Where was the benevolence at St. George’s School in Rhode Island? The New York Times and Richard Perez-Pena tell the story in the article, ‘Private Hell’: Prep School Sex Abuse Inquiry Paints Grim Picture. With 51 students being abused by faculty in the 1970s and 1980s (the numbers may be higher), we can assume this faculty lacked benevolence. They were a group that were unable to care for the well-being of the students placed in their charge. They were a group of faculty that did not protect, but harmed the students in their care.
Trust (benevolence) rests on the assurance that one can count on the good will of another to act in one’s best interest, that the other will not exploit one’s vulnerability even when the opportunity is available. (page 19)
Clearly, the moral fabric of St. George’s faculty was compromised by individuals who did not act in benevolent ways. In fact, they “abused” students.
This isn’t the first time we have seen this in American schools. On May 7, 2016 the Boston Globe published this article, Private Schools, Painful Secrets, by a team of investigative reporters. The opening paragraph states:
More than 200 victims. At least 90 legal claims. At least 67 private schools in New England. This is the story of hundreds of students sexually abused by staffers, and emerging from decades of silence today.
Then in Newsweek, Sean Elder wrote the article, Horace Mann’s History of Sexual Abuse Won’t Go Away, which tells the story of a long trail of abuse at one of the most prestigious private schools in New York. This builds on the story that Amos Kamil broke open in his stunning article, Prep School Predators, which appeared in the New York Times Magazine in June 2012.
All of these stories, and there are probably many more to chronicle, illustrate how easy it is to erode the fabric of trust that is the “glue” holding a community of people together. As Megan Tschannen-Moran writes:
Schools need cohesive and cooperative relationships. Trust is essential to fostering these relationships.
In Trust Matters, she writes about the five ingredients essential to building trust in a community.
Schools, in which faculty (or other employees) abuse students, struggle exhibiting these five ingredients as cherished community values. Leaders in schools who face this reality should confront their school culture which has allowed these secrets to remain hidden. Facing the truth head on may be the best way to rebuild a culture of trust that students deserve.