Commentary: Palfrey’s #MeToo

Normally, John Palfrey’s words are met by applause and enthusiasm. But for the first time, only silence followed Mr. Palfrey’s remarks.

Last Wednesday, Mr. Palfrey spoke to the school during All-School Meeting. It was inspiring, to say the least. Though I have attended Andover for only six months, I could see the impact Mr. Palfrey had on the students from the very first moments I had stepped onto campus. It was the first time I saw a member of the administration able to garner so much respect from high school students.

With his eloquent and soft-spoken speech, Mr. Palfrey always speaks to us with genuine care and interest for our well-being. He is not simply the head of our school, and his actions go consistently go beyond those “required” by his status as headmaster.

That said, it hurts my heart to see Andover lose such an extraordinary figure who exemplifies Andover’s motto of Non Sibi. I think the entire school felt this way as we sat in Cochran Chapel, awaiting Mr. Palfrey’s Head of School Address. 

But beyond that sadness, his address only strengthened my respect and admiration for him. In front of the whole entire student body and the faculty, Mr. Palfrey shared a moment of vulnerability and intimacy: his story of how he had been sexually assaulted as a high school student.

It truly inspired me that our school’s public figure head was open in sharing his story and, in doing so, sent messages of hope to other victims of sexual assault. It isn’t easy for any individual to be vulnerable, and the fact that Mr. Palfrey was able to do so in front of the students shows how much he values the connection between the students and himself.

His words also display his willingness to hold hard discussions in order to better the lives of all the students at Andover. Even though it involved his personal life, Mr. Palfrey purposely shared a sensitive moment to express his solidarity with students who had been sexually assaulted. To me, it was almost as if Mr. Palfrey was telling us that we are not alone in our struggles. We aren’t fighting these battles alone.

When talking about sexual assault and the #MeToo movement, it’s worth noting that there are considerably less stories of male victims. Because the demographics of sexual assault victims are mostly women, it often creates a misconception that the only victims are women.

The truth is that the #MeToo movement stands for the justice of all sexual assault victims and does not exclude victims based on sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, or other identity traits.

A single-sided perception of this movement is dangerous, especially because it can send an idea that does not align with the mission statement of #MeToo.

This misconception is not only illogical but also goes against the movement’s intentions to not treat stories of sexual assault differently because of the victim. It shouldn’t matter if the victim identifies as a man. That doesn’t and shouldn’t affect the validity and importance of their story. What should matter is the immense courage of the victims to come forth and share their experiences.

When we open our eyes and set our vision upon only one aspect of the truth, we are not looking at the entire truth. By creating this stigma of male survivors and approaching their equally intimate and vulnerable moments with skepticism, we are perpetrators of silence, the same silence the entire #MeToo movement has aimed to prevent.

Through his speech, Mr. Palfrey seemed to broaden the outlook of sexual assault on campus and emphasized the importance of putting aside our own differences to unite against sexual assault.

There is no gender to the #MeToo movement or to any approach of sexual assault. Regardless of who the victims are, we as people must work together to ensure and create an environment where no one’s stories are met with silence, or worse, blame.

Beyond Andover is another society, another world that we will all eventually enter into. When we do, I hope that the implications of Mr. Palfrey’s message stays with us. Everyone’s voices and stories have an equal right to be heard. In the end, we have the choice of giving power to these voices. We just need to listen.