“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter,” once wrote the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. I suppose in that sense my life may really just be starting now, at 48. For nearly three decades, I chose to remain largely silent about events dating back to my adolescence, but in June 2012, I wrote Deerfield Academy’s head of school, Margarita Curtis, disclosing that a venerated faculty member had sexually abused me during my senior year at the elite Western Massachusetts boarding school in the winter of 1983. It was a hard letter to write, and I imagine it was difficult to read, but the things I spoke of needed to be said, and said by me.
“I have not ever named the teacher, coach and dorm master who molested me,” I wrote in that e-mail. “But when I see the photos of returning alums at reunions being led in joyous song by the much-beloved ‘Czar,’ Peter Hindle, the same man who molested me as a Deerfield student living on his corridor, I feel a measure of sadness and chagrin.”
Now 78 and living in South Dartmouth, Hindle graduated from Deerfield in 1952, before heading to nearby Amherst College, where he earned a degree in math four years later. He then joined the Deerfield faculty and became a revered campus figure during his 44-year career, receiving praise from a reigning monarch — King Abdullah II of Jordan, class of ’80 — in a commencement speech upon Hindle’s retirement in June 2000. Hindle’s regal nickname originated from his role as major-domo of the soccer program. Clutching a well-worn clipboard and shiny whistle and decked out even on warm Indian summer afternoons in a pine-green windbreaker with CZAR emblazoned on the back, he made his daily rounds of the soccer fields that dotted the lower level of the campus.
For years I had hesitated to speak up because of my own shame and embarrassment about the abuse I had suffered, the concern that I might not be believed, and the potential for significant pushback from a legion of Hindle admirers. Whatever anger and outrage I may have felt had been largely pushed down inside, leaving me melancholy and often depressed. I had written to the school’s previous headmaster, Eric Widmer, in March 2004, detailing a pervasive culture of student bullying and the sexual abuse I had suffered at the hands of a faculty member, without naming Hindle. Widmer responded sympathetically but didn’t press for additional details. Another decade passed.
Reading a steady drumbeat of abuse stories involving the Catholic Church, Penn State, and other elite private schools eventually convinced me to give a full accounting of what had transpired, primarily for my own peace of mind, but also perhaps for other potential victims of Hindle’s. Before sending the e-mail, I paused to consider whether I was ready to live with the consequences. I kept returning to the idea that I had two good reasons to come forward: I knew that what had taken place was wrong, and I knew that the truth was with me.
I was 14 when I arrived on Deerfield’s bucolic, all-boys campus in the fall of 1979, the eldest of three children from an upper-middle-class family in Fairfield County, Connecticut. I was intellectually and athletically gifted but lagged my peers in self-confidence and self-esteem and had a difficult time fitting in. Just a couple of inches taller than 5 feet, barely north of 100 pounds, and sensitive to criticism, I quickly became a frequent target of bullying.
The teacher who was my corridor master freshman year, a Kipling-quoting Englishman, was known for driving misbehaving boys deep into the neighboring fields at night, leaving them to find their way back on foot. The development of character was a key element of the Deerfield mystique, and his take on mine was clear, as evidenced in the comments he sent home at the end of my first term: “Whit arrived full of brightness and enthusiasm. . . . It soon became evident, however, that Whit’s enthusiasm was shallow and hedonistic. . . . He seems to have an excuse for everything but a reason for none of it. . . . He wants to have his way, and it’s always the other guy who is wrong.” I was off to a rough start many miles from home.
I first came across Hindle, then in his mid-40s but seemingly much older, on an early September afternoon in my first week of school, waiting with a group of more than 100 boys as he called off our names and divided us into soccer teams. Like many other boys, I was struck by the Czar’s charisma and all-around aura of coolness. I suppose I hoped that some of it might rub off on my adolescent self when I was in his orbit. He had a way of fixing his gaze on you that was disarming. Always available to offer extra math help during evening study hall, he would slowly wag a chalk-stained index finger and playfully chide “we don’t” to students who failed to grasp correct answers. Hindle taught me Algebra II in my junior year and was my JV squash coach when I was a sophomore and junior. I still play competitive squash, and he was instrumental in my early development as a player. Today it strikes me as creepy that he showered with our team in our small locker room after practice. Continued...