Shanghai American School teacher dismissed for sending sexually explicit messages for students: Shanghaiist

A view of Shanghai American School, Puxi Campus.

A very popular and even revered veteran educator in the Shanghai American School (SAS) has been fired a month, causing a cascade of disturbing allegations made from the teacher by former students that have rocked the SAS community.

SAS, among China’s top foreign schools, dismissed high school English teacher James Mikkelson at November after an investigation to a concerning reports regarding inappropriate relationships with former students. In a letter to parents, Marcel Gauthier, Head of School, declared which Mikkelson had made choices “inconsistent with SAS standards for ethics and professionalism.”

Gauthier reported that at the course of the investigation that was conducted “with the support of some strategic consulting partner specializing in ethics risks”, pornography was discovered on Mikkelson’s school personal computer and, more troublingly, sexually explicit messages which he had delivered to students were discovered.

A photo of James Mikkelson posted in 2007 on a Facebook group he used to keep in contact with former students, called “Mikkelson’s Victims.”

Shortly after Mikkelson’s shooting was made public, a site appeared online called “Survivors of James Mikkelson,” made by a former pupil who promises to be among those instructor’s victims. Within an introductory article, the former pupil writes that the site is a place for survivors of sexual abuse committed by James Mikkelson into “join with one another, share their stories, and have their own voices heard.”

In a remark underneath that article, another SAS alumnus enticed the website’s creator of defamation rather than only developing a hate page directed at Mikkelson.

About a week later, the website’s creator responded to that assertion with a lengthy article, detailing allegations from Mikkelson which go far beyond just sexting with students, including sexual abuse, groping, and sexual intercourse.

Shortly after I became his pupil, Mikkelson started explicit conversations with me about sex. These conversations happened in individual in addition to through text, email, and discussion. They escalated into expressing sexual desire for me personally and describing sexual fantasies involving me. While speaking explicitly with a kid about sex is in fact sufficient to constitute child sexual abuse, the abuse did not stop there. Mikkelson groped me in a school event. He delivered me explicit photos and movies of himself. He invited me to places out of school where, once coaxing me into a relaxed country with alcohol that he bought, he chased me in to doing sexual acts. He touched me tremendously behind the closed doors of his classroom, on school grounds, at the middle of the school day. He had sexual intercourse with me. I was his pupil. I was a kid.

At the time I didn’t have some adult characters in my life whom I trusted. Mikkelson very rapidly became my principal source of emotional support. He voiced sympathy once I talked about issues with my loved ones. He invited me to pursue my own academic interests over my parents’ preferences. He exhibited obvious favoritism for me personally at the classroom, that made my adolescent ego feel special and appreciated. (This practice is also referred to as grooming.) When he began to say sexual desire for me personally, I was uncomfortable and unsure of how to respond. I grew accustomed to it since I placed him in the astounding and na├»ve trust of a young individual. I could not have believed that he didn’t have my best interests at heart. I looked up to him and wanted nothing over his continuing validation. He might have asked me to do anything. He also did. He capitalized on my vulnerability and immaturity to perpetrate sexual abuse.

I’ve got more evidence than I could need for of all of the above mentioned. I have emails full of sexual content. I have chatlogs that show the painstaking and slow method of my being dressed. At first, Mikkelson examined the waters by dropping in a couple of sexual comments per dialog; a few weeks later, he regaled me with pornographic descriptions of sexual fantasies. I analyzed these logs lately in contemplating whether or not to reach out to SAS, and discovered announcements by Mikkelson that specifically admit a number of the sexual acts which happened between us. As relieved as I am to have concrete evidence of what happened to me personally, it wasn’t a particularly pleasant read. It was excruciating, not just because of hindsight, but since I am now a grownup pained by the knowledge that my kid self could not have understood, and didn’t understand, what was actually happening.

You’ll be able to read the full article here.

Widely shared one of the SAS community, the article attracted over 60 comments from former and current students discussing Mikkelson, his behaviour for a teacher, and the allegations made against him. When put together, these comments reveal a blueprint of a favorite teacher with his power and influence on prey on young female students, something which might have been going on for over a couple of years.

