My Journey to Gorky In Three Parts: Part III

This is the third in a three-part series. The preceding two parts, available on, detail how I was sent home three weeks before the end of my Upper spring because a too-powerful Graham House counselor punitively labeled me “suicidal”; and how neither her colleagues, the school physician, the Dean of Studies, nor Head of School were willing to break protocol by overruling her. When even the Head of School, who falsely claimed that she had been “fully briefed” about the situation, wouldn’t step in, we went further up the ladder. The Trustees that my brother (PA ’99) contacted e-mailed back, with identical language, that they were confident that I would be treated “humane[ly].” My brother, by the way, has since been excommunicated from the Andover alumni list and falsely accused of libel by the ill-informed Head of School. In the two weeks after I had left campus, three other national experts in child and adolescent psychiatry and suicidality—these are people with hundred-page CVs, people who teach at Harvard Medical School—evaluated me and all independently came to identical conclusions (i.e., that I was neither suicidal nor clinically depressed). They were mystified by the school’s behavior and the counselor’s fatally flawed “diagnosis.” My family hired big-name $600/hour Boston lawyers who re-wrote my father’s ferocious 26-page appeal draft. We sent the new appeal with an appendix of the four psychiatric reports to the Associate Head of School. Despite her promise of a one-week response, six agonizing weeks later, after I had already enrolled at a local public school, she wrote my family telling us that in light of new evidence and “unusual circumstances,” I was being “readmitted.” No apology. No explicit admission of error. And no credit for spring term. I requested to make up the three weeks of work I had missed, as in some classes all I had to do was take the final exam. But I was told that I had missed too many classes to receive credit. It was too darn bad they didn’t grant my request to attend classes during the week I was on campus fighting Graham House’s decision. The only compromise the lawyers could reach to make my transcript look relatively less maimed was to have my teachers write short, gradeless “evaluations” of my academic work prior to my leave. To add insult to injury, my parents are still receiving dunning letters for a pledge they made to Campaign Andover a year ago, though Andover still has not refunded my tuition for the aborted spring trimester. Nor have they reimbursed us for the tremendous costs—$100,000+ in legal and medical fees and out of pocket expenses—that my parents were forced to spend in order to fight this egregious mistake. During this time I had been attending summer school in order to score an audition and later an acceptance at a public magnet school. Needless to say, it was difficult explaining to my friends at home that the-powers-that-be-said-I’m-crazy-but-really-I-swear-I’m-not-really-you-gotta-believe-me. Once I was readmitted, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to return after the way I had been treated and the rumors I knew I would face upon my return. But after much deliberation, I decided to return for my friends, my specialized academics (such as Chinese), and my extracurriculars (such as this weekly column), all unavailable to me at home. But most of all I returned because I refused to let the psychologist win. I wanted to be on campus, conspicuously thriving. With each academic and extracurricular success, I wanted to prove to the administration that they had made a huge, huge mistake. And yet throughout this year certain residents of this community have relentlessly tried to discredit my mental stability. During fall term one of the psychologists periodically reminded my teachers that I had been deemed unstable and needed to be “watched.” Graham House Director Dr. Carol Israel may profess, and disingenuously lament, Graham House’s legal commitment to confidentiality; but her letter of last week almost comically violated her own talking point by insinuating that I had one of the disorders she listed as criteria for a leave of absence. But this accusation in itself was made by someone who falsely claims to be “well aware” of the facts surrounding my “episode” last year, despite the fact that she never even spoke to me, let alone evaluated me. The accusation has been refuted by four of the nation’s top professionals. Besides, my “readmission” to Andover discredits Graham House’s conduct. Last year the counselors said that my psychological condition was so perilous that it necessitated a 16-month leave. I now ask Dr. Israel and her colleagues kindly to explain not only how I have managed to stay alive since I’ve back been on campus, but also how, given my severe disturbedness, I’ve had such a tremendously productive senior year, in terms of academics, extracurriculars, and college admissions. It doesn’t take a Freud to realize that my successful senior year in and of itself refutes Graham House’s accusations of mental and emotional fragility. And yet Graham House remains unsupervised. Reckless counselors, overseen by indifferent administrators, are free to abuse their power, using The Blue Book’s elastic statements on “suicidal behavior” to punish those they don’t like. And the higher-ups don’t care. And this happens over and over and over again. * * * I write every week for The Phillipian, occasionally churning out some pretty brazen pieces, but these three articles were the most difficult for me to write. I deliberated long and hard for the past year about whether to share my somewhat humiliating story. Certainly the publication of these accounts has not made my life here more pleasant by any measures. During the course of my family’s battle with the school, we discovered a previously unknown reservoir of students who had been wronged by Graham House, and by the psychologist I dealt with in particular. Several victims had stories eerily similar to mine: ambitious girl, boyfriend issues, personal clash with this counselor, suddenly declared “suicidal.” Even over the last week I have received four more accounts of Graham House abuses, and I sincerely thank those who have written me for their willingness to share such personal experiences. Most of these students (many of whom did not have the “resources to stand up to this Goliath,” as one mother wrote me) have since left the school and moved on with their lives. Several are still on campus. Having settled their problems with the administration behind closed doors, they do not speak out about Graham House’s injustices against them for fear of humiliation and subtle retaliation, in college admissions or elsewhere, by the school. Because no one speaks up, because of the myths about the infallibility of the caring “experts” and their administrative overseers, and because of the stigma attached to seeking “therapy” in the first place, authentic abuses of power turn into hazy rumors and old wives’ tales. Most students at PA are clueless about what recklessness and coldness the administration is capable of; I know I once was. And so I don’t know what those readers previously unexposed to the school’s arrogance make of my narrative. When I look over my own write-up of the events of last spring, even to me the arbitrariness of the school seems unbelievable. A serious investigation into the misconduct of Graham House and its overseers should commence. I am writing not only to vent but also to prevent, through public exposure, what happened to me and to countless others from ever happening again. On the flip side, there are those who are aware of the tremendous misbehavior of Graham House and of the indifference of the administration toward protecting students. The recent Phillipian survey revealed that 73 percent of Seniors do not trust the people in Graham House, a statistic which in and of itself should have already sparked some inquiry from the powers that be. Many students who actually DO need mental help will not seek it, and this can lead to an actual tragedy—an actual suicide.