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Letter to the Editor
dr. margarita curtis head of school
May 26, 2011

I commend you for the editorial on the recent graffiti incident, “Graffiti on the Koch: Shame and Respect,” and for your call to “re-examine our commitment to respecting the beautiful campus and community in which we live.” At your request, I am summarizing my remarks to the community at the April 26 school meeting and explaining my rationale for dismissing the two students involved in this incident. This is the first time in my five years at Deerfield when I have felt compelled to explain a disciplinary decision and to highlight the lessons we can learn from these serious infractions. It is important to remember that the Disciplinary Committee performs two important roles at the Academy: on a pragmatic, transactional level, this group of faculty and students decides on the appropriate disciplinary response to a specific transgression, but on a more profound, significant level, they consider how a mistake or a lapse in judgment can be turned into a learning opportunity for the whole community. This is precisely the reason we announce the outcomes of Disciplinary Committee proceedings at school meetings. These announcements are intended to affirm our school values and to remind us of the expectations we must honor as members of this community. I view these hearings and the subsequent announcements as an invitation to reflect on the purpose of a Deerfield education and as re-centering, morally-grounding opportunities.

Two days after the incident, we were able to gather as a community in the dining hall at Sunday sit-down dinner. I was due to launch the reaccreditation process for Loomis Chaffee, but I drove back to our campus so I could address the school in person. As an offense, the graffiti incident represents the very antithesis of what Deerfield stands for, and as such, I felt it was important to send a clear, unequivocal message: this type of behavior cannot and will not be tolerated at the school. The defacement of the Koch Center was a premeditated act with the explicit purpose of discrediting the school on a Second Visit Day and questioning the integrity of the community in which we live, study, and work. Unlike most other student transgressions, this incident had repercussions for the entire community, not only for the individuals involved. Personal anger and frustration should not take precedence over the welfare or reputation of the community. It was this broader impact that, in my view, placed this incident in the most serious disciplinary category.

Since Mr. Boyden’s days, the primary purpose of a Deerfield education has focused on the development of character, the affirmation of values that build and sustain community. Trust and honesty rank high on our list. While the enhancement of students’ academic skills and the acquisition of knowledge across a wide array of disciplines are paramount in any educational institution, in the end, all of this learning amounts to nothing if we have not taught you how to be good, honorable people.
As a learning community, we believe in civil discourse, in the free and open exchange of ideas. We welcome spirited debate in our classrooms, our dormitories, and every place in between. There are appropriate venues to express our opinions and convictions. Graffiti is not one of them. The anonymous questioning of the school’s integrity, and the accusations without evidence, constitute a direct affront to our institutional identity and our mission. The offensive language against one of our deans also violated one of our core principles: respect. While the deans must make unpopular decisions from time to time, their intent is not to humiliate but to teach, and to uphold our community values.

Looking ahead, I do think it is critical to remember that good people can make serious mistakes. My hope, as I said to the two students involved, is that they will view their dismissal as an opportunity to grow and strengthen their character. One of the students has indicated that he would like to share his reflections on this incident with the community, and I have encouraged him to send them to The Scroll.

-Margarita Curtis
Head of School