PA Ponders Trends in Drug Use

After two major responses to student use of hard drugs on campus during Fall Term, students, faculty and administrators are looking to further investigate the significance of these events and trends of substance use at Andover. In mid-November, under the non-disciplinary sanctuary policy, the actions of seven female students were brought to the attention of medical authorities. After room searches and private conversations with health officials, four of the students, two Uppers and two Seniors, took medical leaves of absence for the remainder of the school year. In October, three students, two Senior girls and an Upper boy, were arrested on cocaine charges in the town of Andover. In spite of these events, Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, said, “While these incidents have raised questions in my mind…I have no reason to believe that there is a spike in substance use.” Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students, agreed that students should not rush to judgment. He said, “I think disciplining oneself to let things settle a bit and finding out as much as you can about it and having a measured, informed response versus something knee-jerk is a better idea.” However, Hoyt said that the responses to drug use did change the community. “I do think we need to not let this go as just some bad thing that happened and we’re back to regular life, because it’s now a part of who we are.” The Blue Book explains the sanctuary policy as “a measure that encourages students to seek professional help in situations involving illicit drugs or alcohol.” Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, said, “[Disciplinary action and medical recommendations] do not happen without having students cross certain thresholds … when this happens, it is not a good place to be.” Follow-up discussions regarding trends in substance use will be on the minds of many community members in the next few months. “We are interested in exploring the possible link between gender and substance use,” Sykes said. Hoyt raised questions such as, “Why is it that in this case it seemed to be all girls? Why was it Uppers and Seniors? Why the particular substances that were involved? Why the dorms that were involved? Why this time of year?” Lisa Joel, Abbot Cluster Dean, said that events of this past term are really “a call to action” and have prompted the Deans to find out more specifics of these behaviors. She continued, “These events are particularly concerning because they go to the core of the safety of our community. [These actions] really bring drug use to the forefront and give both kids and adults the opportunity to discuss important aspects of use and abuse.” Clyfe Beckwith, Flagstaff Cluster Dean, said, “I consider [the incidents] shocking, I suppose. We haven’t dealt with this many events per say. But as far as surveys and what students tell us, we’re right around that two percent mark [engaged in substance use].” “I don’t think [these events] have been blips on the radar. I don’t think [substance use] has gotten worse or any better than it has been. It’s just been more in your face. Now we can put a face or identity to these events, and that’s what causes this big uproar,” he added. Thor Shannon ’09, DC Rep for West Quad North, said, “I would like to see the school continue to think about these matters beyond this term, which I think will happen, but also I think a lot of this is up to students who may have known people doing these kind of things that can jeopardize the safety of our campus.” Joel also explained some of the challenges discipline creates for students. “Kids sometimes are reluctant to help a friend, where the outcome can muddle a good decision.” PA is a two-strike school regarding most major rule violations, and the guidelines of medical leaves of absence will allow girls who recently left the opportunity to return to campus. Joel said, “Something that affects others, dealing drugs for example, requires immediate dismissal. However, when we come across a case where a student is indulging in certain behaviors that will only directly impact himself, that’s where the second chance policy comes in.” According to the current second-chance policy, if students are found to be engaging in life-threatening behaviors, such as use of cocaine or prescription drugs, they will be required to leave. Joel explained the school’s philosophy behind giving students a second chance. “In giving students this second chance, we hope that kids will move forward from their past behaviors so that we can welcome them back to our community.” Hoyt recognized the difficulty in striking a balance between being more explicit in the second-chance policy and being fair. “On one hand, [Andover] is a voluntary engagement. If you want to come to our school, we should do the best we can to make explicit what the standards of belonging here are. So, you could say, if you’re coming here don’t do [drugs and alcohol], do it, don’t be here. On the other hand, is that really fair and judicious?” Richard Keller, School Physician, said about the second-chance policy, “Students might inadvertently be encouraged to think ‘I have one get out of jail card free. I’ll use that’.” But, according to Keller, schools with a one-chance policy, essentially a ‘no-chance policy’, have similar amounts of substance use as PA. Therefore, Keller said that getting rid of the second-chance policy would not be a factor in reducing substance use. Joel also elaborated on some of the thinking in the DC process. “Consequences lie heavily upon how you respond to events or actions, not simply the actions themselves.”