Students involved speak out, alumni reveal initial shock, admin looks toward healing
* Student names have been changed to preserve anonymity.
** The print version of this article stated that the two anonymous students cited had seen the reported message exchange that led to Smith’s arrest. The online version has been updated to clarify that the two anonymous students only saw a portion of the reported message exchange.
Until he was arrested Nov. 7 for sending allegedly inappropriate text messages to a female student, math teacher Evan Smith was primarily known as an effective teacher popular for his entertaining sense of humor, according to former students.
Smith was arrested “very discreetly” in his classroom during his free third period, the day after the student showed the texts to her counselor and administrators notified the police, Principal David Grissom said. The texts were “highly inappropriate,” according to police Public Information Officer Katie Nelson, who said “no adult should send such things to minors. Ever.”
Alumni recall memories of Smith before arrest
As they await Smith’s first scheduled court appearance Jan. 8, many who knew him have expressed shock and disbelief at his arrest. Among them is a slew of alumni including class of 2013 graduate Ray Wu, who said that during his two years as Smith’s math student, Smith was “professional,” “enthusiastic,” and “funny” in the classroom.
Class of 2016 graduate Athan Rowe remembers Smith similarly from his freshman year.
“His charismatic behavior would entertain the class, especially the students he came off as friendly to, often giving them more attention during class and hanging out with them afterwards,” Rowe said, stating that these students were generally female.
Andrew James, class of 2011, said he also recalls Smith taking female students to lunch. Rowe said he attributed this at the time to Smith’s friendliness. He said he does not remember anyone raising concerns about Smith’s behavior, as did Wu, who said he doesn’t believe Smith would ever say anything to a student that would warrant an arrest.
Student involved reflects on incident
Student Jane*, who is involved in the case as someone who was close to Smith, but was not the student who reported the incident, would have agreed with Wu, until she saw a portion of the reported message exchange. Previously, Jane said she had looked up to Smith as a “funny, amazing teacher” that she placed trust in. She said that Smith was the one who initiated the change in their relationship from that of a student and a teacher to that of friends. Although she always felt somewhat uncomfortable with his actions toward her, she said, she knew he had many similar relationships with other students in the past and trusted that as a teacher, he would never cross any lines. He didn’t, she said, at least not to the extent that he did in the reported incident.
After she saw the texts, Jane said she made it through the rest of the school day before going home, where she began to unpack her feelings of emotional trauma.
“I just didn’t understand how it could be possible; that this man, my teacher, my friend, a person who I had so much respect and trust in, was a sexual predator,” Jane said in a statement to Oracle. “I just couldn’t understand how to put these two sides into the same person.”
Others have experienced a similar reaction process to Jane, including Rowe, who said he was “incredibly shocked.” Though he said it was initially difficult to react because of his fairly positive view of Smith as a teacher, Rowe said that as he has had time to process the event, coming to terms with Smith’s allegedly inappropriate actions “gradually became less of a surprise and more of a click in understanding.” Both Jane and James expressed feeling a similar “click” after reflecting on Smith’s conduct with students.
Jane said she is still trying to understand Smith’s character and come to terms with the fact that, despite their seemingly close friendship, she never truly knew who he was. What she does know, she said, is that she believes Smith deserves punishment, yet she refuses to believe “that he was a truly evil man.”
“He definitely did have good intentions with so many other things in his life,” Jane said in the statement. “I hope that he is able to learn from this situation and make a change in his life in the future and get help.”
Community has mixed reactions, begins healing process
In the wake of Smith’s arrest, both Jane and English teacher Paige Price said they have seen mixed reactions, including positive shows of support for victims and a “disturbing” amount of victim blaming.
“I myself respected and loved [Smith] so much,” Jane said in the statement. “Because of this, I also understand how so many people so quickly jumped to his defense. But the truth is that the only people who know what actually happened are the student who came forward and the police.”
Another anonymous student involved in the case who was close to Smith and saw a portion of the message exchange, but was not the student who reported the incident, stated that they were sad to see how many students engaged in gossip, speculation, and victim blaming.
According to Price, it was not only students who engaged in speculative talk, but some faculty members also argued that the allegations could not possibly be true. Price said that the act of coming forward was “brave and courageous,” while Grissom called the students who came forward “heroes” at an open lunch conversation that administration held Nov. 14 to facilitate conversation about the event and help students process their emotions.
While the event was open to the entire student body and was advertised through an email sent to all students, only around 20 students attended. At the meeting, administrators fielded logistical questions and ran an activity for students and staff to share their needs and emotions surrounding the event.
Administrators including Grissom and Vice Principal William Blair also cited concern with victim blaming. Grissom said one of the many emotions he is dealing with is anger at insensitive comments made by those with little information about the incident, while Blair discussed personal feelings of sadness.
“I’m feeling heartbroken because I need to feel students are safe and we have a community,” Blair said. “I feel like we’re fractured, and there’s some victim blaming and things like that that make me feel heartbroken.”
Along with victim blaming, students have made light of the situation. Price said that the day after the arrest, a student wore a t-shirt emblazoned with Smith’s mugshot to school. The student removed the shirt after Grissom spoke to them. Students have posted jokes and memes online, some even using the hashtag “#FreeSmith,” and Jane said she has witnessed “many disgusting jokes about how ‘screwed over’ Mr. Smith got.”
“It just makes me, and I’m sure any other person who has been seriously affected by this situation, feel like I’m over exaggerating the situation and making too big a deal out of it,” Jane said. “I think too many people believed that the situation was being exaggerated, but the truth is, it 100% wasn’t.”
Jane said she thinks that the community largely overlooked that Smith would not have been arrested without probable cause, a point raised by Nelson, who said on behalf of police that “there needs to be tangible evidence to build a case, and subsequently bring forth an arrest, as was the situation [with Smith].”
Smith is currently on paid administrative leave under state law, and though he was released on bail after one day in custody, he is not allowed on campus pending a court decision. In the meantime, administrators said at the open meeting that they aim to help students process the event with the eventual goal of healing.
“Let’s fill our school with love and community,” Vice Principal Carmen Gomez said.