‘Rite Idea: Moving on Requires More Than Paint

Former teacher and IB Diploma Programme Coordinator Timothy Mitchell’s crime challenges everyone to face tough questions


Astrid Braun

Art teacher Meryl Haring paints over the face of Timothy Mitchell on a mural portraying him as George Washington Oct. 17.

We have obscured the image of his face with surgical painting, erasing his memory from the walls of this school. We have swept away his footprints, dusted away his fingerprints, covered his trails with a new rug. We have shined our staircase railings as if hoping never to see his reflection staring back at us.

So what now? We have painted, vacuumed and dusted; we have washed, rinsed and repeated this cycle.

Somehow, we missed a spot.

Timothy Mitchell taught thousands of students over the years, 255 of whom still attend Shaker Heights High School. When the investigation began last spring, those in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme were offered group discussions and counseling services to help them cope. Outside of the program, however, students were left to their own devices.

We did not all know this man —  some of us never spoke a single word to him, never looked him in the eye, never set foot in his classroom —  but he did not commit his crime in a vacuum.

His face is erased from our walls, but his imprint can never be reversed.  

Retouching Mitchell’s facial features will not erase memories. It will not make women in this school feel safe again. It will not destroy a legacy. Regardless of Mitchell’s former reputation within the Shaker community, he is a criminal.

Paint can cover paint, but it can’t heal wounds.

Thus, rather than focusing on removing his lingering presence, the school should aim to help all students heal. Mitchell’s crime should spark conversation within the community, not silence.

This is not to say the school hasn’t tried, nor are all Shaker students irreversibly damaged. But, the reality is that a teacher had sexual relations with an underage, trusting student, whose freedom he stifled to protect his name.

Furthermore, students are not the only ones struggling to cope with his crime. Teachers, administrators, parents and community members alike are forced to heal after the events that transpired over the past few months.

Mitchell’s crime — a betrayal of trust and professionalism — is one thread that has been yanked from our community’s blanket of integrity, and it seems that it is quickly becoming unraveled far beyond this.

The coinciding news of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades spent sexually harassing and assaulting young, female actors only amplifies Mitchell’s crime. Given that both stories have emerged during the presidency of an admitted sexual assailant, what message about powerful men are girls to take from these deplorable acts?

The Shakerite will not neglect its responsibility to cover honestly and thoroughly the harsh, uncomfortable topics that his crime has evoked. It is up to the rest of this community — the students, the parents, the staff — to do the same in their own capacities.

Whether that be through opening a dialogue around the culture of our school, and of the institution at large, that allows these instances to occur and go unnoticed for decades, or making conscious efforts to embrace these conversations for the sake of the students, especially the young women, and the educators of this school.

None of us can reconcile alone, and none of us should have to.

A version of this article appears in print on pages 30-31 of Volume 88, Issue 1, published Oct. 27, 2017.

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