Sunday, October 26, 2008

Nostalgia

College?

Some women have sexual awakenings, religious callings. When the Matron was a Young Miss, she experienced college as a sacred, spectacular, bone-chilling, quite possibly orgasmic Earthquake Event. Word! Idea! Knowledge!

Where others partied in Dorm, she dallied in Library. The more Idea kept coming at her, the more she sparkled and popped! After a horrible first year, dropped in the midst of "OMIGOD it's 2 pm and General Hospital is on, where the #$#% is my beer?" she hung out with her own ilk, young people capable of breaking out in a sweat or swooning over anything Theory. (and practice! she couldn't forget practice!) She majored in East Asian Studies with a minor in Chinese. Language (don't ask for any tricks -- all she remembers is "I'm hungry" which is currently coming in handy)

Her original major was History. The switch betwixt is the story. Trust her, it's worth the read.

Young Miss was assigned Dr. X as her advisor, Chair of the History Department of bucolic private College Q, which feted and clawed at Young Miss's unexperienced feet from the second her 11th grade PSAT scores were rolled out to the recruiters. Those folk were so good, she barely looked anywhere else.

So she ended up in Dr. X's office as a 17 year old freshman.

Life Experience + Young Miss = 0

Dr. X adored her! Well into his fifties or early sixties with pitch white hair and a paunch, he eagerly established himself as the missing Father Figure in Young Miss's frail, pale life. Even more effectively, Dr. X implied, directly and not, that Young Miss was nothing short of a genius! Why, he was SO INTERESTED in her intellectual career, he could barely think of anything else!

Young Miss adored him right back! She had never really thought of herself as really that smart or special, and to have someone affirm that she had real Gift? The Department Chair?! A well-published, well-regarded scholar, flattened by her potential?

The bond was sealed.

So taken was the Matron, that she barely noticed this poster on his office wall



Or this one



until well into her sophomore year, when Trouble began rearing it's ugly head.

Why, some of Dr. X's odd little habits had begun to bother the Young Miss. For instance, The Routine Inquiry.

Dr. X: "Do you have a boyfriend? I bet you do!"

Young Miss: "Well, sort of."

Dr. X: "And what do you do together? Is this is purely a physical connection or do you connect on an intellectual plane, as well?"

Young Miss: "Uh, more like music."

Dr. X wondered about Young Miss's social life to no end. He fretted about her wardrobe.

Dr. X: "You look lovely in lavender shades, deep blues. I might have something I can give you?"

Young Miss: "Uh, that's okay."

Dr. X (with a deep appreciative sigh): "You know, I just imagine that adorable little behind of yours, scooting across campus."

In her utter, blinding naivete, that comment about said adorable behind was the first real warning signal that actual made contact with 19 year old radar. It was only in retrospect that she questioned this item on a test given to History 101.

Putting out is

A) A term for producing cotton over night in the 1800's
B) What naughty girls do in the dorm at night.

Or, wondered about the Medieval History class when Dr. X stopped the lecture, faced the 20 students in the room, and said this: "Would Mary and Catherine please come and sit in the front row? No, really, Mary and Catherine."

Perplexed, Young Miss and Catherine gathered their books and settled in as instructed.

Dr. X: "Thank you, ladies. I realized I couldn't continue without something beautiful to look at, close up. Can we have more skin on the leg? Just a little!"

By the beginning of her junior year, Dr. X was THE thorn in her side. She really didn't like him, thought he was, well, creepy. She didn't approve of his posters, his crass leers, the ritual and required Routine Inquiry about boyfriend. She wasn't quite sure what was wrong or what to call it, but knew it was something.

Then there was this.

Dr. X: "I'd like you to be my teaching assistant for freshman classes -- you know, introductory courses."

Young Miss (skin, crawling): "Uh, I am REALLY busy this semester. I think I better pass on this."

Here upon, Dr. X. leaned in and pulled his papers toward him, beckoned to Young Miss to move forward and understand, in an intimate way: "Mary. I make or break History majors. If you want to get into Stanford, you're my TA. If not, consider the consequences."

Ping! Just like that, she was his TA!

After she agreed, heart-beating and dream (oh, she of Intellect and Philosophical Desire!) of academic future crashing, Dr. X chuckled and pulled out what he called: "My Little Black Book."

Dr. X: "Thank goodness we have that settled. Now I can add you to my Little Black Book. Some day soon, we'll have coffee. Maybe drinks."

