Tarnished Reputation

 15 Year-Old Audrie Potts

15 Year-Old Audrie Potts

You have doubtless heard about the 15 year-old high school student who was at a party where she drank heavily and went upstairs with three boys where she was allegedly assaulted. She was then apparently photographed and the photos shared with the three boys’ friends at school.  Eight days after the incident, the young girl hanged herself. This was last Fall. In a recent story it became clear that while the girl’s parents are bringing homicide charges against the three 16 year-old boys, the school will have nothing to do with the incident and has refused to expel the boys whose names are known. The young woman’s name is Audrie Pott and her family lawyer, Robert Allard, had this to say about the school’s refusal to act:

 Allard described the school district as “more interested in protecting its image than in taking responsibility for its lack of actions in Audrie’s case.”

It would appear that the lawyer is correct in his assessment, which raises questions once again about the role of an academic institution in the face of possible scandal. We usually see this sort of thing happening in our college athletics programs where the institution refuses to acknowledge an incident until it has been made public. This happened most recently with the basketball coach at Rutgers whose behavior was well known by the administration for months before anything was done. As Allard suggests, in this cover-up culture that is academia the institutions are “more interested in protecting [their] image than in taking responsibility.” This is doubly disturbing because these are academic institutions that are charged with educating the young. One must wonder what sort of message they are sending to their students.

The Superintendent of Audrie’s school insists that the school need not take any action because the party did not happen on school property. The Pott’s lawyer insists that it was the showing of the photographs on school property after the party that drove Audrie to suicide. Be that as it may, it is a senseless quibble in the face of the girl’s death. The school should have stepped forward immediately after the incident, expelled the three boys, and made a public statement regarding the incident and its moral implications. Again, it is a question of basic common sense and common decency — if not a question of taking the moral high ground (which seems to be getting flatter as the days and weeks go by). The school was remiss and especially so since there were important lessons to be learned from the terrible incident that have been swept aside in the interest of saving face.

It is ironic that the urge to preserve the reputation of an educational institution turns into a black eye when it becomes known that a deplorable incident has been brushed under the rug. It would seem to make sense for the institution to acknowledge the incident as soon as it is known “in-house” and make clear that they will not stand for that sort of thing.  Being pro-active in the face of possible scandal would, it seems to me, enhance the reputation of the institution rather than tarnish it — as occurs when the cover-up is disclosed.


13 thoughts on “Tarnished Reputation

  1. Certainly boys like that make the whole school environment threatening and unsafe for others, and impossible to attend for the victim. Scandal or tarnished reputation are a bit of an understatement!

  2. I know that school district. It is top 1 percenter town, with very high priced homes and enclaves. It would be the type of place to wrap itself in a cocoon of self-protection and denial, and claim to not take any responsibility, just as the superintendent has done. Their next move will be to attack the girl and her reputation, leading ultimately to the expulsion of the parents from the community.

    Laws of basic human decency do not apply. They are “not one of us” and will take any steps possible to prove it.

  3. Thanks Hugh. Not that I am an attorney, but I agree with the lawyer’s assertion that when the pictures found their way onto school grounds, that obligates them to act. I would contend, that even if they did not, if the administration was knowledgeable of the act and the ostracizing of one of their students, they would be obligated to do something. In this case, the school should have acted, called the boys in, contacted parents, and suspended them pending further review. That action would hit the grapevine very quickly. The only way to show the kids the path forward is to very clearly say this cannot be tolerated.

  4. I have not been following this case at all, so please forgive my ignorance of the details. It seems a tough situation to insist schools act upon allegations of happenings that were not school activities. If the photos were found at school, then, of course the school should have done something at that time. But let’s remember that, for juveniles as well as adults, we allege misbehavior, then prove it through the court system, before we name that individual guilty.

    • Good point! I gather from what I read (and that’s not always reliable) that there is no question about the three young men’s guilt: they were quite proud of what they had done to the girl and bragged about it to their friends. I would not advocate expulsion without a fair hearing in any event and have never been a big fan of the rush to judgment!

  5. How tragic; that poor poor beautiful young girl, and those haughty three ‘boys’ surely cannot get away with this crime – can they? I too am in the dark, but my heart goes out to the people who loved Audrie.

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