The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.

The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.

And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.

– Elie Wiesel

The opposite of love, art, faith, and life is apathy: the inability to respond to suffering.

It’s been a while since I taught Wiesel’s autobiography Night, but I remember one sentence more profoundly than any other: “To forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

Remembering, for Wiesel, as he shared in his 1986 Nobel Prize speech “Hope, Despair, and Memory,” is a “noble and necessary act,” and its rejection “a divine curse, one that would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.” In fact, it would be easy to read all of Wiesel’s work as a paean to remembrance: “That is my major preoccupation, the kingdom of memory. I want to protect and enrich that kingdom, glorify that kingdom, and serve it.”

And if we – not just Wiesel – forget, we kill the dead a second time. The failure to remember suffering implicates us in the initial suffering as though we willed it from the beginning.

This theme of indifference – of purposeful (or perhaps only negligent) forgetting – seems to be at the heart of so much that I’ve read lately.

My British Literature students have just finished Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, an account of Stevenson’s work as an African-American attorney in Alabama representing minorities, underprivileged, and the voiceless.


My students readily admit to not being avid readers, yet so many shared with me that this book opened their eyes in a way that fiction or their history textbooks have not. I was not lecturing them or sharing my beliefs. Instead, Stevenson’s writing – candid and humble – was the subject of our discussions. He writes, “I believe that there are four institutions in American history that have shaped our approach to race and justice but that remain poorly understood.” He names those institutions (slavery, convict leasing, Jim Crow laws, and mass incarceration) and highlights through his stories the lasting effects these institutions have on perpetuating racial injustice. I asked my students to share with me what question they would pose to Bryan were he before them today. One white student wrote, “I don’t think I would ask him a question. Instead, I would tell him that his book completely changed my views and opinions on race and justice. I see the system so differently now and his book has made me want to help all the people who are hopeless in that system. I would want him to know that.” Another African-American, one of the three I teach, wrote, “If Bryan was before me today, I would ask him, besides reading this book and being a lawyer, how do you think I really should go about helping people understand the struggles minorities and poor people go through, because even though they have read the book, at the end of the day it’s a book and they go home to their houses in the suburbs and to private schools with no financial worries.” There were a few students who resented Stevenson’s thesis, arguing that we live in a post-racial society and that remembering our country’s legacy of slavery, disenfranchisement, and marginalization does no one any good. Yet, Stevenson strongly believes otherwise. In both his book and a lecture I attended at The Carter Center last month, he emphasized the need for remembrance, citing the lack of memorials our country has to slavery. I live in Atlanta, where I can walk a mile in any direction and discover a marker chronicling a Civil War event, but I cannot recall one that mentions the institution that precipitated that war. Stevenson, through his organization Equal Justice Initiative, has fought to erect grave markers that share our national stories of lynching and slavery. In an interview, he notes their powerful impact, “I see poor, white rural families and young people of color gathered around these sites having conversations … I think a lot of our contemporary issues are rooted in our failure to talk honestly about the issues that lead up to the problems we have today.” Essentially, he’s arguing, when we choose to forget, we do so at our peril.

In my AP Literature classes, my students have been reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. They’ve found Conrad’s novella to be as dense as the fog he encountered on the Congo, but they admit that the difficult undertaking has been worthwhile. I’ve shared excerpts from Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, which has helped them understand the historical reality behind Conrad’s mystical telling.


There were in fact many Kurtzes, individuals whose moral bearings shifted geographically. The result: the brutal genocide of half of the Congo’s inhabitants. King Leopold’s name should stand infamously next to Stalin or Hitler’s, but the Congolese were not a literate society so few direct testimonies attest to his atrocities. Moreover, Leopold in an act of extraordinary spin control attempted to destroy the evidence; for eight days in 1908 the furnaces in his kingdom’s headquarters burned at full blast incinerating all the historical archives. Remarkably, his “politics of forgetting” have been largely successful. Even many Belgians are unaware of their country’s legacy.

However, the danger of forgetting (with, as Wiesel attests, its loss of culture, civilization, society, and future) was on my mind most profoundly last week in China where I was chaperoning a group of 18 students. On the plane and in my hotel room at night I read Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a Rashomon styled story of the Australian POW experience in World War II.


