Dear [former work bestie],
Unless I hear from you, this will be my last attempt to salvage what I once considered one of my closest friendships. I literally have no idea why you’ve stopped talking to/engaging with me, which makes this all the more upsetting. I feel like I know you and know your heart, and the total lack of communication for so long shocks me. I’m trying to figure out if I imagined our entire friendship. How could someone who cared about me, as I believed you did, just … stop? Of all the emotionally challenging surprises of the last 16 months, the loss of your friendship is the one that still hurts the most. (I dont’ tell you this to be cruel or somehow manipulate the truth; ask anyone who’s still talking to me at [college], and they’ll tell you I cry every single time your name comes up.)
I start my new job (at [university]) on Monday — two days from now. I’m excited about the new role, the people I’ll be working with, and the prospect of a fresh start. While I’ll always be disappointed in [college], I’ve moved on. I’m happy. I’m excited. I’m okay — thriving, even. I’m not interested in living in the past.
For people with good intentions who made difficult decisions with incomplete (and imperfect) information, I have only compassion. I hold no grudges. Whatever happened in my tenure review is done, and for those (like you) who acted without malice, in whatever ways they did so, I have no desire to question or discuss any of that. To hold on to any anger or frustration would be (as the saying goes) to drink a poison hoping someone else would suffer.
All of this is just to say that I believe in your inherent goodness. Your friendship meant SO MUCH to me. (And to Doug, too!) If I’ve done something to fuck that up, I’d like the chance to make amends. I miss my friend. I love you. I hope you’re well. Only the best of life for you, [name]!!
The invitation to reconnect has no expiration date. I’m sincere in saying that I just want my friend back — whenever you’re willing to take a step.
You’re one of the good ones, [name].
To my peer committee chair:
I have been planning to write this letter for more than a year. I knew it was important that I wait until my time at the college came to an end. I’ve now begun a new job and processed a lot of the trauma that unfolded last year. Hopefully, you’ve been able to get some emotional and spiritual distance from the troubles of 2022, too.
Please know that this letter is not intended to accuse you of anything, to make assumptions about your intentions or motivations, or to make you feel manipulated. Instead, I’m writing this letter for two reasons.
First, writing this letter is an important step towards closure for me of what has been the single most traumatic and destabilizing set of events in my career. Again, I say that not to evoke any particular emotional reaction from you, but rather to state my intention.
Second, the length and depth of our friendship and working relationship prior to March 2022, at least from my perspective, deserves a debrief over what went down. We had a conversation in March 2022 about your decision to amend your recommendation as my peer committee chair. In that conversation, you mentioned a few specific things, but did not explain or go into great detail about what had persuaded you to change your mind. I had no idea that this was coming, so I never had a chance to fully explain myself.
For reasons I’ll explain more fully later in this letter, I do not react well when surprised, and so any ham-fisted and ineffective attempts I made to explain myself off the cuff in March 2022 was not and should not have been interpreted as evidence that I had somehow misstepped. Rather, my inelegant attempts to explain what had happened in the few specific incidents you mentioned sprung from my total lack of preparation for that conversation.
Third, as one of the members of our campus union, I’m still astonished at how quickly you abandoned your advocacy for the person with the least power in this situation. So much for workers’ rights and due process.
I trusted you, M. I trusted you, your advice, your support, and your friendship. I believed that you had my best interests at heart, and I expressed multiple times (before all of this) how grateful I was that I knew you had my back.
I know that you were aware I felt that way. I also know that the weight of my trust in you caused you a great deal of emotional distress. Throughout the entire process, I always felt compassion for how difficult I assumed your decisions must have been for you, given the prior 5 ½ years of our professional relationship.
Having said that, and in the interest of transparency, I think it’s important for you to know that I took advantage of the Freedom of Information Act and requested emails from around the time of my tenure discussion. I asked for those from a number of people who were involved in the deliberations prior to my tenure denial, including yours. In practice, this means that I have read emails that you exchanged with the two other people to whom I have written letters here, along with a handful of other people, about my tenure portfolio. I have read what you said about your decision-making process during that time. I have read what motivated you to do so. I have read about your confidential discussions with some of our colleagues, but only because you put them in email.
I need you to know a few things, M.
