Den Temporarily Closed After Water Balloon Incident in Paresky Commons Dining Hall

Paul Murphy, Dean of Students, closed the Den from last Tuesday to last Wednesday in response to students throwing water balloons in the Lower Right dining hall of Paresky Commons. Murphy sent two emails to the Andover community about the incident. His first email announced the temporary closing of the Den and asked for the students responsible to come forward, and the second announced the reopening of the Den and that three students accepted responsibility. According to Murphy, three students threw five water balloons in the Lower Right dining hall during sixth period last Tuesday, May 5. As soon Murphy heard that students had thrown water balloons in Lower Right, he asked Cindy Efinger, Director of Student Activities, to help him close the Den. Murphy wrote in an email to students last Tuesday, “After hearing that water balloons were thrown in the Lower Right dining hall at lunch today, I have closed the Den until further notice.” Murphy did not consider closing the Den as a punishment, but as a message to the student body that inappropriate behavior in Commons will not be tolerated. “In my view, it is important to send a pretty clear message to everybody that this is unacceptable behavior,” said Murphy in an interview. He added, “I knew, of course, [that closing the Den] wouldn’t be punishing the right people because it would be punishing the whole school. It was never in my mind to be punitive, but instead to make a point with [closing] the Den.” The next day, Wednesday, Murphy sent another email to students announcing that “a number of individuals stepped forward and accepted responsibility for their actions” and that the Den would reopen. Brianna McCarthy ’09 was present at last Tuesday’s water balloon-throwing incident in Commons. “[The students] were throwing water balloons and they threw one at our table. It hit a glass of milk which spilled on me. It was bad because for the rest of the day I had milk all over me, but I wasn’t that annoyed,” said McCarthy. Murphy believed that closing the Den for a day was an acceptable response to the incident because the Den is a privilege, he said. “[The Den] is not something that is required by students. It’s not like we closed Commons and people couldn’t eat,” said Murphy. Murphy said that the fact that students threw water balloons inside of a school building, causing other bystanders to get wet, was the issue behind his decision. “I’m not against fun. I’m just against infringing upon the rights of other people to eat, walk and be dry all day,” he said. “I’m pretty sure [the students throwing balloons] didn’t target anyone. Some people just had bad luck in terms of getting hit or wet,” said Murphy. According to Murphy, the students involved in the water balloon incident received disciplinary action, but did not have to appear before a Disciplinary Committee. In addition, Murphy met last Thursday morning with the students who had thrown the water balloons, most of whom were Seniors. Murphy told the students that he thought that “people should be able to eat lunch and not feel like they’re going to be hit with a water balloon.” In Murphy’s second email to students, he also wrote that any “inappropriate use of [water balloons and water guns] will result in a strong disciplinary response.” This disciplinary response, Murphy said, will depend on the nature of the incident if one occurs in the future. “I think we’ve had a whole lot of patience with water balloons and water guns in general. I prefer people throw them at each other and have fights with their friends out on the grass when there’s nobody else around,” said Murphy. Murphy said that, rather than “try to figure out a bunch of rules for who can use water balloons when and how,” he would urge students to use their discretion with water toys. “Even though water balloons are just water, they create a climate which people shouldn’t have to have on this campus, which is, ‘I have to be careful where I walk.’ It’s not the school we all sign up for,” said Murphy. “[Throwing water balloons] looks like innocent fun until you’re the one who’s hit,” he said. Student opinion varied on Murphy’s decision to close the Den for all students in response to the actions of a few. “The incident with the water balloons shouldn’t have happened, and there should have been some sort of punishment. I think it was reasonable to close the Den because [Commons] was a new building and the Commons workers had to clean [the water balloons] up,” said Daniah Missmar ’09. Ben Morris ’11 agrees with Murphy’s actions as well. “[Murphy] obviously had to do something. [Closing the Den] was not that big of a deal because it’s a privilege. It worked [to show the students to be respectful], and people came forward,” said Morris. Emelyn Chew ’10 disagreed with Missmar and Morris. “I think [closing the Den was] a little absurd and unfair. I don’t think we should be held accountable for other people’s actions. It was blowing things out of proportion—they didn’t need to inconvenience everybody,” said Chew. Gustavo Tavares ’09 said that he thought that the administration overreacted. “Someone should throw water balloons at some school administrators. They need to cool down a little bit,” he said.