The novel’s central protagonist Dorrigo Evans is a doctor in the POW camp where, short on medicine and sterile conditions, he administers kindness and compassion as the primary antidote to the horrors inflicted by their Japanese captors. A sympathetic response was apparently so unnatural that Dorrigo is hailed as a hero after the war, status that he finds problematic, especially because he resorts to alcohol and adulterous relationships to soothe his own post-traumatic-stress-disorder. Flanagan wrote the novel to memorialize his father Archie’s experience in a Japanese POW camp on the Burma Death Railway as prisoner #335. Flanagan resisted writing the novel, which took him twelve years to complete. As he explained in an interview, “”I didn’t want to write this book but in the end I couldn’t escape it. If I didn’t write it, I’m not sure I could write another book. I had to deal with things, which could become a stumbling block within me. I had to define them … I felt I carried something within me as a consequence of growing up as a child of the death railway. People come back from cosmic trauma but the wound does not end with them. It passes on to others.” In 2013, he called his 98-year-old father to tell him that he finally completed the novel; later that day, his father died.

It’s particularly ironic then that his protagonist Evans denies the power of memory. In one emotive scene, he and a few other “POW pyre makers” are preparing to burn the bodies of a few soldiers, victims of cholera. Casting all of the dead men’s belongings onto the fire, Bonox Baker hesitates to throw a POW’s sketchbook onto the flames with him, explaining to Evans, “It’s a record. His record. So people in the future would, well, know. Remember.… That people will remember what happened here. To us.” Baker then adds, “Lest we forget.” That phrase, popular after WWI, forms the refrain for Kipling’s poem, “Recessional.” Evans asks Baker if he knows the poem, quoting:

Far-called our navies melt away—

On dune and headland sinks the fire—

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Deriding the power of memory, Evans argues that the poem is actually about forgetting: “Nothing endures. Don’t you see, Bonox? That’s what Kipling meant. Not empires, not memories. We remember nothing. Maybe for a year or two. Maybe most of a life, if we live. Maybe. But then we will die, and who will ever understand any of this? And maybe we remember nothing most of all when we put our hands on our hearts and carry on about not forgetting.”

Of course, Flanagan’s novel itself is a refutation of his protagonist’s contention, but reading the full text of Kipling’s poem, I realize it is too. The poem itself is a prayer to God asking for forgiveness “lest we forget.” The direct object of the phrase is not our soldiers’ sacrifice as it has been appropriated; rather, it is Christ’s sacrifice, which allows redemption through remembrance of those very wounds.

Still, Evans’ words resonate. I learned last week from our Chinese guide that the Great Wall was not honored or valued by the Chinese until tourism dictated such respect. Instead, she said her people had considered it a vast cemetery of lives lost building a fortress. I wonder if the same might be said of the other wonders of the world: the Pyramids, the Coliseum, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu. As Evans stridently reasons regarding the sketchbook, “Who’ll know what these pictures will mean? Who’ll say what they’re of? One man might interpret them as evidence of slavery, another as propaganda. What do the hieroglyphs tells us of what it was like to live under the lash, building the pyramids? Do we talk of that? Do we? No, we talk of the magnificence and majesty of the Egyptians.” He’s certainly right about that. Our memory only endures so far.

In fact, sometimes it doesn’t endure at all. In the novel, one of the hired guards on the Burma Railway Line, a South Korean, recalls that his thirteen-year-old sister had signed up with the Japanese to work as a “comfort woman,” helping nurse soldiers in hospitals. Now that he knows what “comfort women” actually are, he hopes that she is dead.

Historically, they all will be soon. Those who survive are probably in their 90’s, and even though they have testified to the horrors they endured in the forced sexual slavery system created by the Japanese government during the war, their voices – even those embodied at present – have often not been heard or, worse, have been repudiated. Intent on promoting Japan’s image in the world, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in 2007 claimed that “comfort women” were never forced or tricked into prostitution, and just a few months ago, he took an American textbook published by McGraw Hill to task for this passage: “The Japanese Army forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned as many as 200,000 women aged 14 to 20 to serve in military brothels.” Fortunately, journalists and photographers like Hilde Janssen and Jan Banning have exposed Abe’s political deceit, compiling these women’s stories.


Intent on saving the sketchbook, Baker cries, “Memory is the true justice, sir!” Yet, they lifted the soldier’s corpse on the pyre and laid the sketchbook next to him, lighting the mountain of bamboo. After the service, when they were done and preparing to leave, Evans discovers the sketchbook on the ground, slightly charred but still intact: “Dorrigo Evans picked the sketchbook up and went to toss it back into the fire, but at the last moment changed his mind.”

