Andover Remembers VT Victims

News of the Virginia Tech shooting brought shock and sadness to the Andover community, including two alumni who are currently Virginia Tech faculty members. When networks broadcasted news of the shootings, the administration and the Community Health Team began to devise Andover’s response plan. Assistant Head of School Becky Sykes contacted the two Andover alumni at Virginia Tech, Ed McPherson and Susannah Rinehart, to ensure that they were safe. Both alumni expressed shock and grief after experiencing the disaster. In response to the tragedy, Phillips Academy held a Service of Remembrance in Cochran Chapel and the Phillips Academy Parents Assocation (PSPA) held a meeting about safety that faculty, administrators and parents attended. A miscommunication amongst the faculty and administration complicated their response to the issue. Initially, some thought that All-School Meeting would provide an opportunity to address the issue and hold a moment of silence. As there was no ASM that week, administrators devised a new plan. The administration encouraged house counselors to hold dorm meetings to provide a chance to discuss and debrief the tragedy. Head of School Barbara Chase was concerned with addressing the community when she returned from a trip on Tuesday, according to Mrs. Sykes. She sent out a school-wide e-mail about the issue the next day. The e-mail expressed regret for the tragedy and announced that there would be a service of rememberance. Mrs. Chase also encouraged students to seek support from adults on campus. Mrs. Sykes noted the importance of this support system, especially for day students who do not have a house counselor to speak with. Director of Graham House Counseling Center Dr. Max Alovisetti said, “No one [at Andover] would be allowed to be as obviously disturbed and disturbing to others as this boy was at Virginia Tech. If a student were at that level of distress, he or she would be made to seek treatment and if that were not possible [he or she would be forced to] spend some time away from Phillips Academy.” Dr. Alovisetti stressed that grieving or disturbed students should speak first with their natural support groups, like peers and house counselors. and then seek aid from nurses, doctors and chaplains if necessary. Although most students have no affiliation with VT, the tragedy hit home for Virginia natives like Liz Soland ’07. She said, “A lot of people from my old school went there. I was shocked.” To come to terms with this tragedy, many PA students, faculty, and staff attended the memorial service on Friday afternoon. As part of the service, Mr. and Mrs. Chase and 30 students lit 33 candles to remember the 33 victims of the shooting. Kaki Elgin ’09, whose cousins attend Virginia Tech, said, “The service was really nice. All the chaplains spoke. Thirty students, Mr. and Mrs. Chase, and Chad Green all lit 33 candles to remember the victims. It was so powerful, so emotional.” According to Mrs. Sykes, some wondered why the service was held as late as Thursday. “I think that it took us a while to really absorb the enormity of the event,” said Sykes. She added, “It was a perfect opportunity to have a service on the day that the nation was mourning the loss of those 33 lives.” The service coincided with “Hokie Hope Day,” in which people across the nation wore Virginia Tech school colors, orange and maroon, to honor the victims. Despite PA’s open campus, considerable student body size and college-like environment, most students believe that an event similar to the one at Virginia Tech is unlikely to happen here. However, students also agreed that safety is an issue on our campus. Guy Puymartin ’09 said, “I think we have better security [than VT]. We have the Shelter-in-Place drill. I feel safe here.” James Richardson, Visiting Instructor in English and Virginia native said, “You always [have] to entertain that possibility [of a similar occurrence at Andover] but the kids at Andover really respond to a pedagogy that is with love- they know that their teachers care about them as intellectual beings as well as emotional beings.” Also from Virginia, James Siddall ’07 said, “I don’t think it’s likely to happen here.” Andover students agreed that a strong enough support system is in place to allow depressed students to seek help. Siddall said, “When you go to college, you don’t have the same support as you have here…You have kids described as loners. People here look out more for students.” However, some students believe that intruders could access the large, open PA campus unidentified. In a school-wide e-mail after an outsider intruded the PA campus, Dean of Students Marlys Edwards encouraged everyone to report suspicious behavior to Phillips Academy Public Safety (PAPS). PAPS Manager Thomas Conlon noted the importance of this policy. Mr. Conlon said, “We always tell everybody that…we use everyone. Everyone’s our extra eyes out there.” Michelle Nguyen ’07 said, “There are so many people here that you don’t recognize everyone on campus. You might think it was normal if a strange person walked on campus because you see so many people on campus everyday.” Mrs. Chase, Mr. Conlon, Dr. Alovisetti, and Director of Human Resources and Risk Management Debbie Martin addressed campus safety at the PSPA meeting last week. They outlined Andover’s Disaster Response and Recovery Plan. Mrs. Chase emphasized that student safety is a major priority at Phillips Academy.