For the first time in recent history, Deerfield’s annual Sadie Hawkins Dance — usually called “Sadies” for short — will no longer match underclassmen and upperclassmen students in one-on-one pairs or “dates.” Instead, underclassmen and upperclassmen dorms are encouraged to make arrangements to attend the dance as partner halls.
The name of the dance has also changed to the “Halloween Dance” to better reflect the creative costumes worn to the event, which is traditionally held on the Saturday immediately before Halloween. By combining the event with the annual all-school Choate Day Dance on the night of November 11, the Student Planning Committee (SPC) is hoping to promote school spirit by combining two of the most highly anticipated events of the year.
Student Activities Coordinator Mr. Brian Barbato explained, “[The Student Life Office] has worked hard in collaboration with [Director of Inclusion and Community Life Mrs. Marjorie] Young and the Inclusion Office to make sure we’re facilitating a healthy environment for everybody. Our biggest interest is for everyone to feel safe, valued, and fulfilled at our activities.”
Discussions dating back to October 2016 drew together various members of the Deerfield community to share perspectives on the nature of the dance, including student proctors of the 2016-17 academic year, deans from the Student Life Office, Mr. Barbato, Ms. Young, and faculty residents.
Assistant Head of School for Student Life Ms. Amie Creagh stated, “[Concerns about Sadies] have come from students and parents alike. Each year they’ve increased in number, and this year, their scope and volume were persistent and undeniable. It would have been irresponsible to ignore them and to let the dance continue as usual.”
The previous structure of the Halloween Dance was driven by proctors pairing underclassmen and upperclassmen students of the opposite gender, with the older student picking a costume for the younger student and remaining a “mystery date” until he or she arrived at the younger student’s dorm on the night of the dance.
Current student proctor Bailey Smith ’18 recalled, “Sadies was something I really looked forward to. I thought [the mystery date] made the whole experience exciting … No matter who you get, you’re so excited because they’re an upperclassman and you’re an underclassman.”
However, this pairing system did not provide a comfortable environment for all, as Ms. Creagh described, “Sadie[s] sets up a dynamic where older and younger students get matched up as dates. This sends a mixed message about what kind of dating is appropriate and condoned by the school, and it fails to acknowledge an imbalance of power,” she said.
The heteronormative arrangements of pairs made strictly between boys and girls, excluding LGBTQ+ students in the process, were also raised as an issue. Finally, choices of costumes deemed “distasteful and inappropriate” by the administration exacerbated the perceived power imbalance within the one-on-one matches. Examples included a postgraduate male student and a 9th grade female student who dressed as a hunter and a bunny respectively, as well as the number 1 and a night stand.
Ms. Creagh wrote in an email to proctors, “To some of you, these may seem like unwarranted and frustrating changes. You may feel that we’re ruining a tradition. I understand. But I do hope you might also see this as timely and responsive. I know you care about your proctees and want them to feel valued and included.”
Although many students recognized the need for a more inclusive environment, some felt reservations about the changes. Joni Otto-Bernstein ’18 expressed, “I believe a compromise could have been made through dialogue with the students, most of whom acknowledge that these problems certainly exist … I hope that students will be consulted in the future before changes are made to Student Life on campus.”
Soo Oh ’20 added, “Sadies was unique before the change, [but] now it’s like every other dance.”
Mr. Barbato affirmed that meeting new people will still be possible through the pairing of brother/sister halls and attending the dance as a group: “We are not telling you not to meet up with new people. There are plenty of opportunities on campus … I challenge our students to get out of their comfort zones and form those meaningful connections.”
Sharing these hopes, proctor and SPC member Kevin Danforth ’18 commented, “I’ve reminded the people in our dorm that these decisions don’t change the environment of the dance, but just the name and the structure. At the end of the day, a dance is a dance, and a Halloween dance on the night of Choate Day—I don’t think it can get better than that.”