Margarita Curtis responded within hours of receiving my e-mail in June 2012. Later, she phoned and asked me to share with her in greater detail what I had experienced. She displayed a clear moral authority and offered unconditional support from the start. At the end of nearly every conversation we had — more than a dozen over the next several months — she would ask me some version of “Are you doing OK? Is there anything I can do for you?” In August, at her behest, Curtis flew down to my home in Virginia. We made small talk over lunch at a local Cuban restaurant before walking to a nearby park, where we spent the next three hours having one of the most meaningful conversations of my life. She saluted my courage in coming forward and offered a sincere and heartfelt apology on behalf of the school. Hers was the first acknowledgement I had ever received that the school bore some measure of responsibility for my troubling experience there.
Over the next few months, I got updates on the steps the school was taking, including its questioning of Hindle. In January, I told Curtis that I would like to meet with the president of Deerfield’s board of trustees, Philip Greer, and vice president Rodgin Cohen before they broke the news to the full board at an upcoming meeting in New York. Aside from the school lawyer, the two men were the only other principals aware of the situation from the outset, and I felt it was important for them to put a face and presence with a name and story. I met with them at Greer’s house in backcountry Greenwich, Connecticut, less than a mile from my childhood home. I was well aware of the power and position of my dinner partners, and I wanted them to see that in many ways I was just like them: poised, articulate, socially aware, and cultivated. I was treated with kindness and respect throughout.
A few days later, on January 28, Deerfield released a letter to the school community stating: “Mr. Hindle has admitted sexual contact with a student, and we are now conducting a detailed investigation of Mr. Hindle’s years at Deerfield. We have retained an independent law firm to assist, and we have informed law enforcement authorities.” The letter included a request for any other victims to contact Curtis or the school psychologist, Stuart Bicknell.
Despite resolving to ignore any ensuing media coverage, I found myself monitoring the school’s Facebook page, Twitter, and the Boston newspapers. It was unnerving as a journalist to observe from 500 miles away as my peers began to report the story. As the storm swirled, I was grateful that my identity as the source of the allegations remained undisclosed.
Many Deerfield alumni rushed to Hindle’s defense. Despite his reported admission, some were troubled by the notion that he was being presumed guilty without due process. Scores of alums posted incredulous messages on Deerfield’s Facebook page. One post summed up the feelings of many: “There is not one thing ever that I experienced or witnessed that would lead me to believe this accusation.”
The evening that Deerfield’s letter went out, Hindle told a Boston Herald reporter: “I think it’s all in interpretation. It depends on what you mean by sexual contact. . . . I gave someone a back rub. I don’t even know who it is.” He added, “I’ve given a number over the years.”
I traveled to Boston in early February to be interviewed by the lawyers conducting the school’s independent investigation. Recounting the abuse in minute detail was difficult and painful, but I was eager to cooperate. The aftermath of that questioning was probably the lowest I felt in the entire process. That night I waited, exhausted and emotionally spent, at Logan Airport for my flight home, having reexperienced aspects of the original trauma in the recounting of it.
On March 30, Deerfield released a five-page report of the investigation’s findings, saying that it had “confirmed that sexual conduct by Peter Hindle occurred with the student who came forward and there is evidence that such conduct occurred with at least one other student.” According to the report, a second student had complained to school officials while enrolled in the 1980s about “inappropriate behavior by Mr. Hindle, and at that time his mother sent a letter expressing serious concern about a ‘deviant deed’ committed against her son.” Administrators confronted Hindle back then, and he denied the accusations and was given only verbal and written warnings. The report acknowledged that prior administrations could have done more to investigate allegations of wrongdoing by Hindle, including after my 2004 letter to Eric Widmer.Continued...