We have picked out some thoughtful and revealing comments, beginning with one by a former teacher who laments that she never spoke up after Mikkelson allegedly sent her naked pic:

Feel really sad and scared on hearing. I was instructing in SAS for many years. However, I must understand Mikkelson within my master course. He was also the workshop leader for UBD. At start I thought he was really kind and knowledgeable. And he included me wechat after which we start chat for a few months. At start we talked about teaching techniques and books. He also did helped a lot in sharing his own literature knowledge. Provided that subject leading by him become deeper and more private, he described lots of sexual information from publications and then his private life. He did it at a quite character way and seemed it is not offended while speaking those topics. He delivered poems and stated he wrote for me. I felt wired, but didn’t think further because we trust our colleagues. Then 1 day he delivered one of his naked pic in my experience and I was embarrassed and angry. As soon as I pointed it is inappropriate behavior, he was angry and immediately block me. I also deleted him. He seemed to be a rather kind and understanding individual, but he really is wicked. Then I abandoned SAS, never contact him. But my heart is wholly in pain on seeing this site. Hope that the survivors can be treated. It’s not your fault, since he is great at disguised and feign to be a terrific individual. I feel deeply sorry about hearing this.

Another man who claimed to be Mikkelson’s former co-worker in Italy years ago abandoned another remark:

I operate with Mikkelson in Milan many decades ago. He was made to resign after many female students complained about his inappropriate behavior. In Milan that the parents needed him put in jail. In China they don’t think the same I suspect. We hear about this in Italy and call things what they are. This man is a child molester. Nothing more needs stating.

A former pupil remembers accusations out of nearly a decade ago concerning Mikkelson’s inappropriate behavior towards his female students:

I figure it didn’t entirely surprise me once I heard that Mikkelson was fired for sexual misconduct. Back when was I at SAS nearly ten years ago, you’d hear small bits and pieces on how he had text a few of his favorite female students individually, give them nicknames, and of course that the somewhat creepy sexual innuendos he would earn here and there in class. Of course nobody thought a lot of it, in our age. More to the point, we were blinded by the admiration and respect we had for him.

I was among those students who revered Mikkelson at high school. I mean, revered. I belonged to that category-naturally literary, and awed by intellectualism, lacking a authority figure-over whom Mikkelson exercised the most power. Even now, he stands out among the teachers that had the profoundest influence on me in my whole life. Without doubt, if I were in high school I’d be among the very first of his acolytes to defend him, query you, and probably strike you on your claims.

However, I’m lucky enough to have spent sufficient time from high school that his air has faded. Time and experience let me see clearly that his brilliance wasn’t in his teaching-in fact, as I learned in college, many of his thoughts were from books and other sources-but within his acting. His ability to play the part of Socrates, the philosopher, the grand play of turning his classroom to a intellectual and moral academy-that by which his genius lay. Behind the action wasn’t a wonderful mind or soul; it was the predator you have exposed. I think for most graduates my age, it is not that difficult to see anymore.

I do not really think I have a point for this article, except to demonstrate that you have another person, somebody who once worshipped Mikkelson, that believes you. I can only imagine how many other people there were over the years. You are intelligent and brave and you have my utmost respect.

A recent SAS pupil describes that the “cult of personality” Mikkelson constructed to himself together with his loving students:

I am a senior in SAS this year, and I’ve just had Mikkelson for 3 months but I was definitly in his “cult of personality,” as you described. I recall when news broke of his dismissal, my fellow seniors and I bowed our heads and cussed the faculty for letting go “the single teacher who really taught us.” The following day, the school organized my AP Literature class to talk to the school psychologist and now I recall people were crying and shouting at how unjust it was that the school let him move in this public fashion, how our schooling is destroyed, how his replacement was dreadful.

Even I fell for it. I messaged him after his dismissal like several different seniors. Even then, I knew we just craved that piece of recognition from him. In particular, my message stated that it was wonderful to see “blossom for a leader” from the classroom. I recall I felt myself tearing up once I saw his message as I felt as if my schooling had actually no goal. This cult of character he has made him around is trly terrifying. Reading your website was like waking up from a nightmare and realzing I was.

I am truly disgusted at how simple I dropped for his scheme. I am quite horrified at myself that I thought it was unbelievably unfair that the school fired him or that people were turning against him. I can’t belive it took me long to see the toxicity of his behaviour, in how inconsiderate we were in never asking ourselves that the wellbeing of his victims. How can we move on from idolizing him as a “Socrates” philosopher? How can we get pass this cult of personality that’s influenced of our lives?

