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Intimacy At DA
Amie Creagh Dean of Students
October 28, 2015

“The Deerfield parietals regulations have always been in flux. In order to create a safer environment, parietals should not be as strict as they have been in the past. Parietals are supposed to be safe environments where two students can get to know each other, but these strict parietal rules and “suggestions” make the experience very unnatural, and sends students looking for other unoccupied spaces, where sexual assault is much more likely to occur. Behind a locked door, or in an isolated space, the couple will be alone and no one will be able to hear, or help, if one of the kids is uncomfortable. This will lead to more sexual assaults and cases that the school can’t handle. Sexual assault is a very real issue that occurs on high school campuses, even here at Deerfield. Anything that can be done to prevent such uncomfortable situations should be pursued.”

DSASA (Deerfield Students Against Sexual Assault)

Administrative Perspective: Amie Creagh

This summer, I read David Foster Wallace’s This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion about Living a Compassionate Life, an address he gave at Kenyon College’s commencement in 2005.  I took from it a message about choices – every day, there are are far more than we think – and compromise. He suggests we wrestle with our default assumption that the world revolves around us and move to what he calls “the really important kind of freedom.”  This freedom, Foster-Wallace writes, “involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people.”

In private conversations and public forums about visitation, I’ve sought to apply this mindset, to consider and respect others’ viewpoints and to have them at the front of my mind.  It’s also my aim for this article, which called for an “administration” perspective on our current visitation rules. Framed this way, I worry the expectation could be for unwavering decisiveness, which I’m reluctant to provide.  For now, I’ll hope to share my understanding of our varied viewpoints as a first step toward caring for those who hold them and with the goal of folding them into any new policy we might create this year.

If we stretch a bit and see our visitation guidelines as an effort to support healthy, thoughtful relationships between boys and girls, it should be no surprise that each of us cares about and feels invested in this conversation.  Of course we all want boys and girls to feel connected to one another; of course we want to foster meaningful friendships and to support students in the early stages of romance and love.  Understandably, though, our community offers a variety of opinions about how to do this most effectively.   

  • Boys and girls who are friends want to spend time together without sparking hookup rumors.  Asking for parietals is public, conspicuous and creates gossip.
  • Romantic couples on campus – both same sex and not – seek a relaxed, informal setting where they don’t feel watched or suspected.
  • Same sex romantic couples must be “out” to follow our visitation rules.  Asking for parietals and putting a trashcan or shoe in the door makes a statement about a relationship.  We cannot force students into this predicament.
  • New faculty understand this issue is contentious, and they want guidance.  What does checking on visitation mean?  How often should it happen?  This is a unique and vexing challenge for those new to a boarding environment like ours.
  • At the same time, the very consistency clear guidelines might offer can also make exchanges around visitation feel forced and adversarial.
  • Veteran colleagues might balk at such proscribed guidance and would prefer greater personal discretion.  From their experiences here, they know the balance between supervision and trust.
  • Many residents and associates feel a new burden of responsibility for keeping students safe during visitation.  They are increasingly anxious about the risks and liabilities our current policy could present.
  • Some members of our community think sexual intimacy is inappropriate for high school students
  • Others think it’s a normal and predictable part of adolescent development.

How will we ever reconcile all of these legitimate, well-meaning, and differing opinions?  If we’re following Foster Wallace’s guidance, valuing each of them deliberately, thoughtfully and equally, will we be rendered immobile? I don’t think so.  In fact, accounting for these perspectives is our first step forward.  We should solicit them and name them explicitly.  They will be our foundation. But including these voices will require compromise.  None of us will get exactly what we seek.  We will not craft perfect visitation rules.  Relationships, love, sex, and our views on them are far too personal and complex.  Nonetheless, if we enter into this collaboration with “attention, awareness, discipline, effort, and care”, surely the result will be a policy that helps to cultivate the lasting relationships that have – and always will – characterize the Deerfield experience.

Part II: Faculty Perspective