Response to LA Times on Firing Persky: The Difference Between Standing up and Putting Down

Quotes from the Article

  • “Shame on you for giving in to the mob,” retired Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell said, in response to the district’s decision.
  • Cordell spoke on behalf of Persky.
  • She understands the pushback is rooted in Persky’s controversial court decision, but questions when his critics will allow him redemption.
  • “He has lost his job. He has lost his pension. Now he’s trying to rebuild his life,” she said. “Having done absolutely nothing wrong, now he’s out of a job.”
  • “It’s a community that believes in redemption for everybody else, but not for this one person,” Cordell continued. “That makes no sense, and what it says to me is these are mean-spirited, angry people who are just out to get him.”

Hi, for those of you that don’t know me, my name is Shivani Kavuluru. I am a 2015 Lynbrook Alumnae and I was part of a group of organizers who helped in firing Aaron Persky from Lynbrook High recently as the JV Girls Tennis Coach. I am thankful for the news sources reporting on this and for their kindness during the interview process. So my response today is more so for the LA Times and others who may have similar misgivings about Persky’s firing. 

My aim for this piece is to engage in respectful dialogue and illuminate why decisions such as the one Lynbrook admin made to hire recalled Judge Persky as our JV Girls tennis Coach cause harm in the first place, and contrary to the article, it is not because the organizers and I don’t believe in redemption or rehabilitation. 

First of all, when we talk about rehabilitating perpetrators of sexual violence or rape culture, we have to tread very carefully and in full acknowledgment that our first priority should be believing and supporting the survivor whose autonomy and boundaries were violated. We should be focused on ensuring the survivors of sexual violence get the support and resources they deserve. Being survivor-centric is crucial. 

As an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, I realized there are two main aspects to advocacy; preventative, and support after the fact. Both are important to combating rape culture so we live in a society that doesn’t normalize taking issues of rape and assault lightly. A big way to take it seriously is to not talk how the “life of the rapist is ruined too” that’s like saying a criminal’s life is ruined for committing a crime they made. It was an action they did and there ought to be consequences in our society for such acts. 

Course, now we tread into the Perskys of the world. Not the rapist, the judge, not the assaulter, but the school principal who did not do anything about a Title-IV case. The problem about people who do not treat instances of violence against members of our community with the seriousness they deserve is that that too sends a strong message, it allows the pervasiveness of similar behavior to get the green light– that is also dangerous and does not help to mitigate the overall problem of sexual violence. So yes, while the teacher and the judge did not commit the rape themselves, their inaction is retraumatizing and harmful to the survivor because it tells them they are not believed, supported and the most damaging thing, that they are alone in standing up for themselves. 

Do I believe in prison reform, rehabilitation, and allowing folks to assimilate back into society and be given a second chance? Generally, yes. In the case of rapists, I have a much harder time giving a full-formed answer for how that process looks like. I would probably prefer continued jail time, education on rape and consent, putting them on the sex offender list, and prioritizing survivors by not allowing them to hold certain roles in society that could be retraumatizing to survivors. Again, with rapists, it does get very complicated.

But let’s talk about prison reform in general and what I mean when I talk about it. My instincts to build more schools and not prisons has to do with the disproportionately targeted black and brown communities who are treated unfairly (to say the least) in the current justice system and have to face unreasonably high jail time for far smaller crimes and are completely isolated from society when they try to assimilate back. They deserve the space and resources to be better and that is how our society will improve. People deserve the space to change to be better but never at the expense of the victims who are healing from incidents they did not ask to be part of. We can be a community of redemption but we owe it to the survivors of sexual assault to prioritize their healing by thinking about these situations in a nuanced and complex way.

To give an example, you wouldn’t let a bully be in close proximity to his victim while he learns to be a better person. Statistically speaking, there are undoubtedly survivors in a public high school with thousands of students and bringing Persky in as a teacher they would interact with every day was reckless. So to clarify, no one was saying no job, we were always arguing not this job. There is a huge difference that is important to understand before calling the labor of the organizers, mostly women of color, as having “chilling mentalities” . That criticism is missing the mark and ultimately contributed to rape culture by telling people to not make this such a big deal. 

The reason why Persky should never have been hired as the female Junior Varsity Tennis Coach is not because he doesn’t deserve a second chance at any job ever but rather that he is not the appropriate choice to be the mandated reporter for sexual assault and harassment for minors in a high school. Persky made public decision to give Brock Turner a slap on the wrist for his rape of Chanel Miller by sentencing him to a short six months. This showed the world that he did not respect women’s bodily autonomy and did not take the rape as seriously as he should have. When one can get up to nine months in prison for a second offense DUI, surely we should be taking rape far more seriously. Hiring Persky to not only coach minors who are young girls but also be their mandated reporter and tossing him back into that legal position of power over them is a huge oversight. As I stated in my interview if someone is really yearning to have Persky coach them tennis then they can do that on their own time, but putting him as the high school’s coach and allowing him to interact with minors every day and legally be their mandated reporter for assault seems like a very big slip up. 

The conversation is not and should not be about how good of a tennis coach Persky can be because teachers should be hired for more than just their ability to know the subject they aim to teach. Teachers should be people we can think of as safe role models, and Persky’s behavior has demonstrated that he does not support survivors and he should not be in a legal position of power especially regarding issues of sexual assault and harassment over these minors because it really is an inappropriate choice. Lynbrook and this district should have done much better. I think Persky should go through intensive training about sexual violence and gender and start from there rather than asking to go into a position of legal responsibility for minors in a high school. 

Calling the organizers, some of whom are survivors, like me, “mean spirited” and representing “mob mentality”, is a reckless and subtle form of gaslighting. This phenomenon is very aptly described by an online Tumblr account by the name frontier-heart. They said, “When our legitimate hurt and anger at the injustices we suffer are being equated to the bigotry and abuse of our oppressors”. And “being angry doesn’t mean you are hateful it means you love yourself enough to get upset by your mistreatment”. This is a very common phenomenon that I am all too familiar with. People in privileged positions should not try and misrepresent the moments of strength when victims of violence stand up for themselves as “anger” or “mean-spirited mob mentality”. Standing up to oppressors is not the same as oppressing them and that is a very harmful way of thinking because it equates intent to harm with intent to defend. While most of the survivors I have talked about were like me, more disappointed than mad with the alarming oversight and lack of background checks in hiring, we have the right to be mad and demand more accountability and education in our public school systems for better sexual violence education. 

The reason the organizers, myself, and the 3000+ signatures spoke up was because we believed that it was a serious lapse of judgment to hire Persky to be the mandated reporter for women who are minors in high school, given his actions and language regarding the Chanel Miller case.  Surely, he could not be the “most qualified”. When we have the knowledge to do better we have the responsibility to act accordingly. 

Currently, some organizers and I are forming a group wherein our mission is to aim to proactively create a culture of critical dialogue and accountability for issues pertaining to sexual violence, mental health, and student well-being in the FUHSD. I hope people can continue to have hard conversations, think critically, and in nuanced ways but I also hope that we can be mindful and create space and respect for when survivors and members of our community speak up against injustice. Persky’s place in society should not have been to be a mandated reporter to minors in a high school, we really have to do so much better by our students. 

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