Young Miss was resigned, indentured in her service. And oh Lord: fearful of coffee and drinks, above all else. Her entire life was spent avoiding that man. Sure, she had to show up at the big lectures to pass out papers and act as Girl Friday, happy and adoring. But for everything else, she did her work alone and slide stuff under his door. She knew when he ate lunch in the cafeteria and when he went to the library. She tracked his every move to avoid actual physical contact. But, then they had some.

She was in his office and made the mistake of sitting down. Her jeans had a hole in the knee. Doing what any normal college professor would do, Dr. X put his finger in that hole, rolled the finger around, and wondered: "How long will you wear these before you toss them away?"

Young Miss practically flew out of there. She vowed she would finish the semester and switch majors. Be done.

But the very next day, while she was shoving tests under his door, Dr. X. wandered up behind her.

Dr. X: "Mary! What a pleasure! Hang onto those tests and we'll put them on the table and keep things tidy."

He unlocked the door. She entered, set the tests down on the table, turned around and Dr. X stood directly in front of her and ripped open her shirt.

"My, we're looking sexy today!"

Young Miss burst into tears. She pulled her blouse together and stood there, sobbing.

Dr. X: "Are you coming to work tomorrow? It's imperative that you attend class tomorrow! I'm writing letters of recommendation for graduate school, this week!"

Young Miss walked out without a word and never looked back. Because this was a small, private liberal arts college (and she had no clue where to go or what to do), she went directly to the office of the President. The secretary took one look at her face and told her to go right in.

While Young Miss sat, sobbed and recounted the formative experiences of her freshman, sophomore and half of junior year at College Q, the President went from a smiling, pale-faced man to a quaking gray wreck on the phone with the college's general consul.

College President: "You can't talk to me because I also have to think about the institution. I want you to go, right now, to the college ombudsperson, Lovely Lady C. Last year, the school created its first ever sexual harassment policy. She can help you."

So Young Miss decided to take an hour and compose a lovely letter about Dr. X, given that she's so comfortable in prose. Lovely Lady C turned out to be the head librarian, and she was rushing out to a meeting when Youmg Miss came in.

Lovely Lady C said "Oh my! I'm afraid I'll have to talk to you tomorrow morning" while simaltaneously scanning Young Miss's letter. As she read, Lovely Lady C stopped talking. Kept reading. Put her fist down on her desk and then picked up the phone.

"Jill? I have to cancel. "

She spent two hours with Young Miss, doing more education and damage control than any sexual assault counselor. Thank you, Lovely Lady C.

Young Miss went ahead with the first stages of the official sexual harassment charges.

And when Dr. X sent Young Miss this letter? (yes, she saved it, lo these years)

Dear Mary,

I don't think that I have ever been so gievously hurt and betrayed in my life. It is all the more surprising since I genuinely like you, was concerned about your health and well-being, and always hoped good things would happen to you. To be blunt, I rather envied your mother and father, having a daughter like you, and it made me feel rather empty to know that I could never take pride in a daughter (or son) as they can in you. What is particularly hurtful is that you never even accorded me the most basic courtesy that I have always extended to my students: a chance to explain themselves free of humiliated publicity.

Mary, I am a rationalist: I believe in solving problesm, not trying to ascribe blame or humiliate people. My professional judgement is that if this matter is pushed to its logical conclusion, it will be mutually destructive, emotionally and legally, for both of us. Is it not possible for us to talk before resorting to total stranger and outsiders? For whatever this is worth, I am not sure that I would wish to defend myself, but would probably prefer to remain silent rather than to be forced to make statements that would be detrimental to you. I have no wish to hurt you or even appear as your adversary. Quite the contrary, until learning of this action on your part this morning, I thought you were my friend and co-worker, in the highest tradition of teacher-student relationshiops. I feel like I have woken up in the middle of a nightmare.


Now, remember, Young Miss had adored this man. She had initally eaten out of the palm of hand, all that. Consider that, and the myriad manipulations in this letter-- vague threats of detrimental statements, legal and emotional costs to her, as well as to him. Then there was all the "strangers are dividing us!" stuff of lovers--or fathers and caring teachers -- and lore.

It worked.

A sobbing, broken Young Miss took the letter to Lovely Lady C and said: "I can't! This is too scary! I am SO mean! The school newspaper thinks it's me and is begging me for an interview! Half the campus thinks I'm a fool and the other half wonders: is it her? I can't possibly go through with this! I'm cancelling!"

The wise Lovely Lady C patted Young Miss and reassured her that in this office, Young Miss was in charge of her own destiny.

LLC: "Mary. I have something I want to show you." She pulled open a desk, took out a foot thick file and put it in Young Miss's lap.

