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Rosalind Wiseman open letter to Maret School’s students

By Cultures Of Dignity | October 14, 2019


Rosalind Wiseman is a parenting educator and best-selling author of books including “Queen Bees and Wannabes,” a look at high school social cliques that became the basis for the Tina Fey-written movie “Mean Girls.”

She is the creator of the Owning Up Curriculum, a program that teaches children and adults to take responsibility for unethical behavior whether they are bystanders, perpetrators or victims. She also runs an organization she founded called Cultures of Dignity, which works with communities to direct conversations about the physical and emotional well-being of young people.

And Wiseman is a graduate of the elite private Maret School in Washington, which last month released the results of an investigation that said at least four faculty members working at the school between 1975 and 2008 are suspected of sexually abusing students.

Washington Post report said:

The probe began after an alumnus contacted school leaders to report a past incident of sexual abuse by a faculty member. Through an attorney, the alumnus said the school did not thoroughly investigate the abuse when it happened and suggested that Maret conduct a comprehensive review, according to the report.

The investigation was conducted by the law firm Crowell & Moring, which released a 60-page report late Thursday. The review spans more than three decades and details allegations against eight faculty members. Allegations against four of the teachers met a “sufficiently high standard of credibility and severity,” the report said. Investigators found allegations against the remaining four faculty members “credible,” but they could not substantiate them or the accusations were not severe enough.

The reported allegations include sexual intercourse, inappropriate touching with students and grooming vulnerable children for sex. Many of the teachers are suspected of having multiple victims. None of the teachers has been employed by Maret in the past decade. At least one has died and another works for a suburban Virginia district [but has been placed on leave].

“The findings of the independent investigation are sobering,” Marjo Talbott, Maret’s head of school, wrote in a statement. “There is a trust that exists between family and school that was betrayed by these former faculty members. We deeply apologize for the impact these transgressions have had on the lives of those affected.”


Wiseman wrote an open letter to Maret’s students about the school’s past culture and how she believes they can help Maret move forward.

Here is Rosalind Wiseman’s letter to Maret students:

To the 2019-2020 Maret Student Body:

I am a 1987 graduate of Maret who has dedicated her life to giving young people a platform to speak their truth, share their experiences, and be taken seriously. I have often wondered how I would react when the school admitted its history of sexual abuse of students. With the recent publication of Crowell & Moring LLP’s report on its investigation of Maret, what many within our community have known for years is now public.

Why am I reaching out to you when Maret has assured you that this is a problem limited to the school’s past? Because Maret is going through a long-overdue process of institutional atonement. Because Maret teaches that history matters; that you can only build a better future if you understand how you got to where you are. Because there are things you can do now to make sure that your voice is heard as Maret strives to be the educational institution it wants to be and that you deserve.

Maret is your school now and it is different from when I attended. You have many reasons to be proud of it, and your daily contributions make it even better. As an alum, I am proud of the changes Maret has made and its commitment to anti-bias and discrimination programs. 

I am reaching out to you because some of the victims were my classmates and friends. What happened to them at Maret was part of my “normal” experience going to school. It was also part of my normal experience at school to hear rumors about other inappropriate interactions between students and teachers. As strange as it seems now, I never thought I could do anything to stop it. As the investigative report describes, there were no reporting procedures, no education for students or teachers, and no systems of accountability. When students did report the abuse, Maret’s leadership dismissed and silenced them; and in some cases their parents as well. So my friends and I muddled our way through, carrying the trauma with us until the present day. 

I also want to share with you what it is like for many of us who grew up in the D.C. private school community in the 1980’s. As was the case when I attended Maret, I am guessing you have friends and siblings at other private schools. For those of us who went to these schools when this abuse was more frequent and went unpunished, we have a common bond. We have been talking to each other for years about when each of our schools would come forward about the abuse. As other schools did, many of us from Maret wondered when it would be our turn. In 2017, our head of school, Marjo Talbott, wrote a letter to the Maret community about students and sexual abuse that referenced the #MeToo movement and other schools “confronting the past.” However, her letter did not acknowledge that Maret knew it needed to confront its past as well. The school sent other letters to the Maret community but each was disappointing; especially the ones sent on October 2018, a few days after the Blasey-Ford/Kavanaugh hearing as an apparent motivation. I wanted Maret to come forward, owning its past, without distraction or excuse. 

By saying this, I am not discounting the profoundly positive impact Maret has made on my life. 

I became life-long friends with fellow students whom I have relied on to help me through difficult challenges (for example, writing this to you). I was taught by talented, passionate, and ethical teachers whom I cherished. And yet, for decades, I have struggled to reconcile how the same insitution that gave me no words or suport to process what I was experiencing also provided me an education to challenge in the larger world the same systemic inequalities and power structures that made the abuse at Maret possible. 

You may ask why I didn’t come forward as an adult, especially given my professional expertise. Many years ago, I briefly worked at Maret on what is now called Social Emotional Learning. While I was there, I talked to two Maret administrators and was assured that the school was taking care of “the problem.” It was a very painful moment because I knew that the victims I was closest to were not ready to come forward. What I didn’t know at the time was that other victims already had. I spoke out but could only hope that Maret would take appropriate action. 

As is often the case, I suspect that few will be satisfied with the report. Some will say “it was a long time ago, it’s not happening now, so let the school move forward by letting go of the past.” Some may get understandably defensive; especially if they have no personal experience with the abuse. Others will believe the report didn’t go far enough. This is what I know, having worked with many schools like Maret: Institutions are only as good as their ability to rigorously and courageously examine themselves. It is the only way that they can hope to live by their stated mission of excellence and integrity. 

The last thing I want to share with you is about what is happening now: Like many schools following this kind of revelation, Maret has assured its current parents and student body that they have no reason to believe that abuse of any kind is is occuring at the school. I believe Maret is working hard to improve its systems of reporting and accountability, but how does Maret know they have created a school climate where all students believe school leaders will hold other adults or students, especially those with power, accountable? Are you, the students, an integral and respected voice they are listening to through this process? 

Moreover, while schools throughout the country have improved their reporting systems, abuse against young people is still happening. Believe me, we have a long way to go to assure young people’s safety from abuse in schools. Background checks and sharing information about abusers still aren’t happening the way they should; especially in popular auxiliary programs like travel sports or other extra-curricular activities. 

I am asking you to help hold adults accountable. For example, demand that your travel teams and other “coaches” have criminal and general background checks as a requirement for working with you. Ask your parents to demand that the teams and programs you are involved in have systems in place to safeguard your safety. Remind your parents that no promise of a college scholarship or entry into an elite university is worth being taught by adults who are bullies or abusive. And if you have a teacher or coach who is bullying you, demeaning you, not respecting your personal boundaries, manipulating you, or you just have that feeling in your stomach that something isn’t right, tell an adult who you believe is capable to help you think through the problem and advocate on your behalf. 

You, the students, are the subject-matter experts of Maret. Therefore, you must have a seat at the table to make decisions about Maret’s culture and climate. Just like any young person in this country, you know if your school supports students to report an abuse of power, whatever its form. If it doesn’t do it well, use your education now to advocate for real change. Of course you are not alone. You have teachers and people in positions of leadership who are committed to doing right by you. And whatever you think about the report or what I have written today, remember that there are adults in your community who came forward wanting nothing more than wanting support for survivors and helping Maret be better for you and the generation of students that will follow.


Rosalind Wiseman