Lest we forget.

The Tables Turned

In 1888, William Wordsworth published the poem, “The Tables Turned,” exhorting his fellow man (and in particular students) to “Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books” and turn instead to nature as the greater source of learning. A great Romantic, Wordsworth understood that knowledge and wisdom do not belong to sages alone.

In homage to the belief that many are teachers who don’t command a classroom, my students and I titled our blog “The Tables Turned.” Here you can find reflections, insights, lessons, and warnings from Senior Literature students at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.

I began the process of turning the tables by asking the students why they thought I had command of the classroom every day. Why was I in charge of the teaching and they, the learning? They cited my degrees, my age, my knowledge, and my ability to manage teenagers! But what if the topic were hunting or painting or social media or ballet? Wouldn’t they be the better experts to take control? And if they were the “sages on the stage,” what would they teach me?

I shared with them my own lesson and the photograph I took to complement it. I typically model all of my assignments. I want to understand the process and the timing involved. I wrote about training a feral horse.

Hand on Your Horse and Your Heart in Your Hand


In order to help my students understand how to find their voices and connect with their readers, I employed a different model of the Johari Window (below).

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 11.15.44 AM

I’ve written before about how we employed the Johari Window, a heuristic exercise that helps people understand their relationship to others, to untangle the story of Oedipus.

However, this time I manipulated the window as a personal narrative brainstorming exercise:

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 11.41.37 AM

Since I wanted the resulting project to be interdisciplinary in nature, I sought the help of our art teachers who helped me showcase the students’ work. Students studied a series of famous photos, analyzing what made each memorable, provoking, or aesthetic. Like me, students each complemented their essays with black and white photos that shared their stories. Additionally, since we have been discussing storytelling, an oral art, students also included an mp3 file of their readings.

All can be accessed on their blog, “The Tables Turned.”

Their photographs are presently showcased in our gallery. I have included a QR code with each photo so that guests can access their stories online.

Katherine Bliss Evelyn Patrick


The Art of Losing

A friend lost her husband yesterday. I only heard today. She’d already had one day, one morning without him. I came home tonight and began reading, “The Art of Losing,” a collection of poems about grief and healing. My husband arrived home an hour later to discover me in bed with this book. He’d lost a friend himself two days ago.

He was perplexed why I would be so morose, why I would attempt to deepen loss when loss is by nature so bottomless. I’m not morose, I explained. But you’re crying, he said. I was – it was true. I was in the midst of reading Philip Larkin’s poem “The Mower”:

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found

A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,

Killed, It had been in the long grass.


I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.

Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world

Unmendably. Burial was no help:


Next morning I got up and it did not.

The first day after a death, the new absence

Is always the same; we should be careful


Of each other, we should be kind

While there is still time.

He asked me if I was going to attend the funeral and whether I had spoken to her. I am but I had not. I’m going to send her this book, I said. But first, though I didn’t say this, I wanted to read these poems once more, to join her this evening.

I’m getting ready to go to bed, but I let the dogs out one last time. There aren’t many stars in the sky. What happens to stars when they go out? I wonder, so I wrote this poem before I go to sleep.

There are as many stars as there are grains of sand,

Someone told me, though I can’t remember where or who.

I’ve never met an astronomer so I don’t know why I believe this.

I should Google it before I share,

Before the words are read by you and become real,

Like the light reaching me from the sky of limitless sand.

Grit and Blindness


Yesterday, Grant Lichtman offered a series of words to replace education’s heralding of the word “grit” as the solution to what students today need to achieve. None of the words he listed suffice alone; only in their totality do they describe a vibrant educational experience: passion, risk, empathy, uncertainty, reflection, authenticity.