LLC: "These are the women who went before you and didn't go through with the suit. You're number 16. So far, 15 other female students have complained and some even started some kind of procedure. But he scared them all. Or, maybe it was that the school didn't have a policy in place. Whatever the reasons, you can stop now, and nobody will blame you. This might be one of the toughest things you do in your life. But if you don't press charges? Number 17 will be in my office, suffering just like you did, next year or the year after."

There was no question.

And whenever the publicity or drama or continuing threats got to be too much, she remembered the day Dr. X pulled open her blouse. That kept her grounded. In touch with reality.

Not only did Young Miss win that suit, there was zero legal toll (although plenty of emotional)

Here's the terms of settlement that Lovely Lady C helped Young Miss work out:

  1. 1. Young Miss was released from her TA duties for that year and the next, and got her salary, anyway! Goodie!!
  2. Dr. X wrote Young Miss the blandest and most cryptic and unapologetic letters of apology.
  3. College Q set aside $5000 (in 1983 funds) to establish a Women's Resource Center for female students. Young Miss was on the advisory board.
  4. Dr. X was required to attend at least 20 therapy sessions.
  5. He was removed from his position of Chair of the department.
  6. Young Miss's absolute favorite (and totally Lovely Lady C's idea): in addition to regular old course evaluations, Dr. X was forced to include Sexual Harassment Evaluations. As in: "Did this man touch you in inappropriate ways or make suggestive statements?" And he had to wear that Scarlet Letter for the rest of his years teaching at College Q.
This all tranpsired long ago and the Matron doesn't often think about Dr. X. But tonight while she wrote this blog post? She got a stomach ache while copying his letter. And she shed a little tear, a wee one, for that beautiful naive and trusting young woman, who had never even heard of sexual harassment until she understood herself, its victim.

Dr. X? He retired soon after the lawsuit, with no more complaints against him, of any kind.

23 comments:

kmkat said...

Wow. Just wow. Good for you. What an experience.

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

What a story--kudos to you.

smalltownmom said...

Brave Young Miss, who saved countless others from the same terrible experience. Kudos, Matron.

Joie at Canned Laughter said...

Big hugs. I know EXACTLY what you went through. I just wish there had been a Lovely Lady C for me.

M said...

What an amazing story. A really important one for all girls to read. Thank you for re-telling it.

I wonder how many of your readers will see a little of themselves in the story?

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

Good for you -- and good for Ms. C! What a formidable pair!! Thank you for sharing.

Lynda said...

Yeah! You did it - you followed through and no Number 17 had to go through that.

You're amazing, Mary - really!

Rachelle said...

Thanks for sharing this story, and for standing up and speaking out, even though it was scary!

Miss T said...

Stunning. Good for you, for doing what you did.

Hot Tub Lizzy said...

Well pooh bear... I went to college at a nice private liberal arts college in minnesota, where I was a history minor... so I perhaps owe you a great debt of gratitude.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

How brave. And yay for Lady C.
That must have been a horrifying start to college life.

Cha Cha said...

Reading your blog makes me a better person. Thanks for sharing, and thank you for putting a stop to this creepy man's reign of terror. You are amazing.

Irene said...

I always blamed myself when confronted with such situations and was afraid to talk to anyone about it. Good for you that you did! You were very brave. I wish I had been. It seemed that from an early age on, older men found me sexually attractive, while I thought I was just a plain girl.

Minnesota Matron said...

Hi friends! Thanks for your wonderful, encouraging words. I am always struck by the staggering amount of stories of abuse, harassment and assault that continue to trail women.. . I am heartened by the fact that I think it IS better. Dr. X could never ever attempt what he did, today.

Becky said...

Thank you! As someone who came along after you, thank you. I think things ARE better.

(And what an absolute creep. It's when I think of things like this that I'm glad I'm 35 instead of 21 again. That's a beautiful time of life, but boy do I feel less vulnerable to people's crap now.)

justhay said...

Another reason you are my hero Mary.
Thank you...for my daughters and their daughters.

Cheri @ Blog This Mom! said...

I am so proud of Young Miss. I wish I had been her when I was her.

Ree said...

You are such an amazing person.

Daisy said...

Good for you, taking the case all the way! The emotional toll had to be awful, simply awful.

Kimberly said...

I'm so furious you had to go through that, but so proud of you for making sure no one else had to suffer the same thing by him. You really are an amazing woman.

thefirecat said...

You are infinitely kinder and more compassionate than I.

I would have posted the son of a bitch's name, even all these years later.

(Are you listening, Ray Leung?)

JCK said...

This was a heartbreaking and yet, victorious and courageous story, young Miss.

Zenmomma said...

Coming out of lurk mode for this amazing post.Wow!I too was that naive young girl.Thank you for all of us.