Letter to Head of School Hiring Committee

Below please find the full text of an important letter from the EWS Alumnae Against Sexual Assault.

This letter was sent to the Emma Willard School Board of Trustees, Interim Head of School & Head of School Search Committee on Friday July 15th at 11:00 AM ET.

We wish to ensure that the almost 600 Emma Willard Alumnae who signed this letter are heard by the current Administration & Board. We hope the letter is received with the intent in which it was written- with love for our school & with hope for a shared urgent need for change to ensure the safety of ALL future Emma Willard students.


To Dr. Groesbeck, Susie Hunter, and the other members of the Head of School Search Committee, and Board of Trustees:

We are alumnae and parents of Emma Willard School, diverse in age and background but united in our love and concern for the school we share. We have been deeply saddened and disturbed to hear of the recent revelations of student rape that occurred in 1998. Some of us are hearing of these events for the first time, and are still processing the shock of this information. Unfortunately, others of us are absolutely not surprised by these reports, and distressed that the school has only taken public action now, in the glare of media publicity, when it had so many prior opportunities to take leadership. We are hoping the school seizes this opportunity at long last, both to redress past abuse and inaction, and to prevent future abuse.

Many alumnae were aware of multiple instances of ongoing abuse while we were students at Emma Willard. This consisted of far more abuse than was reported in Dr. Groesbeck’s recent letter to the community. In light of recent (and likely forthcoming) allegations, if the school wishes to work proactively to protect its students and uphold its reputation as an educational institution that empowers and nurtures young women, the current administration and the new Head of School must be ready to dramatically change the school’s approach to reports of sexual assault and/or abuse.

First, we believe that sunlight is the best disinfectant in this case. In order to regain trust among the extensive Emma Willard community, the school needs to be open and honest about the mistakes that previous administrations have made. Many of us were aware of administrative actions that allowed multiple instances of sexual abuse of students to be hidden and for the victims of that abuse to be punished. Those of us who were not already aware of these actions are now shocked to hear of them. The administration, the Board of Trustees, and the new Head of School should acknowledge these incidents and the harm they caused to the survivors, joining us in grief, sorrow, and commitment to change. Further, the school must demonstrate clearly that it now understands how to honor young women’s voices, and that it has eliminated all policies and practices that may have caused harm or exacerbated harm already done. The results from any external assessments of the school’s sexual assault policies should be released. There must be transparency about the past, and clear standards for the future.

Second, as adults, many alumnae are now trying to grapple with what we knew as students, and how it was that none of us recognized the criminality of the “relationships” inwhich our own friends were victims. As students, we were not given the tools to recognize sexual assault and to feel safe reporting it. Instead, we lived in an atmosphere of secrets, gossip, and victim blaming. Our survivor friends lived in an environment of humiliation and isolation, when they were even allowed to remain at school. Many of them still consider themselves responsible for their victimization, decades later. None of this should be allowed to happen again.

The school has always been capable of instilling and enforcing strict rules with severe consequences. It should prohibit and punish sexual misconduct with equal severity and without exception.

We strongly request implementation of new and clear written and spoken rules, procedures, and expectations, to include the following:

