There have been a grand total of four disciplinary cases throughout the course of the year thus far — a historic low for Deerfield.
To explain this anomaly, Student Body President Chijoke Achebe ’21 highlighted actions of the administration. “The school has done a great job keeping students engaged and happy this winter, and I’m sure that’s played a part. I also think that students realize how lucky we are to be here on campus, learning in person and seeing our friends, and they don’t want to throw that away by doing something stupid,” he said.
In early February, Dean of Students Samuel Bicknell sent out an email to the student body cautioning students to make “healthy decisions” and reminding them that there would be disciplinary response to violations of any major school rules. Mr. Bicknell explained that his intent in the email was one of “precaution, rather than reaction.”
“There is, of course, always chatter about ongoing substance abuse and other infractions, but the goal was to get ahead of the problem,” he said.
In an effort for full transparency, Bicknell outlined what students could expect following that email. “The presence of the Student Life Office will be heightened around campus and within dorms, not because we are aiming to catch kids, but because we care about our students and hope it will help promote healthy decision making, while giving students a chance to think twice before going down that road,” he said.
In the weeks following, three more disciplinary cases were reported. Prior to February, there had only been one disciplinary case.
Other members of the disciplinary committee have attributed this low number to the increased restrictions resulting from the pandemic and the toll that it has taken on social interactions. Crawford Rice ’21 said, “With zero school events and sports games, I would imagine students are less likely to consume drugs or alcohol.”
Nonetheless, Rice expressed that he feels dealing with COVID-19 restrictions has resulted in a broader shift in campus mindset. “Students have accepted the responsibility to act maturely and have recognized the importance of upholding their personal health as well as the community’s well-being,” he said.
After such an unusual fall and winter, DC member Destynee St. Agathe-Faure ’22 examined the challenges that lay ahead for new students following a year with little guidance on how to navigate the disciplinary climate of the academy. “Unfortunately, one of the many casualties of the virus has been the absence of close mentorship from elder students or faculty, which could lead to poor decision making in the future,” she said.
Last October, the school formed the Discipline Review Task Force to examine Deerfield’s disciplinary process and propose potential changes to Head of School John Austin and the Board of Trustees by the end of March. One of the main proposals for change that gained traction over the summer was the creation of a new disciplinary committee, DEER (Discipline, Educate, Empower, Reconcile), which would address identity-based infractions.
“Recently we’ve been focusing a lot on trying to make the DC more like restorative justice, so we’ve been focusing on the proposal from DEER… we’re trying to see what aspects of that proposal we can incorporate to make the disciplinary committee more transparent, consistent, and keeping more trust within students,” Student Council Chair Angela Osei-Ampadu ’21, a member of the DRTF, said.
Forming a task force was part of Deerfield’s 2020-21 Action Plan to Strengthen Equity, Inclusion, and Campus Culture, which was released last August. Osei-Ampadu explained that this was in response to the events of last summer, “arguably one of the most prominent summers for social justice and reform,” and she also expressed that many alumni and students have been advocating for the school to make some kind of change.
“I think that there have been some concerns from teachers that if we assemble a different committee, separate from the DC, students might think that DEER wouldn’t bear as much weight as the DC,” Osei-Ampadu said. So far, there have been no concrete changes made to the disciplinary process.
By the end of March, Assistant Head of School for Student Life Amie Creagh will write up a final report presenting the Discipline Review Task Force’s findings and conclusions. Changes to the disciplinary process must be approved by Dr. Austin and the Board of Trustees before implementation.