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Former Mary Hitchcock Nursing School Grads Say #MeToo Movement Has Opened Old Wounds

  • Linda Clark in her graduation photograph from Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in the late 1960s -- Clark says she was assaulted several times by dates and at fraternity parties at Dartmouth College during her time as a nursing student in Hanover. (Courtesy Linda Clark)

  • Linda Parkin, who graduated from Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in 1969, says a Notre Dame student attempted to assault her following a Dartmouth College fraternity party while she was a nursing student. When this photo was taken in 1975, she was working as a staff nurse in Daytona Beach, Fla. After decades, the #MeToo movement has motivated her to come forward with her story of assault. (Courtesy Linda Parkin)



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, November 23, 2018

Hanover — For decades, Linda Clark kept her experiences of sexual assault as a nursing student at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital School of Nursing from her parents.

But this fall, as now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh appeared before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and faced Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of sexual assault while they were in high school, Clark told her parents, now in their early 90s, that the allegations sounded all too familiar to her.

“I didn’t intend to tell them,” Clark, now a 69-year-old resident of Sterling, Mass., said in an October phone interview. “I just blurted out, ‘Well, it happened to me, too.’ ”

While she now thinks her parents probably would have supported her in the late 1960s — when Clark says she was assaulted by male Dartmouth College undergraduates, and was once raped, following dates and fraternity parties — talking about sexual assault just wasn’t something people did back then, she said.

It didn’t occur to her to report the assaults to the police.

“I’d been drinking,” she said. “No one would have believed me.”

Though she sought and got therapy and antidepressants from a therapist at Dick’s House, the Dartmouth health center, these experiences had an impact that endured the rest of her life. They spurred her to marry her first husband, a Dartmouth graduate, out of respect, but not attraction. She has been married twice more.

“Those sexual misexperiences definitely impacted what I looked for in a spouse,” she said.

It’s not unusual for people who have been sexually assaulted to come forward years or decades after the incident, Abby Tassel, WISE’s senior program adviser said in a phone interview. One of the hallmarks of trauma is that it is something that people relive for years afterward. They may not choose to share it until “something makes them feel that it might be safe enough for them to share it more broadly.”

While some women, spurred by the #MeToo movement, the Kavanaugh hearings and a societal shift toward talking more openly about sexual violence, have disclosed their experiences recently, Tassel said others have gotten the opposite message — that it still is not safe to share — from the Kavanaugh hearings and comments President Donald Trump made in 2005 to an Access Hollywood host about groping women that surfaced publicly in 2016.

“It’s an interesting time,” Tassel said.

Though she didn’t realize it until recently, Clark was not alone in experiencing assault as a Mary Hitchcock nursing student. Linda (Locke) Parkin, who attended the Mary Hitchcock nursing school — which closed in 1980 — at the same time as Clark, also says a man attempted to assault her following a Dartmouth fraternity party in the late 1960s.

Parkin, who said she was motivated by the #MeToo movement to contact the Valley News earlier this year, left a party with a male student from the University of Notre Dame, who she says attempted to assault her in his car near Occom Pond. Though he “had me around the neck,” she was able to get a door open — the car didn’t have automatic locks — and escape.

“I was very lucky to get away,” Parkin, who now is 69 and lives outside of Orlando, Fla., said in a July phone interview. “Not everyone is that lucky.”

She escaped to a nearby home, owned by a couple who welcomed her in, wrapped her up and called the police. The police found the man attempting to throw Parkin’s shoes in the pond, she said.

Though Parkin went to the police station to file a report, she said the officer in charge dissuaded her from doing so.

“This guy is a college guy and you don’t want to ruin his life,” the police officer told her, she recalled.

As a result, “I didn’t do anything about it,” she said.

Current Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis said in a July email that his records clerk could find no record of a report of the incident. He also didn’t know of any living former members of the department who worked there in the late ’60s or early ’70s, he said.

Earlier this year, the Hanover Police Department became the seventh agency nationwide to become certified in the You Have Options Program that affords victims three options for reporting a sexual assault to police, the Valley News reported in March.

Aiming to identify serial offenders, the program allows a victim to submit to an information-only report, providing only basic information to police with the understanding that an officer wouldn’t investigate further unless a victim wished them to. A victim also can seek a partial or complete investigation into the matter. Lastly, anonymous reports are welcomed.

Tassel said she wishes all police departments would take this step to encourage survivors of sexual violence to come forward knowing that they will be supported, respected and taken seriously.

This “first step of encouraging reporting feels incredibly important,” she said.

Dartmouth also has plans to change the way it addresses sexual assault. This fall, the college announced that it will, for the first time, implement a single, comprehensive policy to deal with sexual misconduct, whether the accused is a freshman student or a tenured professor. But some current and former graduate students in the school’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences say the college needs to do more to shift the campus culture to better protect women from sexual violence. They filed a $70 million lawsuit against Dartmouth earlier this month alleging the college failed to protect them from an environment that tolerated sexual harassment and assault.

