After allegations of ongoing sexual abuse at the elite Horace Mann School surfaced several weeks ago, a longtime teacher at the school has come forward and admitted that he did have sex with several of his students. Tek Young Lin was a beloved English teacher who was also a chaplain and a cross-country coach at the school. He's freely revealed details of at least three students he remembers sleeping with, which is shocking; but what's even more shocking is that he's surprised that anyone thinks there's anything wrong with what he did. To him, at the time, apparently these relationships seemed totally normal—though it doesn't appear the students involved always felt the same way.
All of the teachers who were named in the original New York Times article about the abuse at Horace Mann have died, but since it was published allegations have been surfacing against other teachers. That's what's happened with Mr. Lin, who is now 88 and has been retired since 1986. While some have expressed surprise that Mr. Lin had been involved in abusive relationships with students, others say that he had a tendency to develop fascinations with certain boys under his care. Lin himself told the Times in a phone interview that he'd had sexual relationships with students. As for how many, he estimates, "maybe three, I don't know." He blamed his hazy memories of the events on his age, but he is sure about one thing: he didn't think he was doing anything untoward. He explained, "In those days, it was very spontaneous and casual, and it did not seem really wrong." Of course, just because something doesn't seem wrong to him doesn't mean it wasn't wrong or that it didn't feel very wrong to someone else.
Interestingly, Lin is a little mystified that this has come up in a negative way at all: "I'm surprised they remember. It was all so casual and warm." Well, that's certainly not something you usually hear from a rapist of any stripe. Lin said he acted "occasionally out of impulse," but again stressed that his behavior was a product of its time: "In those days, the '60s and '70s, things were different." Things certainly were different in the way organizations responded to these types of abuses and the ease with which they could be shoved under the rug, but they certainly were not different enough to mean the victims didn't suffer just as deeply. Look at the Catholic Church abuses that happened during the same time—not exactly a product of a more relaxed, easygoing time.
Though an apologetic Lin maintains he never forced himself on anyone:
The only thing I can assure you of was that everything I did was in warmth and affection and not a power play. I may have crossed societal boundaries. If I did, I am sorry.
That these were not violent attacks, but rather relationships with at least some degree of affection, is something confirmed by three of his former students who were willing to speak to the Times. One said he turned Lin down for sex, a second said that he'd not had sex with Lin but there had been physical contact, and a third man said that he'd had sexual contact with Lin that began when he was 14 or 15 and went on for several months—though he said they had a relationship that lasted years.
Lin offered up some details of his contact with the first boy, saying he'd come to dinner, played the violin for Lin, and they'd chatted about a movie. While they didn't touch, the student says Lin wanted to have sex but he refused. He says,
There was nothing malicious in what he was doing to me. He probably fell in love with me and he confused sexual desire with his ability to think rationally as a teacher.
This student felt what had happened to other kids at the school was far worse. Though a second student of Lin's was less forgiving and is described as "grappling with feelings of disappointment and anger." Understandable. When he was 17, Lin invited him to sleep over—something which was not viewed as odd by his parents—and that's when, according to the Times, the encounter occurred:
The two slept on mats on the floor in their underwear. Mr. Lin asked to give him a massage. The teacher straddled his back and rubbed against him. The next morning, Mr. Lin caressed him. "It was like it was another person," the man said. But nothing more happened, he said.
That was the last time he spoke to Lin, and he entered therapy soon after. He now says he thinks it was right of Lin to admit he'd been in these relationships but that there's no way he couldn't have known it was wrong: "Delusional might not be the right word." He added, "But to not have the awareness that there's a built-in power dynamic with a teacher and student?"
Indeed, it does seem rather unbelievable that Lin could have not know there was nothing unethical or unprofessional about pursuing relationships with young boys—no matter how consensual it seemed to him. But he seems to have lived in an odd, somewhat sheltered world. The third student, with whom he had a series of sexual encounters, recalls that Lin had photos of some of his students hanging on the walls of his apartment and that he referred to them as his "pillars." He says that Lin said things to him like, "I just want to cuddle," but that he never did anything the boy did not want to do. In a way, he seems most sympathetic to Lin, saying,
Did Tek behave in a way that was inappropriate? Absolutely. Was he warm, was it a wonderful relationship? He opened up areas of philosophy to me. Yes.
That feeling of warmth and understanding seems to be what's so complex about all the alleged abuses at Horace Mann. These were teachers and professionals who by all accounts did have a positive influence on any number of students—often including those that they had inappropriate contact with—and that makes it difficult to see them as sexual predators in the way we might see another type of abuser. But that, coupled with the fact that so many of these abuses were never spoken of or dealt with until years later, doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of bad done along with the good.
And that's what Lin's former students seem to be having trouble sorting out. They all three said Lin had a positive influence on them and were reluctant to say anything that might damage Lin's reputation. And if you throw away any mention of the sexual relationships, Lin seems like a kind and compassionate man:
Small and delicate, he was known for his passion for grammar, for the cherry trees he planted all over the Horace Mann campus, in Riverdale, and for his classroom in Tillinghast Hall, which overflowed with plants and palm trees.
He was a Buddhist and reportedly had a "Zen-like presence" and a reputation for being hard working and gentle. In fact, one of his victims remembers Lin crying when one of his cherry trees was trimmed: "He was a very sensitive man." But that doesn't negate the fact that he stepped over a boundary that he should have seen, no matter how innocent he might have seemed—something which Lin appears to be coming to grips with today:
At the time it seemed it happened and it was done, but apparently it wasn't, and if I had in any way harmed them, hurt them, I am truly, truly sorry. I hope if they have been hurt, they will overcome that hurt, and I should be very happy to help in any way I can.
None of the students who've accused Lin of initiating inappropriate contact with him today reported it to the school back then. And, obviously, Lin never mentioned it to the school either, about which he says, "Oh no, it was very discreet. It seemed O.K. in those days." Which points to what seems to have been a far larger problem with the culture of the insular school. Thomas M. Kelly, who is currently the head of the school, would not comment about Lin, but the school's PR firm did issue a statement:
If what Mr. Lin has told The New York Times is true, the conduct in which he says he engaged was appalling. We urge him to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.
Given how forthcoming Lin has been to the Times, it seems entirely likely that he would cooperate with them. Though as of right now, he says nobody has been in contact with him. Even if they were, it's very unlikely that he'd ever face any kind of punishments because the statutes of limitation have run out. As for how Lin sees his future, he says of his current state, "You can't see the shore of youth and you only see the shore of death, the shore you are going to. I have a healthy outlook to dying." It certainly doesn't sound like a man weighed down by his past, though unfortunately it is a different story for some of his victims.
Retired Horace Mann Teacher Admits to Sex With Students [New York Times]