Dear Cate Board . . .
I am a concerned community member. Please share my concerns with the entire Board before or at your January meeting.
In your email to the Cate community dated December 15, 2021, you make several statements which need discussion.
1. Page 1: The note about “social media’s anonymity and public nature can be particularly harmful in its insensitivities to those we are trying hardest to protect – our students, past and present.” This is either wildly misunderstanding the value of social media, or you are being purposely obtuse. The anonymity of social media has allowed vulnerable community members, including current students who are aware that their every move online is watched closely by the administration, to express true fears, stories, and questions. The Board apparently places a high value on their own privacy, as it is nearly impossible to find contact information for any Board members on the Cate website, and the members of the Accountability Team have never been identified or shared a contact email. Also, who is on the “SHIRT” and how many of them are married to or actual known abusers of children? Social media allows vulnerable survivors (not “victims,” as your email keeps calling them) to share as much as they feel comfortable sharing without further exposing themselves to attacks. For the Board to suggest that the anonymity of social media is a malevolent force, harming survivors, while simultaneously doubling down on support for Ben Williams and the current administration is exactly why current students are so afraid of the school. Even many alumni or parents are afraid of retaliation from the Board or the School. If you have read some of the anonymous posts, you will be amazed at how much criminality and abuse has festered as an open secret for decades. Also, yes, during Ben Williams’ tenure and continuing through today. Because so many of the Board members are alumni, it is difficult to believe that all these stories are new information to you.
2. Page 2: “The report is clear that there were instances where the school’s response fell short…” This is a gross understatement. I would venture that in every single instance which appeared in the report, the school’s response fell short. Further, there were many other “instances” of sexual abuse where the school’s response not only fell short, but actively harmed the survivors, their loved ones, and friends. How many parents are ok with hearing that the Board thinks of their children being harmed as an “instance” where the school “fell short”?
3. Page 2: The pivot from “falling short” to “sometimes the greatest growth comes when we acknowledge those moments when we failed to meet the standards we expect of ourselves.” Who is the “we” here who is growing from failing to meet their own standards? Nobody wants the Board and Admin to “grow” from failure to respond to child sexual abuse. What are the standards that you, Board members who are also Cate parents, have for the faculty and staff who are supposed to be caring for your own children? Would you feel ready to talk about growth and lessons learned so quickly if your children were the ones harmed?
4. Page 3: “The Board commends Ben Williams.” I believe that every single Board member who commends Ben Williams should resign or be fired, effective immediately. Save your own reputations if it isn’t too late. He is not a driving force behind the investigation. He was forced into it by public opinion and a drumbeat of potential lawsuits. The “Board continues to put its complete trust in Ben Williams.” This is the same head of school who learned of abuse and failed to act in 2017, and 2012, and 2019, and probably other years I don’t know about. The same head of school who allowed Dave Mochel to continue to live on campus and keep the illusion that he was some kind of guru of mindfulness after he had sexually abused students. The same head of school who accepted a short, incomplete, and 14-month report when other schools with similar investigations have produced much more extensively researched and developed results. The same head of school who conveniently is being excused from mishandling every single case of child sexual abuse which he encountered in the past 25-plus years except the one recent case that would not even have come to light if the faculty’s next employer had not promptly caught him repeating the same behaviors he had done at Cate. It cannot be coincidental that the only former faculty who has been vilified who worked at Cate under Ben Williams’ tenure is a Black man. More dispensable. Board, are you really commending and fully supporting Ben Williams?
5. Page 3: “…we intend to grow from.” Again, who is doing all this growing? The survivors of child sexual abuse who have carried the trauma with them their whole adult lives? The Board who seems cavalier about actual lives being affected by all this?
6. The Corrective Measures document: Throughout, this document is lacking in specifics, in accountability, and deadlines. Its continued use of the word “victim” is jarring in a world where survivors of sexual violence are usually called that, survivors. Will all existing HR records (even if spotty) be archived and recorded for future investigative analysis? When will all current students and parents be surveyed anonymously about their experiences with sexual assault on campus? Will the Human Development course be taught by someone with credible training and skills? Clearly, the community has suffered great harm from that important class being mishandled, and it seems as though the school has just thrown random faculty and spouses into that important job. Also, how can one Human Resources Director, no matter how talented or well paid, be asked to solve these systemic and endemic problems? Are these responsibilities not more broad and should not several people be entrusted to get this right?
The alumni who have come forward so far do not owe their pain, their stories, or their time and effort to Cate School. The alumni survivor and ally community pushed for this investigation: see www.cateorganizingteam.com and “Petition to Cate School Board of Trustees: End Sexual Abuse” on www.change.org (there are 681 signatures on that petition as I write this). It is plainly absurd that the Board is congratulating Ben Williams for cooperating. He really had no option, and he really should have launched a better, more thorough investigation years ago, as soon as all the other schools were doing the same. Who (Board or Admin) can say they had no idea that it could happen at Thacher, Exeter, Emma Willard, Sonoma Academy, Marlborough School, and Choate, but never at Cate? Also, how have all those other schools done so much better jobs in responding to the abuse with meaningful investigations and actions?
It is way too soon to talk of “growth” and healing. There can be no healing when there has not been any real accountability. This basic, lacking, delayed, obfuscating report is not the same thing as community healing. Where is the community conversation? Thacher held open community calls when their (much better-done) report was published. Cate has had nothing of the sort. Where is the conversation with current students? They are so terrified of not getting good college recommendations, any genuine conversation with them would have to somehow use credible anonymity. Even then, I suspect they would be afraid of reprisal. In the 1980s, when students were harmed, we were always afraid of the survivor, not the perpetrator, being punished. It is too soon to talk of healing. All your talk of supporting Ben Williams and this report only further destroys your own credibility.
I agree with you on one point — this is an important moment for the school. Many families and alumni are learning about all these horrible transgressions for the first time, and thinking about where their donations have gone, and who has been making all these bad decisions. And even more are rethinking rumors and memories and realizing that what seemed normal at the time was in fact violent and criminal. And yet others are using the word “Believe” on social media to send cookies to faculty. Which group will you listen to?
The Board should make tangible efforts to show they believe survivors of child sexual abuse, by launching a better investigation, by withdrawing support for Ben Williams, and by opening up meaningful community dialogue instead of hiding behind Board and Committee meetings that the community is not invited to. I hope that at least some of you will seriously consider my input and think about changing your viewpoint or maybe stepping down. A wholesale change of the Board and Administration is in order.
Diana Froley de Forest
Class of 1987
Carlos, The Bear, remembered reading the email blast from The Montecito Association. There was to be a new Holiday Tradition in The Cito beginning this December. Planning from the start to hide, just like he did during the Fourth of July parade for this new, inaugural event, The Montecito Holiday Car Caravan.
And hide he did.
He hid, right under the noses of everyone waving and wishing Happy Holidays. Wearing his Santa Hat, he hitched a ride on a Porsche. He felt good, helping to decorate his friend’s car with color lights, snowflakes, and tinsel. So much so that he offered to be a mascot of sorts. His soul was into this parade thing. This time he was not only going to watch a parade, but he would also be in it! It took some magic to get this done, but then, that is what this time of year, this season of celebration, is all about. Magic.
He was so full of love and life as the caravan of cars, trucks, and emergency vehicles passed families with human cubs gathering, waving, and wishing good tidings! He might be a bear, but Carlos felt part human as he cruised down Coast Village Road. It all came down to getting through this time of year and helping others do the same, with peace, love, and music.
For Carlos, making people happy was his way of bearing gifts!