The college has denied the allegations.

Neither Dartmouth’s new policies nor the Hanover police program were available in the late 1960s. Parkin remembers telling one person at the time, but doesn’t remember who. Mostly she tried to forget about her experience.

Though it didn’t cause nightmares, it is something Parkin has thought about over the years and she’s wondered if the man who tried to assault her had other victims.

“If he’s done something like this to me ... has he hurt other women? Has he raped other women? Has he murdered other women?” she asked.

Clark said she doesn’t focus so much on the individual men, but feels that it was more the culture of the time that led to the men’s expectations that they would be owed sex after a date or that it was acceptable to encourage women to drink to the point that they would become uninhibited.

“I don’t hold it against any people,” she said.

The Kavanaugh hearings, however, brought back memories of the Dartmouth men at the time, Clark said. Like Kavanaugh, many any had gone to prep schools and seemed to feel as if they were entitled to treat women poorly, she said.

“They were notoriously not respectful,” she said.

She spent Sept. 27, the day of the hearings, traveling and commiserated with some of her fellow travelers: “I’m feeling a little traumatized today, how about you?”

The Dartmouth men’s disrespect was reinforced by nursing school administrators who also seemed to support the notion that it was the women who needed to protect themselves from situations in which they might become vulnerable to the men’s advances, the former nursing students said.

Clark recalled a lecture from her freshman-year orientation, which she called the “Potted Plant Lecture.” The suggestion was that if the nursing students went to parties and were offered drinks, they should pour them into potted plants.

The take-home message was: “If you drink and you get taken advantage of, it’s your own damn fault,” Clark said.

It was the college, with a few thousand male students, where many of the fewer than 200 nursing students looked for dates, Parkin and Clark said. Drinking was a big part of the culture at Dartmouth, they said.

But Clark also said that after a couple of years, she “kind of wised up” and avoided the fraternity parties by spending time with those who smoked marijuana rather than drank, and found other things to do such as sledding or swimming in the Connecticut River.

Several other alumnae reached for this story said they avoided the frat parties — and experiences of assault. One said she avoided Hanover’s social scene by going home on weekends to see her “hometown honey,” now her husband.

Etna resident Katherine Duff Rines, a Smith student who studied at Dartmouth from 1970-71 before it became co-ed, said in an email that she “was very careful when and where I went on campus, since it was a new school for me and I was one of 75 women among 3,000 guys.”

Rines said it’s possible that the male students treated female students at Dartmouth differently than women who were not their classmates because they knew that they would see them in class the next day.

“The men really didn’t know what to make of us,” Rines said. “... We weren’t just dates coming in for the weekend. ... They knew that we were here to stay.”

Though women now make up nearly half of the student body, some still feel they have to work hard to keep themselves safe. When Dartmouth’s plan for a new sexual misconduct policy was announced last month, Amy Irvine, a 21-year-old psychology major, told the Valley News that some women protect themselves by carefully regulating how they dress, who they talk to and where they go.

But another Dartmouth student, 20-year-old Isabella Frohlich, who is a member of the student group Movement Against Violence, told the Valley News in October she feels safe going to “male-dominated social spaces” such as fraternity parties.

“ ... People check in with me to make sure I’m doing all right,” Frohlich told the Valley News last month.

For the former nursing students, graduation did not mark the end of their experiences with sexual harassment. Both Clark and Parkin said male doctors grabbed them inappropriately while they were on the job at hospitals outside of the Upper Valley.

Help and support were lacking for nurses who experienced such harassment, the retired nurses said. Parkin said she told her director of nursing when a male doctor grabbed her breast and the response was: “You probably asked for it.”

Clark said a powerful male doctor grabbed her breast while they were in a patient’s room, but she didn’t report it.

“Nobody would have believed me,” she said. “It would have been very difficult to prove.”

Clark saw the other side of the issue when her son, now in his 40s, was convicted of indecent assault as an 18-year-old.

“It was devastating,” she said.

But she drew a distinction between her son’s experience and that of the men who assaulted her. Her son served jail time, has taken responsibility for his actions, now is sober and is married to “a lovely woman who’s also a nurse,” she said.

“He paid consequences,” she said.

Clark’s early experiences in nursing school taught her lessons that she’s carried with her into her later life and that she said might help other women. For example, when things get tough emotionally, professional support is out there, she said.

“(You) don’t have to deal with things alone,” she said.

It also made her active in her church and at the ballot box in her mission to “make sure that women have the services they need,” she said.

Sexual harassment and assault have “always been there,” she said. “We have to help each other with it.”

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com.