The word “grit” itself causes many of us concern because it appears coded. (On a side note, for an incredibly enlightening look at coded words and phrases, check out NPR’s Code Switch). What do I mean by “coded”? Well, on its surface the word “grit” can conjure for many of us images of John Wayne, steel workers, or Navy Seals. The word has traditionally been used to characterize individuals who possess indomitable spirits, who persevere despite circumstances that would make most of us surrender or retreat. But when it’s employed in education, it seems to suggest something different altogether. Should the classroom or the lives of the students who attend that classroom demand grit in the way the lawless Wild West, the molten heat of steelworks, or the exhausting physical and mental challenges of military missions do? Or is the word used to describe the actual circumstances in which many children live – dirty and dangerous? And is it, when used by policy makers or educators, in some way a surrender to those circumstances, an unwillingness to address or uncertainty how to address the underlying causes of those conditions? Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves why many of the children in our country must develop grit as their prevailing characteristic in order to succeed?

I read Grant’s post shortly after I finished reading Anthony Doerr’s book All the Light We Cannot See, a novel set in World War II Europe which follows in alternating chapters the lives of a young blind French girl and a talented young German soldier. Both are overwhelmed by the crushing circumstances of their lives. They are alone, often acting out of sheer instinct or intuition. To survive they need grit. In abundance.


The novel is beautiful, an intimate look into the interior of lives coping with challenges unforeseen and unimaginable. But the singular impression I had when I finished reading it was confusion. The war forced these two children into fearful, haunting places. The novel describes scenes where men and women abandon their own humanity and commit acts of unspeakable cruelty, as though they’re no longer able to empathize with another human being. It’s difficult to know if they do it consciously or if they somehow have created an alternative reality with different rules, different social contracts. As one character reflects, “It was not very easy to be good then.”

The war ends, and a German boy’s duffel bag is returned to his family. It made its way from an open mine field of bodies to a US Army prisoner-of-war processing camp in France, to a military storage facility in New Jersey, to a veterans’ service organization in West Berlin. What is it about us humans that we can engage in the most dehumanizing, crippling acts of violence where a man, a woman, a child’s life can be taken without a moment’s thought, as though a shared understanding of morality has been completely suspended, and then days or months later we can collect and care for a dirty, canvas duffel bag to ensure that it finds its way home as though it is a small child lost in the middle of a busy city?

Perhaps, we are all capable of acts of blindness, aware of some things but sightless to others. But at what point should we stop the wheels of history from traveling the same Sisyphean path and instead begin to see things more deeply? At what point do we begin acknowledging the absurdity of ascribing worth to a duffel bag yet denying value to the single human life that held it? I wonder if the questions that story had me asking about war aren’t similar to the ones we should be asking about education. Why aren’t we addressing the core problems that lie at the heart of education and in many respects at the heart of society and instead are spending our energy and time encouraging kids to be grittier? At what point do we begin acknowledging that this is just a capitulation, an acknowledgement of our own inability as adults to create a world where children’s primary characteristic trait isn’t perseverance?

What are we failing to see that we cannot or will not see?


If you’re a teacher, you probably entered the profession because you love monkeys. Well, not monkeys per se, kids really. Ok, now I have you all confused. Try reading this poem first.

To Help the Monkey Cross the River,

Thomas Lux

which he must
cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
to help him
I sit with my rifle on a platform
high in a tree, same side of the river
as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
him? When he swims for it
I look first upriver: predators move faster with
the current than against it.
If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
and an anaconda from downriver burns
with the same ambition, I do
the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
will reach the monkey
before he attains the river’s far bank,
I raise my rifle and fire
one, two, three, even four times into the river
just behind the monkey
to hurry him up a little.
Shoot the snake, the crocodile?
They’re just doing their jobs,
but the monkey, the monkey
has little hands like a child’s,
and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

It’s easy to interpret the sniper “helping” the monkey as a conceit for the teacher educating a student. After all, I believe that my students must cross that river to literacy, that without the ability to communicate and understand, they’ll struggle to succeed and enjoy the “fruits and nuts” that make life rich. And for many of my students over the years, education has provided them some protection against the threats of life: poverty, racism, class conflict, all those snakes and crocodiles that never get shot even though they continue to menace and destroy. And the fulcrum in the poem – the word “but” – does serve to remind me that sometimes in the process of hurrying and pushing my students to swim toward graduation on the opposite shore, I forget that education isn’t always liberating for every child. So, yes, the poem speaks to me.

But the poem should speak to more than just teachers. After all, the narrator, sitting “with (his) rifle on a platform high in a tree,” is not a lone gunman. He’s part of a system that equates success with all the little monkeys reaching shore. And each individual in that system, sometimes knowingly and sometimes unwittingly, plays a part.

