Media memories of sexual assault and the lifestyle of toxic masculinity at elite boarding colleges have grown to be so ordinary that no person is amazed while every other emerges. Such testimonies involve faculties like Saint Paul’s, Milton Academy, and Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s now-infamous alma mater Georgetown Prep, all conventional boarding faculties with preppy dress codes, honor codes, an emphasis on orthodox teachers and sports activities, and serene campuses whose brick homes and tidy lawns propose records and culture. But sexual assault also occurs at elite progressive faculties that don’t suit these stereotypes.
I speak from private revel in. In the mid-1980s, I was sexually assaulted at the Putney School in Vermont, a well-known modern college in both the pedagogical and the political sense of the word. Founded in the 1930s using Carmelita Hinton, a women’s rights endorse and pioneering social reformer, Putney makes excessive-minded claims about teaching students about political duty and democracy and shuns conventionality and competition. The school treats manual hard work, the arts, and conventional instructional topics equally and boasts an operating animal farm, which college students help run.
We wielded axes on the “woods team,” washed loads of dishes on the “dish team,” and on “carrot day,” cheerfully harvested the orange roots from the faculty’s vegetable plots. Courses ranged from “peace studies” to printmaking, and every Friday night time, college students attended a compulsory all-faculty sing-along. No dress codes or grades existed, and a decidedly countercultural ecosystem prevailed.
Putney has well-known and wealthy alumni like other elite boarding schools, but they’re more likely to be artists or writers than legal professionals or financiers. Actor Téa Leoni, tech entrepreneur Reid Hoffman, filmmaker Errol Morris, playwright Wallace Shawn, and musician Harper Simon (son of Paul Simon) went to Putney. My Southern history left me ill-prepared to navigate these lefty elite surroundings. I said, “Y’all” wore preppy garments and were into bands like Duran Duran. A specific set of tastes had forex at Putney: children embraced The Grateful Dead, The Velvet Underground, and punk rock groups like Black Flag. They wore opportunity forms of the dress I couldn’t pull off without a dresser makeover and used drugs with ease, which terrified me.
Lacking the proper cultural capital had severe social consequences at Putney. I became frequently bullied, and my few friendships felt tenuous. But there was one form of money I did have: sexual money. I was quiet and was given a lot of interest from boys. Any dim since I had that wielding this electricity might come at a rate did not prevent me from doing so. This largely meant responding to the sexual cues of older, famous boys, my affiliation with whom I vaguely hoped would possibly enhance my bleak social reputation, especially if I could land any of them as boyfriends (I didn’t).
But sexual capital alone couldn’t make up for the entirety else I lacked, and I quickly gained popularity, which most effectively intensified the bullying I skilled, particularly from girls, who understood the danger that my triumphing attention from “cool” boys posed to their very own positions within the normal pecking order. At high quality, I had too many complicated and simply plain awful sexual encounters. At worst, boys ruthlessly centered me for sexual conquest.
In one specifically memorable incident, a famous senior boy cornered me alone in the dining hall basement, where I had long gone to use one of the school’s few pay phones. This boy, 17 or 18 years old to my 14, began pressuring me to have intercourse with him. I refused. However, he persevered, complimenting mine, professing his dreams, and masterfully laying at the charm. Eventually, feeling worn down and not understanding what else to do, I gave up and schlepped with him throughout campus to his dorm room. We had sex. I don’t take into account hating it or feeling plenty of anything — simply numbness. In any case, I have to have subconsciously reasoned that he became pleasant enough and good-looking, which changed into higher than being bullied.
In the long term, Putney’s reputation as a well-known modern faculty became an obstacle to my making feel of this incident and the ruthless teenage tradition surrounding it. Bullying, gender extremes, and sexual predation seemed wholly at odds with the emphasis on social justice and “changing the world,” I wasn’t the most effective person who killed them, as I witnessed then and in interviews with college students from my generation that I’ve conducted have shown.
What became happening?
To make certain, the 1980s were a crisis for Putney, whose administrators had allowed their notion of scholar independence and self-course to move to some distance, resulting in “Lord of the Flies” surroundings. At instances, it felt as though my struggling became surely because of my incapacity to handle such a loose, i.e., “revolutionary” kind of location. But many years later, as I commenced trying to make the experience of my studies, I found out that the school’s chaotic conditions best amplified an extra-systemic hassle. Putney’s progressive ideas had been in a battle with its imperatives as an elite college.