I am so incredibly sorry that you needed to go through that. No one, and I mean no one, should have to go through abuse by a trustworthy adult figure at a period of self doubt and self awareness. If theres something current SAS students can do, please allow me to know and I will relay this to my course.

A former pupil who claims that Mikkelson delivered her sexually suggestive messages a decade past:

I understand you said you are not looking for validation, but I wanted to discuss another data point: I think you because I might have been you. I understand everything in your article: that the favoritism and compliments intended to soften up me, the surreptitious petition for my contact number, the sexually suggestive comments peppered throughout texts and mails to check the waters. I recall my distress at my messages, and I recall cleaning that off since I felt almost grateful for his attention. I was insecure and hungry for recognition. I’ve just recently been capable of realizing all the forgettable manners he took advantage of that.

It never escalated past messages for me personally and I will probably never understand why. Perhaps he discovered a vulnerable target elsewhere – I certainly wasn’t the only student he was texting that year. It was an open secret, therefore poorly maintained it was almost a joke.

More than anything though, I wish to apologize. Mikkelson was my teacher ten years ago. Perhaps this would have finished ten years ago if I’d said something.

Another former pupil with a similar story to tell:

Thanks for sharing your own story. I, also, had numerous trades with Mikkelson during my senior year of high school, the majority of that I was seriously depressed. He was aware of the fact as I had numerous personal meetings with him in which we would just ‘discuss lifestyle’, the majority of which would finish with me crying. Sometimes our mails could creep into sexual territory or become uncomfortable for me personally, Mikkelson would often remark on how ‘pretty and smart’ I was and how everyone who was giving me a difficult time’d no idea what they were searching past. He knew I was exposed and I would feed off of the compliments viewing as they were all I had at that time in my entire life. Though this relationship never went past flirtartious mails and book recommendations until my sophomore year of college, I feel dumb for buying into his bullshit. The fact that students held him in their own worship is indeed ill and the superiority complex he utilizes to obtain ‘esteem’ was only a facade for his personal fucked up self.

James Mikkelson in better days.

In reaction to the blog article, several SAS alumni have composed a open letter into the school and community, publicly expressing their support to people talking out and persuading the SAS administration to “take steps toward averting Mikkelson’s hiring in other educational institutions.” Those alumni who agree with all the letter’s message have been invited to set their name at the Google Doc. The correspondence currently has dozens of interpretations.

Responding to enquiries from Shanghaiist, ” a spokesperson for SAS reported the school revoked Mikkelson’s China job visa upon dismissal on November 7th, and shared signs of his illegal behavior with lawful government from both China and the US.

Even though Mikkelson was in his 13th successive year of service in SAS, reports Mikkelson’s inappropriate connections with students just came to light in the school this September, added the spokesperson.

Before hiring employees, SAS states that it conducts extensive backgrounds checks, including FBI background checks and references are needed from previous managers.

One factor complicating the situation is the fact that the age of approval from China is 14. Chinese legislation also makes no distinction between a teacher and some other adult, school administrators say.

Profile image on James Mikkelson’s left handed Instagram account.

By contrast, under US law, a citizen could be penalized for having intercourse with a minor overseas. In the state of Washington, where Mikkelson is purportedly out of, teachers who engage in sexual activity with a pupil could be charged with a felony or gross misdemeanor.

Meanwhile, the SAS has responded to the blog article with another correspondence to parents and former students, informing them of measures which are being taken after Mikkelson’s dismissal, for example offering counselling to students and reviewing all of protocols related to child protection.

“We recognize that if the allegations from the site are accurate, then fantastic injury has been done,” composed Gauthier, the Head of School. “Know that we have done all we can to ensure that Mr. Mikkelson doesn’t teach again and also to warn our community from having contact with him. Our purpose is to get a definite plan in place and shared with the SAS community ahead of our winter holiday break.”

“We have certainly responded with terrific care to anybody who has written us on the subject of Mr. Mikkelson’s death and invited them to discuss additional,” added Gauthier. “To date, no alumnus has come forward and identified themselves. We stand prepared to support them and when they do.”

It remains unclear whether he has returned into the usa, or left handed China into a third country.

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