I want to address the incident our colleague brought to your attention regarding the student organization’s Bible study. The person who approached you claimed that we had no friendship whatsoever (in the emails he sent you). That shocked me, because I honestly believed that he and I were friends. At some point very early in his time at the college, he came into my office, closed to the door, and disclosed to me that he was a transgender man. He asked me not to share this with anyone else (a promise I breach now given the egregious breaches, plural, of trust he engaged in subsequently), and that he was very cautious about whom he trusted. On the basis of that conversation, I understood him to trust me, and I extended him the same. When I reached out to him, then, about the student Bible study group, it was with that trust in mind. I reached out to him privately, specifically, because we had had that conversation in my office. I’m confident that if you ask others in the division, they probably have similar stories. Sadly, you never gave me a chance to explain this context outside a place of blindsided reactivity.
Regarding the student whom I contacted on Facebook. I can see in retrospect that reaching out to her, without also reaching out to her instructor (at the point that I learned who it was), had the potential to hurt a colleague’s feelings. I wish I had given the other instructor a head’s up when I found out who was teaching the student’s class. And yet, the way my actions in that incident have been portrayed is completely uncharitable. I believed that you knew my heart—that you knew me well enough to know that my intention was only ever to support a student who portrayed herself as being in crisis. Much was made of the fact that the screenshots I sent were not the complete conversation. That’s true. It was not, however, a conscious decision in an effort to manipulate how other people saw my actions. Rather, it was me acting quickly to share with the relevant people, namely K, what the substantive recommendations I had given the student were. I felt that expressing compassion for her situation was not an actionable piece of advice. Nor was it, as my dean attempted to describe it in her evaluation, an effort to malign her instructor. In fact, I spoke in rather supportive/positive terms, once I knew who was teaching her class, about that instructor. I expressed confidence and hope that the department would work with her. I never promised her anything; I merely told her that as a College, we cared about our students and wanted them to be successful. Taking an exam while your child is in surgery is not a condition in which students could reasonably be expected to be successful. Nothing I said differed from the statement of the College’s values (which, incidentally, are currently the very top thing on the College’s web site). I still can’t quite figure out how my reaching out to an individual student to express my support equated a lack of professionalism or collegiality.
Since all of this tenure stuff happened, I have done a lot of soul-searching about how I could have so misunderstood the things happening around me. After talking to trusted friends and colleagues, I decided to seek psychological testing. Through that process, I learned that I am autistic. Learning about my autism has been incredibly helpful as I attempt to make sense of the things that I couldn’t understand before. For example, I routinely asked our dean for concrete rules around when I needed to communicate with her, how to communicate, and what to communicate. The response I got was almost always something like, “Use your best professional discretion.” That was not particularly helpful for me, because I didn’t know what that meant. I literally NEVER acted in a deliberately obstinate fashion. I just had no idea what they expected, and nobody could ever give it to me in clear terms I could understand. My brain is not always good at unstated rules or nuance.
Many of the behaviors that you wrote about in your emails, especially to K, around the time that you changed your peer chair feedback, are things that are explained by my autism. For example, K mentioned that I tend to get fixated on a particular topic and can’t seem to let it go. This is very much an autistic trait. (It is, in fact, classic autism.) I couldn’t see this before, but I see it much more clearly. Now, I’m working on directly requesting greater clarity from those with whom I work, so that I can try to prevent those misunderstandings from arising again.
I think the thing that hurt the most was learning that you were describing me to others in our division as (and I’m quoting here), “a master manipulator.” You told others that you couldn’t believe or trust anything I told you. I sincerely hope that’s a conclusion you arrived at very late in our professional relationship. (Seriously, if that’s something that you had felt for a long time, please don’t ever tell me. I don’t know if I could take that!) I’m really sad that you came to that conclusion. I hope that you will look back at some of the things that bothered you through the lens of autistic traits. Think about whether it was an intentional manipulation or a simple inability to pick up on non-verbal cues or unstated expectations.
Unfortunately, adult women are very, very rarely accurately diagnosed. If you want to learn more, disability support staff know a lot about autism in adults.
Ultimately, my experience through the tenure process unearthed a lot of the dysfunction and toxicity on the campus. At some point during my appeals, it became clear to me that even if my appeals were granted and the denial of tenure was overturned, there was nothing that could compel me to stay. The fact that it ended the way it did is unfortunate, but it became inevitable at some point.
