To the Editors:
I’m writing to share my experiences with Bernard Matambo, in the hope that making it public will continue to open up space for the kind of reflection and change that Sarah Cheshire called for.
Bernard shaped my time at Oberlin and my values and stances as a writer. He was my advisor and someone I thought of as a mentor, but looking back, the dynamic doesn’t seem like mentorship. I was trying very hard to be a close friend rather than a student, and he did nothing to discourage and much to encourage those efforts.
At the time, I felt a powerful kind of approval from feeling “worth” the phone calls, long one-on-one meetings at coffee shops and restaurants (never his office), and late-night conversations after class at his house. I brought him plates of food for awhile, ran errands with and for him. I worked in Wilder, and sometimes he would stop by to chat. Once he showed up at my house at 10:30 p.m. just to say hi.
I am grateful to Sarah Cheshire for her strength in coming forward because reading her interviews and writings has put my memories of Bernard into necessary focus. Instead of friendship or mentorship, I see something insidious. Each boundary crossed was a message that what made me worthwhile was not my writing, but my willingness to show admiration and care. It’s clear to me that that dynamic sets the stage for other lines to be crossed.