Director of a nonprofit working on prevention and positive youth development. You may learn more about me here: www.loveandtruthrising.org
Yes, I traveled all the way from Seattle to be on campus today, to honor All Survivors of abuse.
This Project is also supported by a range of alumni, advocates, advisors and other concerned citizens. Though, I alone take responsibility for its message and content. Suffice to say, all great things only happen in collaboration and with cooperation from many.
So, is this a lawsuit between you and the school?
No, I did retain an attorney in late 2016 – but soon realized the approach of “scaring the school into settling” was not a fit for me. The attorney sent a demand letter for $2,000,000.00 to Lawrence Academy in mid-2017. Soon after, I released him because the representation was not true or in line with my goals or values. I was most concerned about what would happen following my case; that the school would likely become more secretive and inclined to intimidate kids into silence.
So, I decided to forge a new way to address this issue, outside of court . . .
What are you trying to achieve?
I am working to implement a model for reform that addresses the conflict of interest between school leaders to preserve a reputation, and youth/families to keep young people safe. I have created a model (again, with collaboration from professionals) for transparency and accountability in holding a high standard of response when abuse happens on campus.
This model also has a ranking system, that would allow parents to review a school’s track record in honorably addressing abuses, and placing the needs of students first. I invite you to view the full 6-page proposal here: Justice CORPS Initiative 10.18.18
What can I do to further this cause?!
You can call and/or email headmaster Dan Scheibe, and Trustee Bruce MacNeil and encourage them to accept participation in the Justice CORPS. Both have copies of agreements ready and waiting in their inboxes. I have asked for acceptance by Monday November 5, 2018. It has been two years of actively pursuing justice, and 25 years of asking the school to do the right thing.
You could be part of bringing this effort all the way home. Imagine all the lives you could help save…
Dan Scheibe firstname.lastname@example.org (978) 448-1526
Bruce MacNeil email@example.com
If you were present on campus for Open House today (with a red folder), you may remember headmaster Dan Scheibe talking about how relationships are what set Lawrence Academy apart from other schools. You might recall his story about an alumna he encountered 30 years later – and how this ongoing care is “a generational thing”. Is this true? (See insights from the press & this context)
Threatening to arrest a former student for trespassing, after she registers and calmly attends Open House programming may suggest otherwise. You can decide. How would you want your former student to be handled?
Remember – it’s not about making someone “wrong” while another is “right”. It is about recognizing a problem, and finding the willingness to bravely face it. It is about directing energy away from preventing the spread of knowledge toward the actions that seek to address and resolve it.
It is Time. All families deserve the reassurance of knowing that – if anything happened to their child on campus – the needs of the child would absolutely come first.
If this very school were to take the leap to move forward, to embrace responsibility for the safety of their kids and truly demonstrate that quality of care over time… might it then be a great fit for your family? Would you possibly trust them more?
Let them know.
Dan Scheibe firstname.lastname@example.org (978) 448-1526
Bruce MacNeil email@example.com
an international day to recognize survivors of sexual abuse.
An international day to recognize survivors of sexual abuse, bring their stories into the light, raise awareness of the widespread nature of the issue and organize for change in the culture that allows sexual abuse to continue.
Want to be part of an action to address these issues?!
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Week 22: Board of Trustees President Bruce MacNeil declined participation in The Justice CORPS for a second time over the weekend; reasons were not given. Bruce MacNeil and headmaster Dan Scheibe have been invited to a remote video conference to discuss the Initiative further. Vanessa Osage awaits response.
Week 21: After much collaboration, and many revisions, the latest proposal for Justice CORPS Initiative 10.18.18 is submitted to Lawrence Academy school officials. The request is for written acceptance by November 5, 2018.
Also, the first professional Advisor has officially joined The Amends Project! Welcome Justine Finn!
See: http://www.relationshiftproject.com for more on Justine’s work.