Report Details History Of Sexual Misconduct At Emma Willard School

Apr 20, 2017

Emma Willard, a private girls’ high school in Troy, is making public a detailed report on past incidents of sexual misconduct on campus. The release of the report comes as school administrators are working to address the issue after news of a scandal involving a former student and employee broke last year.

This week the Emma Willard school published a 127-page report detailing a history of sexual abuse and misconduct at the private high school.

The report was prepared by legal firm Cozen O’Connor as part of an outside investigation in both accounts of sexual misconduct and the school’s handling of the issue.

With detailed accounts of inappropriate conduct going back to the 1950’s, the report states that the narrative of the school’s response follows “an evolution that largely mirrors the evolution of the legal framework, of societal understanding of child abuse within secondary schools, and the changing standards of care in the protection of minors.”

Among its findings, the report describes numerous instances of inappropriate contact and sexual relationships between faculty and students. In one instance, the report refers to a male teacher describing a group of girls as a “harem.”

For decades the school did not have policies in place regarding sexual or gender-based harassment or child abuse.

Emma Willard Director of Communications Erin Pihlaja said the report and investigation were necessary to shed light on the past.

“And we really have to be able to look at the past honestly and directly so that we can inform our decisions, our protocols, our procedures going forward to make sure that we are as strong as we possibly can be in our commitment to safety in our community and in our campus and that we are a leader amongst peer schools, and that we are having an open dialogue about these issues,” said Pihlaja.

The work done over the past 10 months follows allegations by a former student who claimed she was abused by a former school employee. The case was settled out of court.

But the scandal brought the national issue of sexual abuse on private campuses home to the Capital Region.

This year the school released new and revised sexual misconduct policies and last autumn was the first high school to enroll with the group Culture of Respect to facilitate work addressing the issue.

“They have a lot of experience in helping victims or witnesses or just people who are associated with the school to help process this information in a healthy way. So, again, we would encourage our alumnae, our friends of the school, anyone who has been impacted by this report to please reach out to us,” said Pihlaja.

Remarking on the level of detail in the report, Culture of Respect senior director Allison Korman said it’s important for the school and community to “come to grips with some incredibly ugly realities” without minimizing the impact on those involved.

“If…Emma Willard wants to move forward and make a better school environment, they have to apply what’s there in the report, learn from it, recognize the mistakes that have been made, and stay committed to creating a safer and healthier school environment, which they definitely are,” said Korman. “I’ve been really overwhelmed by the way that the staff and the folks that I’ve worked with at Emma Willard have demonstrated their commitment to all of the young women who attend school there.”

The school has made the report available on its website. Students were gathered for an assembly this week upon release of the report and faculty and staff were instructed on how to speak with students on the issue.

Update 4/20/17 3:18 p.m.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, an Emma Willard graduate, released a statement regarding the report:

"Personally, I'm deeply disturbed and outraged by this report. My prayers go out to all the survivors who have suffered from past failures of the school's faculty and administrators to protect students from such shocking, harmful and criminal conduct."