Who is in that system? Teachers, yes, but also headmasters, superintendents, principals, deans, college counselors, parents, even the monkeys themselves. The reality is that no one person can change this system, or that any one system, new or old, will fit the needs of all people.

But the people struggling within this system do need empathy; they need to help one another recognize what it means to be a part of this system. For this reason, I think we all need to start by recognizing that very few teachers want to be gun wielding prodders seeing their students as potentially drowning or threatened monkeys.

For instance, I love poetry, and I love teaching. Yet I also recognize the truth in A. E. Housman’s words, “Even when poetry has a meaning, as it usually has, it may be inadvisable to draw it out . . . Perfect understanding will sometimes almost extinguish pleasure.” I’d love to explore what it would mean to teach poetry within that understanding. But the AP Literature test, which I am preparing my students to take, has a very different perspective on how poetry should be taught. As one of the test preparation book states, “Whether you abhor poetry or eat it for breakfast, whether you think poetry is cool or hot, scintillating or dull – none of that really matters on the AP exam . . . Most literate people would probably argue that poetry should be read for pleasure. The poems on the AP exam, however, are not put there for your enjoyment or appreciation. With luck you may enjoy reading them, but you needn’t praise their artistry or revel in their emotion. Your task will be more mundane – to read each poem, figure out its meaning, examine its structure, and analyze the effects of poetic techniques that the poet brought to bear.” Ugh. That’s just plain depressing, but the writer of that test preparation booklet is right. That is the exam’s structure and intent. And if you (colleges, administrators, college counselors, teachers, parents, and students) want students to do well on the exam, part of that process will require someone grabbing a rifle, climbing a platform, and taking aim at monkey heels.

In the future, hopefully the educational landscape will look very different than it does today. There will be more joy, autonomy, connection, and engagement. And I am grateful for all of the people out in the front working hard to make that vision a reality. However, I am equally appreciative of all those individuals who remain in place charged with managing this difficult transition. Ultimately, they too are leading us to a place down the road where we might explore ways for all of us to disarm and swim alongside those monkeys.


Action. Understanding. Which word attracts you more? That sounds like a query posed by a personality test, but it’s actually the question I was asking myself after reading an interview with the surgeon Atul Gawande regarding his new book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End.

I fall in the latter’s camp, leaning toward understanding, a prerequisite to action. But sometimes I feel alone in this tent, especially these days when the impulse to do, make, and produce seems paramount.

In the interview, Gawande was asked what books influenced his decision to become a doctor and his approach to medicine. His list was long, including playwrights, poets, and novelists from Chekhov to Keats to Percy: “They’re just writers, telling us about the experience of being human.”

His reflections on the power of literature to help us realize our purpose, to make sense of our feelings, to connect to others who may transcend time and place underscored for me the value of understanding. I was moved to hear him, a doctor, declare, “We have a particular responsibility to understand what people experience when their body or mind fails them. Our textbooks and manuals aren’t enough for that task.”

But what does it really mean to understand? How do we break out of our own interior perspective to appreciate what another person is feeling? Quite honestly, it takes time, patience, humility. When his own father approached the end of his life, Gawande simply asked him, “How much are you willing to go through just to have a chance of living longer?” He knew that as a surgeon he could extend his father’s life, but he also respectfully recognized that he needed to give his father power over his own story, his own narrative.

Perhaps the interview resonated with me because my students and I are deep into Macbeth. How many of us might argue that Shakespeare has become superfluous, a tedious study written in an archaic language describing a distant time? In my class, we’re just reading after all, or talking, or connecting, or sharing, but we’re not doing. My students aren’t making something that is going to transform the world.

Except I think in our little way we are. Last week, I asked my students to share on a post-it note a moment when they acted precipitously without much thought and then regretted their actions. They shared lies they told, cruel words they spoke, even the killing of a beautiful cardinal in a moment of spontaneous and thoughtless violence. We tried to understand what led us to those instants … those short spans of time between desire and action that were bereft of understanding. How do we prevent ourselves from living in that moment, apart from ourselves but inside of ourselves, fractured as Macbeth is after murdering Duncan? How do we prevent ourselves from ever stating, “To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself”?


