Out of the Shadows

I have pondered writing this letter for some time but feared that it would bring unpleasant consequences and so did not follow through. At this point I have decided it needs to be written anyway. 

Your magazine includes features on Reed, Reed graduates, and the Reed experience—for the most part positive. Yet for some of us, women in particular, the Reed experience was marred by institutionally tolerated sexual misconduct that will forever influence our lives and feelings about Reed. This misconduct meant that in a place where the life of the mind was said to be paramount, we were treated instead as bodies.  

I attended Reed from 1981-85 and in those four years I myself was subject to some inappropriate conduct by male faculty, I was also told flat-out by a male professor I knew that he was sleeping with at least one of his Hum 110 students, and a close friend endured sexual abuse by her thesis advisor that qualified as felonious. In the latter case, the professor was ultimately fired, but with no black mark on his record, allowing him to continue his career at another institution.  

Recently I had a conversation with former Reed president Steve Koblik, whose term from 1992 until 2001 occurred well after my graduation. He shared stories indicating that in the decades prior to his term sexual predation by male faculty on female students was an open secret. (Though President Koblik and the college can be lauded for implementing new policies regarding sexual misconduct during his tenure, for women of earlier generations the damage had already been done.) If you publish this letter I have no doubt that you will hear from other Reedies whose experiences second both my account and his assessment of those earlier days.

Especially after reading “Out of the Shadows” (Reed, December 2014), on a Reed graduate who works toward justice for children who were sexually abused, I am asking myself these questions: When will the sexual exploitation that many Reed women experienced come “out of the shadows”? Will there ever be a statement by Reed as an institution that such conduct was wrong and that it should never have been tolerated? 

Before closing I would like to emphasize that I had many fine professors at Reed of both genders. I am by no means impugning all of Reed’s faculty and administrators. However, the trust that female students had in Reed was, in too many instances, not returned with policies and actions that would have protected us from those who were willing to abuse their power.

It is hard to put this history behind us when it remains unacknowledged. If any school can do this is in a thoughtful way, it should be Reed, and I am hopeful that, in some future issue of Reed magazine, I may see such an attempt to be truthful about the past and embrace a more equal future.

—Paula Scott ’85

South Pasadena, California

Editor's Note: Thanks for raising a difficult but important issue. According to Comrades of the Quest, romantic relationships between students and professors were common in the 1950s and 1960s. The first official statement I have found condemning this sort of thing is a 1980 memo from acting president George Hay which makes clear that sexual harassment—as it was then understood—was unacceptable. But it seems that during the 1980s the faculty as a whole was reluctant to declare that any sexual relationship between professor and student, even if apparently consensual, constituted an abuse of power. The debate was doubtless complicated by the fact that several professors were married to former students. In 1993, the faculty revised its policy thus: “Because those who teach are entrusted with guiding students, judging their work, giving grades for courses and papers, and recommending students, instructors are in a particularly delicate relationship of trust and power. This relationship must not be jeopardized by possible doubt of intent, fairness of professional judgment, or the appearance to other students of favoritism. It is therefore inappropriate for faculty to have romantic or sexual relationships with students.” The current policy is even more emphatic.