As much as what happened during my tenure review left me feeling betrayed and misunderstood, I have dealt with those demons, and I have moved on.
For anything that happened between you and me, you have my forgiveness. Maybe you feel like it’s rich than I’m saying that, but as I mentioned at the beginning, this letter is for me first and foremost. I needed to say, in writing, that I forgive you. I have a lot of compassion for how hard that was for you. I am sorry that you went through that. And I am sorry that I could not, ultimately, be the colleague you needed me to be.
I have tremendous respect for your work, your principles, and your heart, and getting to be a trusted colleague of yours, for as long as that happened, was a tremendous joy. I loved the work we did together, and it is my pledge to you that when I think about you, those are the things I will think of moving forward. Nothing from 2022.
The college needs caring, empathetic, collaborative, and fearless leadership and faculty. That means sometimes we make mistakes, but it’s always done in service to a higher calling. I hope you will continue to be one of those people.
But with compassion, with love, and with gratitude.
To my former prolific-note-writing colleague whom I thought I could trust:
Before I started my new job in Mississippi (significant because you have ties here), I went through all of the notes I’d collected during my time at the place we both once worked. I sifted through them and pasted the ones that were most meaningful into an album I could bring with me. They serve as memories of a time when I lived in blissful ignorance of all that was happening behind the scenes, just under the surface. So many of the notes in my pile were from you, congratulating me on some achievement, wishing me luck when I was interviewing to become a TT hire after a year as a lecturer… so many notes expressing care and support.
I read those now through a totally different lens, because now I know they were — charitably — an incomplete record of our working relationship.
Just before spring break, days before The TroublesTM began, I approached you with a request. At the time, I was in the middle of a personal development workshop through a local women’s leadership organization, and my homework for the month was to ask a few people I trusted for feedback. You know, the kind of feedback that’s hard, honest, and (importantly) constructive. I trusted you to be both honest and kind-hearted with me, which is why I asked you.
You responded something like, “I love this idea! Let’s do it after the break.”
While I was on spring break, though, I learned that your words were — charitably — suspicious. Because, it turns out, you had been included on a flurry of emails between others during that whole period of time, emails that were hurtful, determined to portray me in the least favorable light, and ultimately led to my denial of tenure.
For months, I couldn’t believe the betrayal was real. You always seemed so genuine, so trustworthy, so … irrepressibly positive. And yet, you were a part of this effort to push me out.
When it became clear that things had transpired I hadn’t known about, I used the Freedom of Information Act to request emails from a few key people (especially my peer committee chair) during the time The TroublesTM unfolded. M’s communications with you were part of that trove. I only just read them recently, and I. Was. So. Hurt.
I really need you to hear me when I say that the six years of alleged friendship/collaboration now sting with the naivete and trust I brought to our working relationship. You betrayed my trust so deeply. I hope you realize how deeply that cuts. I can’t imagine how you’d feel if the situation were reversed.
You can read my publicly-posted letters to the other to co-conspirators here on my blog if you want. Get more clarity on some of the alleged wrongs I committed. OR DON’T. That’s not my purpose in writing things.
No, my purpose here is closure for myself. To have carried the burden of this hurt for more than 18 months has been a heavy lift from which I may never fully recover. I need to set that burden free now, in an effort to move on fully and finally, and this open letter is my attempt to do so.
I deserved to be treated better, A, and I’m disappointed you couldn’t muster the courage and loyalty to do so.
To the woman who said she wanted to mentor me while trash-talking me in emails to others:
When The TroublesTM first started for me in March 2022, I was at a loss to understand how I’d so thoroughly misjudged the previous several years. But once I started tracing the incomplete or misleading allegations levied against me, I noticed that they all seemed to have one person involved. It was you, K, and that’s when I knew that the insistent texts you’d sent me over our year together in [organization redacted] leadership were — charitably — disingenuous.
For example, on March 22, 2022, you texted me this (using voice-to-text technology, so there were some typos and weird translations):
Hi! I heard that you were not planning on running for [leadership office redacted] again. I hope that’s just a choice based on bigger and better things you have in store. And I completely respect that. You do an amazing job at it, and I just wanted to let you know that. Not a text to convince you one way or another. I just wanted you to know how great to know you are in this position and respect the decision you would make either way. And I am driving and using speech to text so if anything comes out wonky or weird, that’s why! Lol!