We’re in the red zone. No, not within 20 yards of the goal. I’m talking about the time between the first day of college and Thanksgiving break when the majority of rapes on college campuses occur, more often than not to freshmen women. In fact, 20% of college women report being the victim of sexual assault. Colleges share all kinds of statistics: average incoming SAT score, number of students receiving athletic scholarships, percentage of students graduating in four years. But they’re pretty quiet about how many of their students are sexually molested … often by fellow students.

My students are seniors in high school. They’ll be entering that red zone in less than one year. They’ve heard the lectures about alcohol and drugs, and hopefully they’re wise enough to make good choices. But few of them have had any type of discussion about rape.

The hard part was figuring out how to broach the subject. It’s not easy earning the trust and confidence of teenagers. Sure, I could give them the statistics straight out of the gate and tell them what to do and not to do, but they generally see adults as being light years removed from their experience. So, creating a private discussion board where they could post their comments, I decided to start first by asking them how they feel about the freedom that awaits them. Here was my invitation:

A year from now, you will be attending college. You’ll be independent. No one will tell you when to go to sleep or wake up, whether you can attend that party, what you can and cannot wear, or how you should be behave. You’ll be free from the accountability model imposed by your parents and school. 


How will you react to that freedom? What excites you, scares you, or worries you about that freedom?

This is a one-to-one discussion that can and will only be read by me. Honestly, it’s been a long time since I was in your shoes, but I’ll tell you a little bit about how I would have answered those questions. Maybe that will loosen you up to share your perspective with me. But I want you also to understand that my story is ONLY my story. Yours should and will be different. 

I was eager to leave home to get away from the dysfunctionality that characterized my family. I’m the youngest of seven, and of course was the last in the nest. I grew up in Delaware, but in my junior year my father decided to move in with his girlfriend and her older kids in Florida. My brother, who is 15 months older, and I flew down to move in with her in August before school started. My father didn’t join us until October. This is going to sound weird – but that was the first time I laid eyes on the woman. My brother and I had a rocky start in that environment. He was a senior, and I was a junior. Although my family had very limited means, we attended a private school that accepted me and my brother on academic scholarships. All the kids at that school drove Mercedes and BMWs, and my brother drove an old brown Datsun 510. Today, that’s a collectible, but back then it was a discardable. Anyway, I couldn’t wait to leave home and start life on my own. 

The only thing I was worried about was my mom. She was a brilliant woman. Beautiful, bright, but incredibly fragile. When my dad moved us to Florida, she followed us, moving into an apartment on the beach. She had been an editor of both a magazine and a newspaper, but she was also bi-polar, which led her to betray her own ambitions. 

I worried that when I went away from college I would be leaving her behind. She was 52 when I was 18. Honestly, it doesn’t make any sense. I was the child; she, the adult. Nevertheless, she was on my mind. 

I wanted freedom from the responsibility of worrying about my parents.

So that’s my story. Pretty personal, I know, but I hope that my own vulnerability in sharing my story allows you the safety, desire, or freedom to share what excites, scares, or worries you about the freedom you will experience next year.

The students wrote me lengthy responses sharing their fears and anticipation; they wrote funny stories, heartbreaking stories, and eager stories. I felt honored to be able to read them.

The next day, I asked them to read the following New York Times article published July 13, 2014: “How One College Handled a Sexual Assault Complaint.” The article shares the story of a young college freshman, Anna, who in her first weeks of college last September, reported being assaulted by two football players in a bedroom at a frat party. A friend of hers, who was also a football player, said he witnessed one of the men rape her while she was bent over a pool table at a dance hall later that same night. At the hospital after the assault, Anna’s blood alcohol level tested twice the legal limit and her rape exam showed “blunt force trauma.” The college cleared the football players in twelve days. It’s a difficult article to read, not one I would send home for them to make sense of alone. We read it in class silently although I encouraged anyone to ask questions along the way.

I then provided the students two padlets (essentially an online bulletin board) for them to post questions or reflections they experienced while reading the article – one padlet for the boys in class and one padlet for the girls. I felt it was important to allow them to express themselves in a gender specific forum first.

These are the comments and questions I posed when they accessed the bulletin board:

  1. What questions do you have after reading this article?
  2. What comments do you have after reading this article?
  3. Do you think we should allow college administrations to adjudicate rape cases? We don’t allow a college administration to investigate a kidnapping or a murder. Are we somehow suggesting that rape is not a serious crime?
  4. If my daughter had wanted to attend a summer camp and I was told beforehand that her chance of being sexually assaulted at this camp was 20 percent, unquestionably I would not allow her to attend — and what parent would? So why do so many of us parents fail to address this issue at college?
  5. What about the bystanders of sexual assault, of which in Anna’s case there were many, since apparently she was sexually assaulted on a pool table. What level of responsibility do they have to assist others in dire circumstances? What level of culpability?

