I believe women.
Or, to be more precise, I believe the women, men and children who say they are victims of sexual abuse. I believe that making an accusation or simply stating one’s experience is an act of bravery. I believe that victims have faced scrutiny and doubt, and forever suffered both personally and professionally when they’ve chosen to speak out. I believe this needs to end immediately.
This does not mean that every accusation should result in immediate termination or public ridicule. It means that every accusation should be taken seriously and be given the benefit of the doubt, because simply stepping out has consequences that make false claims extremely rare. Fairness demands due process and balanced consideration of the facts, but up until recently that balance has been tilted dramatically in favor of the powerful. This balance has left too many victims silent.
Education reform is far from innocent of these sins.
We all know stories—often told firsthand, often told over drinks with a nervous laugh and frustrated shake of the head. In many cases we know the person accused and may know other stories about them, as well. As the current #MeToo revolution uplifts and amplifies women’s voices, it is likely that the education sector will continue to see high-profile cases that damage—or destroy—the careers of colleagues, mentors and friends.
How we respond to these allegations and repercussions will either remake or further entrench a broken culture that the entire country is finally waking up to.
For my part, I commit myself to believing women. Here’s what this means:
- No matter how well I know the person accused or wish it false, my first assumption will be that the accusation is true. Crucially, this includes myself. If anyone says that my behavior has been unacceptable or abusive, I will first consider their words and seriously consider how I was wrong. I will not default to defensiveness.
- If an investigation is conducted that finds credibility in an accusation, I will accept those findings and the resultant repercussions. I will at no point disparage the accuser or express public support for the accused, because that support will undoubtedly be taken as undercutting the validity of the claim against them.
- If at any point I am involved in the hiring process of—or otherwise engaged professionally with—someone who has made a public accusation, I will consider it a signal of great dedication to doing what is right, no matter the personal ramifications. I will actively push back against negative repercussions, no matter who is displeased with the individual’s temerity.
- I will not value the career and legacy of a prominent figure over the pain and suffering of someone they harmed, physically or mentally.
To what will education leaders commit? Are they dedicated to the eradication of sexual harassment or committed to maintaining the status quo? I would encourage everyone to state their values and commitments as it relates to abuse—especially those in leadership positions.
The ideal of a modern education is to build paths of opportunity for our children greater than those that came before. The world is changing for the better. Let us be a part of that change.