Recent “Sexting” on Campus Spurs Response

Through various disciplinary cases this month, the administration has become aware of the presence of “sexting,” the distribution of sexually explicit digital material, on campus.

Although such issues are typically under the radar, a conversation about sexting has now diffused throughout the Andover community, prompting responses from faculty and Head of School John Palfrey, who addressed the subject in an email to the community on Wednesday.

“Andover doesn’t exist in a bubble, contrary to popular perception from time to time. Sexting is something that we know is commonplace among American adolescents. In some studies, as many as a third of young people engage in this practice and it would be absurd for us to imagine that it doesn’t happen to some degree at Andover,” said Palfrey in an interview with The Phillipian.

Palfrey reached out to the faculty early this week and asked House Counselors to speak on the subject of sexting in dorm meetings on Thursday night. Day student advisors will talk to their advisees during Advising period today. The topic of sexting was incorporated this week into the Personal and Community Education (PACE) curriculum for Lowers.

“There have been some concerns this past week about the transmission of sexually explicit images; therefore, it makes sense to talk about that, in whatever way makes sense in any given seminar or section in any given week,” said Carlos Hoyt, Assistant Dean of Students and PACE coordinator.

Palfrey is no stranger to the world of online risk-taking. In 2009, Palfrey was asked by 49 state attorneys general to chair the national commission Internet Safety Technical Task Force (ISTTF).

“We covered a variety of topics, but it had to do with social media and safety and kids, ranging from the impact of dangerous content and relationships with strangers to the way in which people can psychologically harm one another through technology. We looked at a very broad range of things and made a series of recommendations about how to address them,” said Palfrey.

As educators, the school hopes to ensure that students have the facts and, through helping students develop critical thinking skills, they will be able to make good choices, said Palfrey in the interview.

“I often think about pictures posted online or shared through text — even on Snapchat in an era of SnapSave — as being like tattoos. You may think they look good now, but they are likely to be with you for a very, very long time. You may not like the looks of them when they are visible decades later,” said Palfrey in the email.