Above: An edit of Harvey Weinstein, courtesy of the New Yorker, portraying the sexual assault scandals that will be forever attached to his name and image from now on.
On October 5, The New York Times published an article disclosing the sexual assault allegations and coverups which had supposedly continued for “decades” within Hollywood. The details were shocking: Harvey Weinstein, a successful, wealthy Hollywood producer, had apparently abused his power repeatedly by forcing women in Hollywood to accept his sexual advances and requests. He did this knowing that by refusing, they would be putting their own careers at risk. This disturbing news was soon overshadowed by 51 more sexual assault and harassment allegations of men in power, including Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K, Matt Lauer, and even ex-Packer Parent, Mario Batali.
Whilst the storm of allegations raged on in the media, Packer students soon began to feel as though the administration needed to address these issues. Almost coinciding with the events unfolding in Hollywood, Packer began to experience its own issues with addressing the sexual assault allegations that soon began to spread throughout the school. Calls of support, action, and clarity cried out from the students to the administration, who felt as though they had been betrayed by the school.
In response to this, Packer instituted a series of forums in which students could voice their concerns and experiences with sexual assault and harassment. This announcement was met with mixed reviews, many feeling as though Packer was doing this to fix something that couldn’t be undone.
“To begin with I was pretty apprehensive at the idea of the forums… it’s very like Packer to try and fix things once there’s been damage done, rather than be ahead of it,” said Jon Agramonte (‘19). “People already knew about the sexual assault charges in school and there was nothing spoken about it.” Although skeptical, he admits that he “was pleasantly surprised. It was actually pretty interesting and very eye-opening.”
Satya Sheftel-Gomes (‘19), agreed that she was also skeptical of the forums: “I wasn’t sure whether I would be comfortable … As a woman of color, I feel like I needed to go to represent, but I was hesitant to go because I don’t think I’m that close with many of the women of this community.”
Although met with hesitation from some students, the attendance at the women’s forum was outstanding; the room was packed with students and faculty eager to share their experiences. Many of the girls left in tears, both from relief and sadness. Reflecting on the women’s forum, Ms. Brandt, Head of the Health Department, said, “overall, students seemed very happy to have a space in which they could just talk which was very low pressure.”
One point raised by Grace Warner-Haakmat (‘20), was the contrasting experiences of women of color and white women at Packer. Although these forums did not address this, perhaps through creating separate spaces, Grace did use the space to reflect on her experience as a woman of color at Packer, and when I spoke to her, she reiterated her concerns.
“Personally, it has been really difficult to be here for almost 12 years now, and not really feel supported, in every sense of the community…I wish Packer would change or talk about it,” she said.
Nigel Jaffe (‘18), who went to the LGBTQ forum, claimed that the forum was seemingly unnecessary, and he did not feel as though the issues raised really applied to the LGBTQ community: “I think that on the LGBTQ front the forums haven’t really changed anything, mostly because the forums are focused around the male/female dynamic, and that doesn’t always apply to LGBTQ relationships.”
When asked if he thought the forums will have an effect on the culture surrounding sexual assault at Packer, Xander Guarna (‘20) said: “Yes I do … For the forum I was in, it was sort of a wake-up call.” He added that, although he enjoyed the first forum, he didn’t attend the second one because he “felt like the first one was people saying what they needed to say, not what they really wanted to say.”
In an anonymous survey sent out to the Packer community, one student reflected on the men’s forum, and its apparent ineffectiveness. He initially went to “come up with a conclusion as to how we can start to either solve or limit sexual assault. However, both meetings failed to do both and seemed pointless once we ended.” Another student offered a contrasting view as to the effects of the forums. He claimed that “the forums, though flawed, did begin to strip away at the biases we feel and the privileges we feel falsely entitled to as males, and hopefully the first two forums were only a stepping stone for a real concrete change.”
These new spaces that have been created by students and faculty have been eagerly attended by men and women alike. With a set schedule for future forums, it is clear that this is not a one-time occurrence, and that Packer wants to keep these conversations going. As for now, it is a comfort to know that when the separation between Packer and the hostile world begins to fade, we can look to these forums as an outlet for our concerns, fears, and hopes for the future.