When I replied that I wasn’t sure it made sense to run for reelection given The TroublesTM , you said:
Interesting. I would not think you would be 12 make a decision like that expecting a negative outcome. I don’t think my text is coming out the way that I mean it to I guess I am saying I would think you would be one to press on with optimism knowing that one thing or the other could happen, but not letting the unknown stop you. I still don’t think that’s coming out right, but I’m meaning it in a positive way. Lol and the 12 up there from Siri is one to. I’m driving.
In another instance, I reached out to you (because you’d INSISTED I could come to you) and said I was confused because my peer committee chair had implied that I wasn’t doing a good job in my leadership office. You wrote on March 5, 2022:
Ok. Hmmmmmmm, it’s not in a context of you not doing a good job as the [office redacted], as in not doing the work, I can promise you that. From his lens, since he’s a [office redacted] maybe he’s referring to “being in a leadership role” as a [organization redacted] officer. (emphasis added)
In response to an email I’d sent worrying about the whiplash I was experiencing when my peer committee chair went from an ENTHUSIASTIC yes on my tenure to a leaning towards no, you wrote on February 28, 2022:
I think it’s unlikely one thing in 48 hours could turn someone’s opinion. Recommendations for (or not) are formed during years and years of work on both the mentor and mentee.
This, despite the fact that in emails to my supervisors, my peer committee chair, and others, you were writing things like:
- “If there are any nails in a coffin, Liz put them there.”
- “To know there is this much angst and stress and energy and time in this, right now, is a prime example of exactly the mess she passively aggressively makes and leaves behind for others to clean up.”
- “She will continue to do what she does, but to a grater [sic] degree being tenured and ruining [organization redacted] to name two.”
- “She railroads her own agenda.”
- “I don’t think you need to say what [dean] is going to say because it sounds like a conspiracy.”
- (in response to an email I sent my supervisors, which they forwarded you) “Sigh. We can waste more time on this at your convenience. Bahahahhahahahahhaha!”
- (in response to another email I sent my supervisors, which they forwarded you) “I am taking some blood pressure meds through an IV now, then I will reply.”
I know you wrote these things because the Freedom of Information Act makes all state emails public domain. I requested the emails to/from a few people around the time of The TroublesTM, and your messages were part of what I got back. I read them only recently… and to say that I was betrayed is a vast understatement.
You have built your reputation on your apparent kindness, your grace, and your compassionate honesty. But you gave me exactly none of those things, K. Instead, you plied me with messages that seemed to drip with honey but were really traps to weave yourself into my work relationships. At every moment there was an issue, you were there, behind the scenes, coaching the people who were punishing me in disproportionate and disparate ways. You never saw me for who I really was, even as you told me, over and over, how talented I am and how I was destined to do great things. It reminds me of the phenomenon of love bombing, a tactic that often comes along with abusive relationship dynamics. I’m not calling you abusive, but your style of communication certainly (now) feels like little bombs of purported (but not actual) love.
You talked in emails about how I wouldn’t let things go, how I got fixated on an issue and made it about my agenda. You told me that you couldn’t act on information people told me—then, when I told them to share it with you, you accused me of fomenting a rebellion. You didn’t say these things to me, of course, all behind my back — evidence, I hope you can see, of accusing me of behaviors you were actually engaging in yourself.
You betrayed my trust more deeply than anyone else in this situation–and I say that because it feels calculated, meticulous, and ongoing. I can only imagine how you’d portray this letter if I sent it privately. You’ve proven you are not to be believed or trusted. Your word means nothing if it’s private. You’re just as likely to say something completely contradictory to someone else, so long as you appear to be the trusted confidant of absolutely everyone.
This letter is for my benefit, not yours. I don’t even know if you’ll ever read it, though I hope you do. I have been carrying this heavy load of anger and betrayal and deep, deep sadness for 18 months. I’ve moved on, and this public letter is my way of letting all those emotions free into the realm of the internet.
I deserved to be treated better, K, and I did not deserve the horrible deception and betrayal you gave me. Coldness would’ve been kinder than the fake warmth you bathed me in.