Over the past weeks, my university has had a “legendary” professor fall to unsavory stories and rumors, ones which have the career of the accused in a chokehold. All it took was an anonymous Facebook post to light the fuse. If you haven’t combed through the blowback on Twitter and Reddit, I encourage you to do your own digging — about the suspects I can’t explicitly name here, but that you can guess at, with a little social media savvy.
As a community, we’re incensed. The perpetrators are plural, yet for the longest time, stories of their exploits were the kinds passed down corridors in whispers. We’ve since heard of feet fetishes and private Scrabble games, along with uncomfortable oral exams, passes at pupils, and more situation that fit their personal brand of frightening. In April, we had a similar case with a purported student harasser’s female victims sharing their stories online. Now a similar issue has been revealed, but with a more glaring power structure, given the teacher-student set-up.
There are those who wonder — and that’s the lighter term for it — why no one spoke sooner. How students dealt with their wounds, how their open secrets made the rounds without calling attention from higher-ups. More worrying is how some have attested to filing cases, just to see the villains from their accounts still walk the halls day after day, year in, year out. I imagine it’s how Christine Blasey Ford felt, halfway across the world, as she watched soon-to-be U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh climb the ranks of the legal profession: her abuser ironically sworn in as a steward of truth and order.
Even without that discouragement, it’s downright scary to be the whistleblower. We’re told to tell on playground bullies, but even in childhood, the tattletale is frowned upon as a teacher’s pet. What more if the bully you’re telling on is the person you’re traditionally supposed to tell things to? When he or she stands as one of the authorities? That’s not counting the personal trauma, ambiguities of the situation, and other factors that explain #WhyIDidntReport.
I get that any institutional hierarchy means to leave room for reportage, for checks and balances in these circumstances. The accused is not the school, yet has represented it in some capacity within his or her lifetime. As such, any case brought against a faculty member feels like that of an individual versus an institution. That’s enough to make almost anyone clam up, especially offline.
So this is a message of thanks to that Freedom Wall Anon, to the storytellers who followed — everyone who testified and in turn, spurred discourse on a matter too-often discussed in hushed tones. We’ve learned a great deal from the social media frenzy despite sound bites being inadmissible as official evidence. The online sphere shouldn’t be faulted for breeding those leads, and I’d venture to say that the court of public opinion can aid due process.
Clearly, this court allowed witnesses to realize there are others like them, to gather and say #MeToo — no longer individuals against legendary authorities, but a collective force to be reckoned with. The Internet as a perceived safe space for these confessions is better than none at all. That there are testimonies to verify is a start, and social media bears the said pool of information. At the same time, this episode has been a much-needed wake-up call about distrust in current systems. It’s up to the people handling the oft-cited “proper channels” to sift through the accounts and listen. Kudos to our student government for working on that, for extending help to anons on Freedom Wall and others who have spoken out. We hold you and the university to your promises of having these issues resolved and policies improved.
Now we see how the investigations privately underway were born, in large part, from online publicity. Checks and balances don’t only exist internally now, but from an entire academic populace, eyes and ears peeled, waiting on visible results. And that, folks, is accountability in the 21st century: from a righteous generation more willing to call for a digital storm than calm it.