Gay Students at Deerfield Targeted By Apparent Copycat of SPS Letters

Eight Deerfield students last week received handwritten, personally addressed notes targeting them “based on their affiliation with the Gay Student Alliance,” according to Deerfield Dean of Students Toby Emerson. The notes, written on napkins, were sent through Deerfield’s internal mail service. Emerson said that it was “speculative, but likely that [the Deerfield incident] was copied after [the incident at] St. Paul’s.” On February 19, a number of students at St. Paul’s School received letters in their mailboxes with images of targets and the words “Bang! Bang!” mailed from Manchester, NH, as reported in The Phillipian. In response, two targeted students left the school. Additionally, the Concord Police placed an officer on campus 24 hours a day until Winter Term ended last week. St. Paul’s has now announced that it will match a Crimeline reward of up to $1,000 to anyone whose information leads to the arrest and indictment of the perpetrators, according to an email sent to St. Paul’s students. Currently, Deerfield is deciding whether to compare samples of students’ handwriting to the handwriting on the personalized notes, said Emerson. “Right now, we’re conducting a lot of internal investigation to get to the bottom of it,” said Emerson. “The investigation will continue and exhaust every option to find who is responsible for it.” “I think what we’re seeing…and what our Head [of School, former Phillips Academy Dean of Students Margarita Curtis] really spoke [about] is that, as a community, we need to support the students that were targeted,” Emerson said. “But we also need to support the students who wrote the letters, because these means of communication weren’t helpful to our community in terms of addressing differences … by sending an anonymous letter, it’s not opening dialogue about sexuality,” Emerson continued. According to Deerfield student Ellicott Dandy ’09, the school held a formal meeting about the incident last Thursday, when Emerson addressed the community and called the incident a “cowardly act.” Dandy said, “One of my close friends got a letter, and my first reaction [to the incident] was, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I thought we were above that. Everybody was so shocked; we just had found out about the St. Paul’s incident. The more I heard people talking about it, the more I realized that it was such an aberration from the norm. We can’t let these incidents define these schools.” Af-Lat-Am President Atima Lui ’08 was not surprised by the recent events. “I wasn’t really shocked by what happened because my work with CAMD has shown me that racism still exists,” said Lui. “Even though the letters were sent to another school, I felt like they were a personal attack on me.” Rachel Cohen ’08 said in response to the Deerfield incident, “I’m just so surprised that in an era where kids are comfortable being openly gay, we’re back at square one.” She continued, “These kids feel unsafe, more so than in public school because they live together. The community is very upset. I would feel very upset. These kids in these communities should feel safe because this is their home. If they feel people in their own home are threatening their own life and well-being, that’s probably the worst possible thing.” This year, these occurrences have become disturbingly commonplace. The events at St. Paul’s and Deerfield follow racial incidents that took place earlier in the fall. At Phillips Exeter Academy on September 19, an African-American girl discovered a racial epithet taped to the door of her dorm room. The next day, a harsh expletive had been etched onto the door of a white girl’s room. Exeter student Sharon Sun ’08 said that while the Exeter incident was well-known on campus, most Exonians were not really affected by it. “I don’t think it especially affected me or anyone else outside of the dorm [Langdell Hall]. It was a big deal for the dorm because they were worried that someone inside the dorm had done it.” On September 28 at the Loomis Chaffee School, someone crossed out the faces of six black girls in a photograph of all of the residents of Harman Hall, a girls’ dormitory. Less than a month later on October 22, an African-American student found an expletive on her door in Carter Hall, a lowerclassmen girls’ dorm. Loomis student Tucker Stone ’10 said, “No previous incidents would foretell that a racial incident like this would happen. It took the whole campus by surprise.” In response to the escalation of these recent events, Phillips Academy arranged last-minute meetings by cluster “to discuss some of the incidents that have occurred on high school campuses over the past few months,” as written in an email sent from Marlys Edwards, Dean of Students, on Tuesday. Linda Griffith, Dean of CAMD, said, “[The cluster meetings] were a direct attempt at trying to be proactive…We’re not immune, and I do think we take steps as a community to make our students aware and sensitive.” “Now we have four incidents that have happened in our backyard, basically, at prep schools. This is why we try to be proactive,” Griffith said. She continued, “The St. Paul’s incident was more disconcerting because it was [sent through] U.S. mail. This is a felony, and it was a threat—it wasn’t an epithet. For me, the big difference is [that it was] a threat, and that’s what’s also happening at Deerfield. When you’re threatening someone, we’ve moved onto a whole other level.” Andover has so far avoided flare ups like those at its peer schools. Griffith believes that Andover has thus far avoided incidents to the same magnitude as those at St. Paul’s and Deerfield because of initiatives such as affinity groups on campus, CAFÉ, the PACE (Personal and Community Education) program and the CAMD Scholars program. “What the CAMD office tries to do is help students feel secure in their identity and therefore be authentic,” said Griffith. “Unfortunately, there’s no inoculation against this kind of thing,” said Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students. Frank Tipton, Instructor in History and CAMD Advisor for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Issues, said, “I think we’re lucky to be a community that is supportive of all of its constituent elements.” He continued, “That said, we’re not immune to anything that happens, so whether it’s a question of how strong our community is or whether we’ve just been lucky, I don’t know [why Andover hasn’t been affected yet]. But I certainly hope that our strength as a community will continue.”