At the beginning of each year, Deerfield requires its students to sign an agreement that recognizes hazing as a violation of Massachusetts state law. In Massachusetts, Deerfield is legally obligated to report any instance of blatant bullying or hazing to the police. The Academy’s policy on hazing and bullying can be found on both its website and in the handbook. The handbook states that Deerfield is working to ensure a “safe learning environment, free from bullying or harassment, where all community members treat each other with respect and appreciate the rich diversity in [the] school.”
However, signing the handbooks is not the only measure Deerfield is taking to combat the issue of bullying. Particularly in recent years, the Academy’s attention has been brought forth to the issue due to an uptick in number of reported instances of bullying over the past few years.
Several students have attested to this increase in the severity of bullying and the subsequent response from the administration. A senior who preferred to remain unnamed stated, “Over the last three years at Deerfield, while I haven’t seen as many direct instances of harassment, I’ve heard a lot of hurtful dialogue in dorms, such as pressuring friends to rank the most attractive people in their grade and using the word ‘gay’ as an insult, and this rhetoric is often directed at particular people in a hall.”
Because of this trend, Natasha Leong ’21 has noted that the school has seemed to be stepping up its anti-bullying efforts. She elaborated, “I think the school is trying to do more than last year, and they are trying to address the problem because a lot of times when students are listening to serious topics, it goes in one ear and out the other.”
One of the ways in which Deerfield has sought to respond to bullying has been putting more emphasis on recognizing and preventing bullying in titled leadership positions, such as proctor selection and training. Candidates are asked the question, “What point in their life they have been an upstander?”
“Part of the criteria for being selected is that students have the capacity to, or experience with, intervening when there’s a situation that might include bullying.” Assistant Head of School Amie Creagh said.
Another important part of the administration’s response to bullying is its newly implemented policy where proctors are asked to investigate and dial in to make sure their proctees are emotionally stable as opposed to putting up an veneer.
“We are just really asking people to have a keen antenna about what happens in the dorm,” Mr. Kelly clarified. He added that the administration keep issues, such as what occurs in the dorm, at the forefront of the school as opposed to letting it drift as time passes and steer away from the big meetings and events.
Over the summer, Deerfield also updated the layout of its anti-bullying forms and policies. The change was meant to provide the student body with a better understanding of what options they had when faced with issues related to hazing and bullying.
“When students are looking for some sort of response when confronted with either witnessing or being the victim of bullying, our policy was written in a language that was hard to understand,” Ms. Creagh admitted, adding, “The policy hasn’t changed, but hopefully its accessibility to the average adolescent has.”
Ms. Creagh concluded with emphasizing how important it is for students to understand that in bullying situations, responding proactively and being an upstander, rather than just passively witnessing an incident, is paramount. She mentioned how the Student Life Office does acknowledge the potential ambiguity of the role of an “upstander” and stated that the Student Life Office is working to make sure students understand how imperative not being a bystander in a bullying situation can be.
Offering her own perspective on what being an upstander means, Ms. Creagh specified, “[Being an upstander] does not entail following expectations are but rather refers to how you meet those expectations.”