Thoughts on Baylor University, and Turning a Blind Eye – (with insight from Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness)

News item:
The President, and the head football coach, are both removed from their positions at Baylor University.

One specific finding:
Actions by University administrators directly discouraged some complainants from reporting or participating in student conduct processes and in one instance constituted retaliation against a complainant for reporting sexual assault.
(read the statement from Baylor’s Board of Regents in this article: Baylor makes sweeping changes in leadership, releases some findings of Pepper Hamilton report).


Here’s a gobsmacking story from the Nazi atrocities in World War II:

When prisoners began to arrive in August of that year, the SS tried to keep the population at a distance. But the camp was in Willful Blindnessfull view, and ordinary life had to continue. Inevitably that meant that the brutal treatment of prisoners was witnessed by many bystanders. One was a farmer, Eleanore Gusenbauer, who didn’t like what she saw. So she wrote to complain:
“In the Concentration Camp Mauthausen at the work site in Vienna Ditch inmates are being shot repeatedly; those badly struck live for yet some time, and so remain lying next to the dead for hours and even half a day long. My property lies upon an elevation next to the Vienna Ditch and one is often an unwilling witness to such outrages. I am anyway sickly and such a sight makes such a demand on my nerves that in the long run I cannot bear this. I request that it be arranged that such inhuman deeds be discontinued, or else be done where one does not have to see it.”
Margaret Heffernan, Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril

I frequently think back to this story. When I read of leaders turning blind eyes to wrongdoing (this week, think of Baylor University and the way it dealt with, or make that “didn’t deal with,” sexual assaults), when I think of people who are blind to societal undergirdings of crime, and poverty, and racism, and…, I think back to this story.

There’s a phrase: “NIMBY — not in my back yard.”   We want the criminals, the problem people, those who abuse people or assault people, to be out of sight and out of mind. If there are such people who do such unacceptable deeds, could it be “where one does not have to see it?”

And, ultimately, as enough blind eyes are turned to a problem, the problem grows because it is never dealt with.

And individuals, and ultimately all members of society, pay the price.


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