Let’s Talk: So Your Mentor Got Accused Of Being A Predator
It doesn’t matter if it’s your official mentor or a close colleague, when someone we’ve worked with and for in close quarters becomes accused of deviancy – it changes the way their name tastes in your mouth. What are you supposed to do?
Frankly, who the hell knows. Personally, my alma mater is under massive fire for their handling of mine – and I’m a little lost, too. It wasn’t until my senior year of college that I had my first professor tell me that I was talented and special. A year and a half after graduating, he’s now on “paid administrative leave” for making sexual advances at students and lewd comments at fellow educators. The kicker isn’t just that there were complaints officially filed a decade before I even attended that the university, that were brushed under the rug; the kicker is that he even had a reputation for it without the association of the complaint and we all just took it in stride.
Female students had remarked to the effect of “make sure you’re not alone and within three feet of him” – and they meant it.
But I never saw him like that. Does that matter?
No, and here’s why. In my instance, this professor and I developed such a close camaraderie in our relationship that I used him as a professional reference in job applications after graduating and he was the very one and the same who urged me to go out and start my documentary film series I worked on for a summer. We were only in the same institution for one academic year (I had transferred in for just my senior year due to financial reasons) but in that time he said every single word I was dying to be validated with in regards to the negative underbelly of elite acting colleges and their programs where I had just come from.
I listened with bated breath to all his stories about his struggles growing up as a young Jewish man in the world of the arts and trying to find his place there and in the surrounding world – and I felt for the first time someone understood. I felt like this was someone who understood a path that I was on – the path I was on, and it made it not feel so alone.
I looked at him as the edgy beatnik professor, while others looked at him as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
The allegations are that he took one of his former students many years ago into a park across the street from the campus and (to condense) told her that fate had brought them together, tried to make sexual advances on her, and tried to confess his deep-seated love for her. This, on top of sexual comments towards fellow educators at the university and many other complaints from former female students – all of which were filed as formal complaints with the university. This man is married with children, of whom he also spoke about on multiple occasions in my classes with him as well. His daughter struggled with mental health issues that he spoke about openly, as does my own brother. Initially, I took this as another thing we shared in common. Now, it’s just another hook in the mouth of the guppy.
Just because I never personally had any experiences in this way with him does not give any less value and credence to the complaints made against him. It’s my responsibility as a fellow functioning member of society to care about my fellow functioning members of society. My boyfriend calls it being “a social justice warrior,” I call it “the golden rule from the fourth grade. Oh my God, it still applies to adult life and why do you people not see that?” I internally debated for about a week after the news broke with the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” weighing against the amount and severity of claims coupled with my own original perspective of him. First I was angry at him, then the institution for brushing it under the rug, then I was angry at the world. He picked me up at a point in my career where I was considering leaving and told me to keep going – so then I began debating with myself if I should continue after all.
Now, it’s not a matter of anger so much as it is disappointment. To an extent, it’s almost like this person I knew has died – because it turns out he didn’t even exist in the first place.
As much as I’d like for the allegations to not be true, I’m a young woman working in the arts in all the dumpster fire happenings of 2018. My parents always told me when I was younger, “a bad truth is better than a lie.”
It wasn’t even until the last few calendar years that mass releases of rage like “#MeToo” and the SlutWalk across the nation have really taken off. We looked at bad apples like this as few and far between, but it turns out when one apple is poisoned it tends to take down the rest of the crop with it.
So what exactly are you supposed to do when your mentor gets accused of deviancy? What do you do with all the former praise and moments you shared together? You allot 15 minutes of mope, and the rest of your natural life to “nope.” Case in point, I will in fact continue. I will continue to be a loud-mouthed woman in America against a society and collegiate institution that keeps trying to point the finger at everyone else to make themselves seem innocent. (Lookin’ at you, CCSU – yeah, hi, I said it finally! #TimesUpCCSU)
People used to say that “there’s no way all those women could have possibly been assaulted by Bill Cosby like that” when his story first broke – as if even if it were just one would make it less significant.
So like I said, my mentor may be ousted now but my battle has just begun. Has yours?