Andover’s long tradition of Blue Key Head kisses was discontinued this year. On Tuesday morning, one day before Valentine’s Day, Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life, sent an email on behalf of the Deans to announce this decision.
The Deans wrote in the announcement email that there had been past members of Andover’s community who felt “triggered” by the tradition. The email listed these concerns as stemming from “the ways in which older students approach other students, the physical act of kissing, or the visible mark of these kisses.”
Elliott elaborated on these reasons in an interview with The Phillipian.
“We always feel like our priority is students’ safety and wellbeing, and we’re trying really hard to balance what some kids reflect as a tradition that feels joyful and fun and really well-intentioned and what other folks feel could do potential harm,” said Elliott.
In the past, students would buy kisses from the Blue Key Heads for other students to receive on Valentine’s Day. In addition, Blue Key Heads would give out chocolates, flowers, and “Extravaganzas,” elaborate performances that were unique to each Blue Key Head. In 2016, the Blue Key Heads modified the tradition to include an ask for consent for each kiss.
Despite the elimination of kisses this year, Blue Key Heads still dressed up and gave out hugs and candy to students on Wednesday.
“We shouldn’t take the ‘repeal’ of Blue Key Head kisses as a way to not celebrate Valentine’s Day. I think Valentine’s Day is a really fantastic opportunity to spread love in the community,” said Eastlyn Frankel ’18.
Regardless of the fact that he was still able to celebrate Valentine’s Day, however, Jeffrey Steele ’20 expressed his sympathy for the 2018 Blue Key Heads not being able to carry out the tradition.
“I know that they are very disappointed about it because they were looking forward to it. They had worked all this time to be a Blue Key Head, and they only get to be it for one year. This is something they were looking forward to, and it’s been ripped away from them, so I’m very disappointed,” said Steele.
Elliott clarified that the decision was nothing personal against this year’s particular group of Blue Key Heads.
“It’s really part of a much longer-standing conversation around our efforts to build a culture of respect and consent and inclusion and trying to figure out how to navigate and really move forward those efforts while maintaining fun and joyful traditions,” said Elliott.
Prior to Elliott’s email announcement, rumors had circulated regarding the decision. One student, Abigail Enes ’18, created a petition on Change.org to appeal to the Deans in order to block the decision. Within a day, the petition gained over 300 signatures.
“I started the petition because one of the reasons the Deans decided against keeping Blue Key head kisses was what they thought was a lack of student support, and we wanted to show them that this was a tradition that people loved on this campus,” said Enes.
According to Enes, some students have issue with the cancellation of the Blue Key Head kisses because they felt that there was a lack of transparency from the administration and faculty involved.
“Instead of having it be a discussion, it was more of them telling us what we were going to do,” said Enes.
Chi Igbokwe ’21 expressed agreement and fear that a change without communication to the student body would affect the relationship between the administration and student body.
“I just feel like this is an example of adults overpowering students… things like this keep happening where adults just make executive decisions on a student issue without asking the students what their opinion is, then I feel like nothing’s ever going to be accurately reflected of the student body,” said Igbokwe.
Kathryn McQuade, Instructor in English, said that she sympathized with the administration’s decision to change the tradition,
noting that the controversy surrounding the decision provides an opportune moment to begin a dialogue about consent.
“Anytime a tradition is questioned because it makes people uncomfortable [is] a great moment to pause and ask where that discomfort comes from. For many, I think the discomfort comes from the way the kissing tradition asks students to practice problematic forms of consent: saying yes to an intimacy they haven’t asked for in a public venue where it’s hard to say no. This is by no means a criticism of the Blue Key Heads nor of anyone who sent kisses to friends. Everyone involved in the buying, selling, and receiving of kisses undoubtedly has good intentions,” said McQuade.
Frankel hopes that faculty and student relationships would be given the opportunity to thrive under the new perspectives provided by the administrative change.
“I would also take this opportunity to think more about the relationships and the communication [students] have with faculty members here, because I think that faculty do a lot for students that students don’t see. I think students want to get to know faculty members better as well, and want to forge better connections and better relationships,” said Frankel.
Elliott urged students to initiate this conversation and to positively express their frustrations with the administration.
“I think this group of leaders is committed to engaging in that conversation after February 14. We’re working together to figure out how and when to have those conversations… I hope kids can figure out really constructive ways to channel their frustration and I hope it doesn’t interfere with their ability to enjoy Valentine’s Day,” said Elliott.