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Students Criticize Our Disciplinary Process
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March 9, 2016
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Nate Chong ’17:

DCs are very much like 800-pound grizzly bears. You know they exist, maybe you’ve heard stories, but you sure as hell hope that you’ll never come face to face with one.

From personal experience, and judging by the general sentiment of those who have sat before the Disciplinary Committee, the fear-factor lies not with the matter of facing consequences, but rather with the amount of ambiguity and suspense that surrounds the punishment. I have faith that, as a cohort of mature young adults, the Deerfield community understands the need for repercussions and consequences. It is when these consequences are not clearly prescribed to corresponding infractions that we wonder and postulate on the extent of our punishment. The lack of information available for students regarding the specifics of disciplinary responses leads to a guessing game that borders on neurosis. Such speculations only worsen the mental stress that is placed on the student.

Valerie Ma '17

Valerie Ma ’17

Another aspect of DCs that is surrounded with contention is the amount of time that elapses between being informed of a hearing, the actual hearing itself, and the release of the verdict reached by the committee. Expecting a student to continue life at The Academy under the pretense that nothing has happened, when they have a DC scheduled in two to three days time is unfair. The amount of mental and emotional tax that such suspense places on a student is detrimental, and it is unrealistic to expect them to perform at regular standards while facing such circumstances. At the same time, no one wants to ask a teacher for an extension because of being “stressed about their DC.” Clearly, this would be uncomfortable for both parties. That is why I feel that DCs should be processed as quickly as possible. The emotional stress placed upon students between the time they find out about their DC and the delivered response should not be treated as part of the punishment, and thus should be as minimized as possible.

Disciplinary responses to infractions of the rulebook are something that any established institution needs to uphold in order to respect the values and standards to which we set ourselves. However, let us remember that, like any aspect of Deerfield life, the disciplinary process retains “education” as its end goal. Let us strive to keep it that way.

Nhyira Asante ’16:

I am, unfortunately, personally acquainted with the disciplinary process here at Deerfield. My sophomore fall, I, along with another female student, was DCed for violating Deerfield’s open flame policy. After the incident, I met with a member of the administration who was quick to assure me that I would not be meeting in front of the Disciplinary Committee, despite rumors flying around that indicated the exact opposite. I chose to believe the representative of the administration, trusting that person to have a better understanding of my disciplinary status than my peers did.

Soon after, however, I received an email with the details of the time and place of my hearing, and I was forced to accept that the rumors I had heard were more accurate than the information coming from the administration: I was being DCed. I don’t know why the representative misled me; maybe it was to get me to tell the truth, maybe the person was unfamiliar with the process, or maybe the person genuinely didn’t know that I would be getting DCed, but that untruth ultimately destroyed any confidence I had previously had in the Deerfield disciplinary system. I wasn’t really upset because of the DC itself, having accepted it as a consequence of violating the rules, but I was upset because I had been led to believe something that wasn’t true. At the time, it felt like a callous manipulation, the sort of manipulation used on criminals who commit serious crimes—and I knew that whatever I was, I was definitely not a criminal.

I have heard this critique of the disciplinary system time and time again: reports of students being deliberately misled, or being made to feel like criminals instead of members of the Deerfield community, when they simply made a mistake. To err is human, and sometimes the disciplinary process seems to punish students simply for being human. I am not excusing my own actions, nor am I excusing the actions of those members of the community who have violated the rules, but I am criticizing the culture around disciplinary hearings—the culture that often results in rumours and distrust and that diminishes the communal harmony of our campus.

This culture is further reinforced when the administration DCs students based on the word of other students. A lot of the resentment relating to the disciplinary process stems from the perception that the administration DCs students based on malicious reports from other students, otherwise known as narcing. This perception creates an environment of wariness and discomfort within the student body, and also leads to certain students being ostracised in the wake of disciplinary hearings, neither of which are good for the cohesiveness of our community. To help with this, a fellow Deerfield student  has suggested that student reports should be placed under the category of “community concern,” rather than that of a formal DC; this way, students who are genuinely concerned about their peers would be more comfortable sharing their concerns with adults in the community, and those students who “narc” on other students in order to hurt them rather than help them would be unsuccessful. I genuinely believe that this is one way in which the administration could promote both inter-student and student-administration trust.

In my four years here, I have seen an erosion of the trust between the administration and the students—students don’t trust that the deans have their best interests at heart, and the administration doesn’t trust the students to follow the rules. Both this erosion of trust and the punitive rather than restorative nature of our disciplinary process run contrary to the values we strive to espouse here at Deerfield: our values of respect, honesty and concern for others. Any society that does not reexamine itself is a society not worth living in, and we would be doing a disservice to the Deerfield community if we do not take a good, hard look at the way we treat students who make mistakes.