Giving students the opportunity to voluntarily dispose of contraband material without repercussions, Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life, and David Gardner, Dean of Pine Knoll Cluster, conducted a “anonymous disposal” of Stimson House for contraband material last Wednesday night.
Residents of Stimson were asked by their house counselors to be in the common room for a dorm meeting at 10:00 p.m., and were met by Elliott and Gardner. The students’ parents and guardians were notified of the Deans’ visit to the dorm by email.
“Everyone deserves to live in a drug and alcohol free dorm. When we are worried about the decision making of our students, we will continue to communicate our worries with candor and care,” wrote Elliott in an email to The Phillipian.
Unlike the search carried out in Taylor Hall last December – in which Elliott, several Cluster Deans, and house counselors thoroughly searched each student’s room – Elliott and Gardner did not enter into students’ rooms. Instead, they asked the dorm’s five Proctors to collect all drug paraphernalia and illicit substances that was in the dorm.
Erin McMahon, a House Counselor in Stimson and Teaching Fellow in Spanish and French, said, “While I don’t think the entire dorm has a problem, I think it’s just a very few number of girls who have been abusing substances. But I think it was an important message both to those girls that we’re very serious about substance-free living here and also a message to the rest of the dorm saying we care about your choice to remain substance free and we’re honoring that by letting your dorm mates basically give up anything they may or may not have.”
Wednesday’s search of Stimson is indicative of a greater policy shift on part of the Dean of Students Office. A similar anonymous disposal was conducted last November in Taylor Hall – with a dorm-wide search occurring a month later in December – in Bishop Hall in February, and in Andover Cottage in January.
December’s full search of Taylor, which involved Head of School John Palfrey and other high-profile administrators in the decision-making process, was the first search of its kind in at least seven years, and resulted in the confiscation of illicit substances and other items of contraband in roughly a third of the rooms. The Taylor search, according to Elliott, was conducted in response to multiple infractions involving drugs and alcohol at the beginning of the school year, which McMahon cites as similar reasoning behind her dorm’s anonymous disposal.
“We had been getting various reports throughout the year from custodial people finding alcohol as well as just the girls in general,” said McMahon. “How much of that is rumor, how much of that is true—we don’t know. But when someone says like, ‘Oh, Stimson, they have alcohol there,’ we want to take that seriously. We wanted to make sure that if it’s the case that there are girls who have alcohol or any other substances in our dorm, we wanted to give them the opportunity to give it up anonymously.”
Shoshi Wintman ’17, a two-year resident of Stimson, said, “On one hand, I don’t think dorm searches are great, because I feel like it violates people’s privacy,” said Wintman. “But I also don’t think what Ms. Elliott did was horrible. As of yet, she hasn’t searched the dorm, and all she said was: Put in your stuff and there won’t be any repercussions.”
Out of over 900 respondents in the 2016 “State of the Academy” (due to be released in the May 13 issue of The Phillipian), 49 percent said that they do not believe the administration should be able to search an entire dorm for contraband material, while 51 percent responded that the administration should have the ability to do so.