Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students, and several cluster deans and house counselors conducted a full search of students’ rooms in Taylor Hall last Friday night, marking the first dorm-wide search in at least seven years. The deans found contraband material, ranging from items in violation of fire code to drug paraphernalia and illicit substances, in about a third of the rooms, Elliott said.
The decision to search Taylor was made in response to a number of incidents involving alcohol, tobacco products and illicit drugs over the course of the Fall Term, Elliott said.
“Fall Term opened with a pretty public incident, where there was alcohol in the dorm refrigerator, and we communicated with all the boys at that point and with their families, to make it really clear that that was unacceptable and incredibly worrisome,” she said in an interview with The Phillipian. “We had a difficult case at the end of last term, and that’s the moment when it really solidified for us that we needed to do this because we were able to see some of the items that were being collected in boys’ rooms and that felt so problematic to us.”
Elliott also emphasized that the decision to conduct the search was not easy for her or the other school officials involved, including the Cluster Deans, Head of School John Palfrey and Linda Carter Griffith, Assistant Head of School for Equity and Inclusion.
“Our default is to trust our kids, our default is to protect their privacy, our default is to assume kids are making good decisions and good choices. That’s the way our system works. We try to have really clear rules and we try to trust our kids. … There is not an adult on campus who would like to search someone’s room. That’s not something we enter into with any enthusiasm or joy,” Elliott said.
Elliott continued, “But last term in Taylor Hall, there were enough rule violations and evidence of rule violations and ongoing use of marijuana, tobacco and drugs that made us feel really concerned for the safety of the boys.”
Palfrey wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Decisions of this sort are reached by the deans as a collaborative matter. Given how unusual the approach was in this case, the deans consulted me as the Head of School, and I fully supported their decision. The step to search a dorm is highly unusual and is one that no adult on campus wants to take – ever – but in this case, the deans believed it was necessary to ensure that all students can start the new term in an environment free from drugs and alcohol in the dorm.”
Will Hartemink ’17, a resident of Taylor Hall, wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Certainly, the search was uncomfortable, but I think it was necessary. Throughout my two years in Taylor, I have seen this dorm plagued with unbelievable filth, theft, drugs and outright awful behavior. This has to end.”
Elliott added that she had hoped that responses to previous infractions in the dorm throughout the year would limit rule-breaking and that the residents of the dorm were given the opportunity to change their behavior before the search occurred.
“We gave all the boys an opportunity at that point to clear the dorm of any drugs, alcohol, tobacco, drug-paraphernalia without any discipline involved,” said Elliott. “That’s not a usual decision, but we felt that was a moment to try to help them help themselves. We asked boys to call [the Sanctuary Policy] for kids they were worried about. Some did, and we’ve pursued those sanctuaries and tried to follow-up with support for those students. Typically when kids get in trouble, there is usually a collective response in the dormitory. The kids curb their habits. They figure out ways to be safer, and we were not seeing that. I think that was what was really worrisome to us.”
The deans decided to conduct the search over the first weekend of Winter Term in order to prevent any more incidents from occurring in the dorm, Elliott said.
“December is often the time when kids do make bad decisions. They don’t have as much work, they’re not as stressed, they don’t feel as if there’s much to lose,” she added.
Before the search, the dorm’s residents gathered for a dorm munch and meeting, during which Kate Dolan, Dean of West Quad South Cluster, and Nile Blunt, Brian Faulk and Donald Slater, all house counselors in Taylor, notified students of the deans’ decision and the reasoning behind it. Students’ cell phones were then collected but not searched.
“[Searching phones] feels pretty invasive. … We just didn’t want [students] to get into any more trouble if they try to contact each other,” Elliott said.
The search itself was conducted by Elliott, Dolan, Blunt, Faulk, Slater and Martha Fenton, Dean of West Quad North Cluster, David Gardner, Dean of Pine Knoll Cluster, Theodore Parker, Dean of Abbot Cluster and Matthew Hession, Dean of Flagstaff Cluster. In accordance with the policy articulated in the Blue Book, two adults searched each room in the presence of the student living in the room.
Hartemink said that the adults searching his room first asked him if there was any contraband material in the room before conducting a thorough examination.
“They searched my desk, my closet, my bed and all the furniture I had. They even moved the furniture from the walls and removed my bedsheets to see if I hid anything there, too,” he said.
Blunt said, “I am concerned about the amount of these things that were found; I am concerned about the safety and decision making of the boys in the dorm. But I am also focused on the fact that two-thirds of the boys had nothing in their rooms, two-thirds of the boys were happy for us to search their rooms and for us to see that this idea that it’s just a frat house in Taylor Hall is just not true.”
Elliott said that, although there were no plans for more dorm searches in the immediate future, she hopes to see a positive shift in the culture of the dorm and the student body. Both faculty members and students expressed a desire for greater dialogue about issues like drug use on campus.
Palfrey said, “Mrs. Elliott, the deans and I are very open to hearing from students about ideas you might have about how to establish a greater culture of accountability and trust at Andover, on issues of drugs and alcohol use and otherwise.”
“If students feel like there are outside resources they feel we need to bring in, or conversations that we need to facilitate or create … game on. I am ready and willing. I am happy to take that feedback from kids and partner with them and figure out how to support their efforts. That is what I am looking to do. I don’t want to be having more dorm searches. I would much rather be thinking about educational preventive, proactive measures we can make to make kids feel empowered and to make this place safer,” Elliott added.
Hartemink said, “The solution to drug abuse on campus goes far beyond our drug policy. I believe that we need to increase our support for students on campus … We need to organize student events that will serve as positive stress-releases as opposed to the addictive negative ones that some of our peers have fallen into. And we also need to watch out for one another.”