Here are some of the comments and questions the girls shared:

Why does it affect how the case is handled if the accused is popular on campus?

Why are women expected to live in fear of sexual harassment/assault/rape? Why are women publically shamed or blamed for their own rape? If it were men getting raped instead of women how active would universities be then?

How has our society blatantly ignored the pleas of the women who have been raped? Sharing that information is highly difficult to do, and should never be taken lightly, or ignored. This college should be ashamed for their obvious neglect of listening to their students.

“Rape is not about love. It is about violence and power.” This was said by a recent graduate from the school named Kelsey Carroll, and it’s a comment that really stuck out to me. In this comment, she is referring to the video “ThinkLuv” that was created by the college that the students were forced to watch that was designed to educate them about sexual assault. She thinks, and I agree, that the title alone takes away from the seriousness of the problem at hand.

The bystanders in Anna’s case I also believe are just as bad as the assailants or the administration because they saw the crime yet are not assisting in finding justice. They saw but won’t say. They all have responsibility to report or help in finding justice.

Anna will never be the same again and her supposedly “best years of her life” are ruined for a huge portion of her life. My hope for anyone who has even been in a rape situation that you talk to someone, seek help, and don’t be afraid. Don’t let stories like these force you to live a life silent and hurt. The people responsible for your pain should and need to be brought to justice.

All I can think about is how embarrassing and difficult this must have been for Anna. It also shows that the consequences of “innocent college intoxication” can lead to blurred lines when it comes to the truth and proving if you are innocent or not.

Some parents are either naive to think that it won’t happen to their child or if they are just completely oblivious to what is really happening in the world today. I think most parents just believe that my kid will be in the 80% of students that are always safe and protected while in reality is still in danger of being assaulted.

Honestly, I am just shocked. I always knew that there were a lot of issues about protecting college students from being raped or attacked on campus but I didn’t know about the different ways they could handle it. I just assumed it was always the police and the courts that handled these cases.

Here are some of the comments and questions the boys shared:

If so many people knew that something was wrong, how come nobody actually took action against the problem until it was too late? I know it is not her fault, but she should not have even gone upstairs at the party, she should have remained downstairs, although she was probably too drunk to know exactly what was going on.

Why is the “justice” system for victims of sexual assault so terrible in schools?

I believe that even though Anna’s case seems very clear that the assailants were guilty and should be charged with some punishment the schools should take the legal matters into their own hand. I know this is a sensitive subject but there are a lot of cloudy parts to these stories and putting someone in a court and prosecuting them would ruin their lives.

I believe the core of the issue rests in the morals of the men who commit atrocities such as these and I believe this is partially due to the society will live in. Men like these football players treat women with no respect and see them as just reusable items to do with their pleasing, not as actual human beings. I feel like the morals of men regarding how women are treated are worsening due to the way our culture displays women and how things such as pornography, movies, magazines, and many other media outlets portray women the way men “think” that women really act when it comes to sex and overall interaction.

Whatever happened to doing the right thing?

Whether it is the Hobart and William Smith case, the Penn State scandal, the Jameis Winston incident, universities have shown themselves utterly incompetent in investigating sexual assault. The problem comes down to money and conflicts of interest. All three of the instances I listed above involve the respective university’s football programs. Football is typically a large draw and money-maker for universities. This causes the “review panels” to automatically have a bias towards the football players or coaches and against the student reporting the attack. The bottom line is that rape is a felony offense and it should be handled by law enforcement.

I am in disgust after reading this story. It is terrible to think that a person would do something like this especially without anyone trying to prevent it.

It’s crazy to think that there is very obvious evidence that this woman was raped, but nobody is answering for the crime they committed.

At that point, I felt that we were prepared to have a full conversation about rape in general. I barely spoke. They asked each other questions about what women wear, how they dance, how boys behave, the physical power discrepancy between men and women, the role the football player/cheerleader dynamic plays. It was a powerful conversation.

I hope that this exercise/lesson/opportunity – whatever one should call it – will help all of my students make good decisions next year.