During the fall of 1984 I was working on my thesis with a professor named Professor Dean Flannigan. My thesis topic was somewhat controversial as I was using Modern Fiction in my research and drawing conclusions from authors of the times like Alice Walker and Flannery O’Connor. I was looking at the way family is portrayed in Modern Fiction as an indicator of the socio-political developments and historical dynamics of the time. It felt like the English Department was not altogether in favor of such a modern approach to a thesis, yet approval for my thesis topic was provided by the relevant committee. This was a couple of years after my approval of a major in American Studies.
Professor Dean Flannigan is a story in and of itself and one which I will not detail right now except to say I now feel that Professor Flannigan was someone who needed to be revered and admired by his students yet also considered a peer. This situation was associated with risky behavior including serving cocaine to students in his home and invitations to Chicago which may have triggered my illness.
For me at the time, this was a “me too movement” moment. While I was not physically abused by Professor Flannigan, I believe I was psychologically abused. Professor Flannigan without any training tried to psychoanalyze me through the thesis advisement process and perhaps even tried to make me feel unstable. This unwarranted psychoanalysis triggered the response of a six-year-old child within me that likely experienced child abuse. Professor Flannigan’s attempts to psychoanalyze me I call psycho-social or psycho-sexual abuse. They left me with exposure of this six-year-old child with no way to regain security.
Today, I continue have high disregard for this professor and for Ivy College given the behavior of Professor Flannigan. I also readily agree now that I was not mature enough to distance myself from his later “come-ons” and “innuendos.” While an excellent scholar, I was not mature enough to tell Professor Flannigan to go to hell when he started to make advances toward me. I was confused with feelings of respect I held for him intellectually vying with feelings of confusion and paranoia at being asked to travel with him unaccompanied to Chicago.
Immediately after my first breakdown, Professor Flannigan began to distance himself from me in an effort to secure tenure. This effort to secure tenure was after he and I had several thesis review meetings, after he invited me to join him on a trip to Chicago, after he tried to analyze my childhood on several occasions and after he tried to seduce me into coming solo with him to Chicago and after making zodiac references to me like “Scorpio riseth…” I had no idea what that saying was supposed to mean. I also had no idea how to establish a boundary with Professor Flannigan. On the one-hand, I thought he was brilliant and a brilliant scholastic role model. On the other hand, I felt his actions to seduce me (as I understood them) were highly inappropriate. But I did not have the strength to articulate this to myself much less to him. If I had perhaps been more mature myself, I could have indicated to this Professor Flannigan that while I revered his intellect, I found great fault with his personal behavior. Bottom line I was emotionally too immature to know how to say no to a trip to Chicago or to an invitation toward some sort of sexual interlude. I was academically brilliant as a scholar but not so much so as a student to a professor who consistently pushed the boundaries of appropriate behavior.
Since that time, Professor Flannigan has enjoyed getting tenure at Ivy College and has secured virtually unprecedented popularity on campus. I, on the other hand, have not enjoyed similar successes particularly in my professional life which has been hampered over the years on numerous occasions by my illness.