  1. A required all-school assembly at the start of every academic year in which the school’s policies and procedures regarding sexual misconduct are clearly explained, and in which the administration affirms that students will not be punished for reporting misconduct. Orientation for new students should include in-depth, targeted, and tailored discussion of these topics as well.
  2. A definition of statutory rape, including an explanation of why, even when it is “consensual,” it is still rape, and the school will treat it as such. Furthermore, even if a student is 18 or older, the same logic applies to relationships between school employees and students, and does not diminish the invalidation of consent, because of the inherently unequal power dynamic between students and employees. The school must state explicitly to students and employees, and demonstrate in its actions, that in any of these “relationships,” the student is not to blame as she cannot be an equal partner in the relationship.
  3. All students will be provided with safety and self-esteem education, as relates directly to sexual assault that may occur at Emma Willard, in college, or later in life. Students will learn language and concepts from professional sexual health educators that break down rape culture and provide them with a powerful voice to defend their own sexual safety.
  4. A blanket protection for all complainants, immediate suspension and removal from campus of accused employees (or other on-campus adults), and a no-contact/no-retaliation order put in place between the complainant and accused adult. No victim should be forced or encouraged to leave the school, or have her financial aid reduced or removed. The burden of proof is borne by the accused, because they are adults, and we do not believe the burden should be placed on the shoulders of a teenager who is likely a victim of sexual assault. That said, a diligent and timely examination of each case will be provided in the interest of all parties involved. Complainants will be listened to, and heard, without punishment, without re-traumatization, and without regard to the student’s financial standing, academic standing, or family influence.
  5. When a student reports being sexually assaulted, the School shall immediately notify law enforcement; arrange for access to emergency medical assistance at a local hospital credentialed to treat survivors of sexual assault and provide forensic services; provide counseling by a qualified professional who is trained in cases of sexual assault against minors, bound to confidentiality standards, and not an employee of the school; and inform the student’s parents or guardians. The School shall provide ongoing counseling free of charge for student survivors of School-related sexual assault. This counseling shall be provided on-campus or by an off-campus professional of the student’s choice.
  6. Students who are concerned about or witness to the sexual assault of peers will be provided with a standard reporting system, by which they may inform school employees or a dedicated counselor about their knowledge. Any reports received from students in this manner will never be met with punishment, and the identity of any student should remain confidential. These reports should result in heightened scrutiny of the accused employee, including monitoring in-class behavior, social time spent with students, and visitors to the employee’s on-campus apartment. If necessary, other students may be confidentially interviewed to corroborate the report, again without fear of punishment.
  7. The School shall craft, publish, and enforce a protocol by which employees must notify school administration of other employees who have sexually assaulted or harassed a student, and by which administrators shall report these incidents to law enforcement. No employee who makes such a report will be penalized. Students should know that they can speak to any employee and receive help and guidance. And employees should know that they can report sexual misconduct to the administration without repercussions.
  8. All employees need to undergo extensive professional training in understanding sexual misconduct, along with how to appropriately handle reports from students and follow appropriate protocol to help the student. Employees also need to understand the severe consequences of engaging in sexual misconduct of any kind. Every School employee must understand and combat rape culture. No School employee should believe that they can successfully skirt these rules.
  9. Any employees who do engage in sexual assault will not only be terminated, but the School will not assist them in obtaining future employment. The School will also assist the victim in pressing charges against the employee, with the aim of registering the employee as a sex offender, thus barring them from future employment with children. The employee will not be permitted to visit campus as long as the victim is an enrolled student.
  10. Emma Willard shall pay for all psychological and medical treatment for past victims of sexual abuse who choose to come forward.
  11. The School will create a formal truth and reconciliation process by which additional survivors of sexual assault at Emma Willard can be heard and made whole. The process will center on the voice and needs of each survivor, with the goal of creating a safe space for survivors. This process should be facilitated by a third party experienced in mediation and dispute resolution.
  12. A written policy outlining specific procedures and protocols by which the School will handle student reports of sexual assault, whether perpetrated by employees of the School, by other students, or by persons unrelated to the School. This policy will replace the current Sexual Assault Protocol, which is vague and unspecific as to the actual process by which the School handles reports of sexual assault made by current students.

These changes will all be promoted by a re-examination of how the administration deals with student “misbehavior.” The School needs to act in loco parentis in positive as well as negative ways, and foster trust that students can report unsafe situations without causing punishment or expulsion. Toward this end, there needs to be at least one full-time, licensed, and well-trained mental health professional on the staff, who can confidentially support and advise students even about the most taboo subjects. Any student who is suspended or expelled for any reason, regardless of her age, will never be forced to leave campus except into the custody of her parent or guardian.

Please take this opportunity of appointing a new Head of School to start fresh and become the school known for honoring young women in mind and body — known not for covering up abuse, but for combatting it strongly and proactively. Silence today sends a chilling message to unspoken victims and denies healing to survivors. It indicates that the school is incapable of preventing future abuse.

The process will be uncomfortable for the institution, but can yield massive rewards in terms of alumnae enthusiasm and trust of future parents. Alumnae have offered, and will continue to offer, to support this endeavor, lending our energies, skills, connections, and funds. To this end, at least one alumna practiced with and concerned about sexual safety should be added to the Head of School hiring committee.

Emma Willard can become a national advocate protecting victims of sexual abuse. The safety of our daughters and all current and future students depends on your immediate attention to this matter.

To read the full letter: bit.ly/EWSAlumsSexualAssaultLetter


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