Looking for Evidence

Over the past few weeks, a number of students have spoken out against the DC system. This has been the result of rising indignance amongst the student community over the growing number of Disciplinary Committee hearings based on second hand information or accusations. Even if this is merely a student misperception, the system has not been able to self correct it. Instead the DC system protects the accuser’s identity and thus witholds incriminating evidence from the accused. The dramatic increase in DCs last winter raised concerns about the way our school disciplines its students. These concerns prompted Head of School Barbra Chase to host a forum in her home to discuss these issues. While the forum was a success, limited space meant only thirty students could attend. In hopes of opening discussion to more students, the Philomathean Society sponsored a second forum in Commons last Sunday. The second forum was extremely successful in bringing to light a number of questions that have been lingering in the student body. Although not necessarily the case, a great number of the DCs last winter were construed as being predicated on hearsay or the accounts of peer witnesses. Usually drug and alcohol related DCs occur when students are caught in the act, in which case peer testimonies are less important. However, in recent months, this has not been the case. Rather, students have been accused of infractions days after the violations occurred. What is more, when the accused have asked to hear the evidence brought against them, their requests have been refused. There are two explanations for these belated accusations. One, a teacher overhears a student discussing something that they did. Or two, a witness comes forward to testify about another’s guilt. Although in many of these cases the accused has been admittedly guilty, this practice is dangerous whether or not the allegations are true. If the allegations are true, the next thing most students think is: “Who ratted me out?” After all, when accusations arise days after the fact, it is quite reasonable to assume that word of mouth was the cause. A post facto system such as this breeds distrust in the community. Often students who had nothing to do with the infraction are accused of “telling on” their peers. This is a particularly abhorrent practice that could be avoided. If DCs were reliant only upon hard evidence that could be presented to the accused, then this would not be the case. It is not my belief that faculty use student testimony to condemn other students, however, we must be certain that this is never the case. If, however, the allegations are untrue, the situation can be even worse. For an innocent student to be accused of a crime they did not commit is an atrocity; not just for that student but for the entire community. This is especially true when they are not told of the evidence against them- simply that it exists. Unable to defend one’s self, one might ask: “Who has accused me? Is it my house-counselor? One of my teachers? A peer?” Although the effort of administrators to avoid lengthy investigations into students’ actions is commendable, a DC should never rely solely upon second hand information. Hard evidence is often hard to obtain; but nonetheless, it should be the only evidence allowed in the incrimination of a student. This is the only way the DC system will maintain its integrity. Students who have been accused of crimes in the past generally have been guilty of them. Making hard evidence a necessity in a DC is the only way to ensure the system stays this way in the future.