Palfrey Addresses Sexual Assault On Campus

Under the high ceilings of the Cochran Chapel, Head of School John Palfrey outlined the importance of talking about healthy relationships and sexual intimacy in the Andover community during All-School Meeting (ASM) on Wednesday.

“We need to be courageous in talking about sexual intimacy and sexuality. This dialogue must honor each one of you and set you on a course of healthy relationships during your time here and for the rest your entire life,” said Palfrey.

Palfrey emphasized the necessity of mutual respect within a community such as Andover, in which students hold various religious beliefs, moral values and family backgrounds.

“Being excellent as a student [at Andover] means caring, respecting one another and being in partnership with one another – not despite our diversity, but in keeping with it,” said Palfrey. “This diversity means that you will come to any relationship with potentially very different beliefs about what is morally right with the other person.”

Although Palfrey clarified that sexual activity is not encouraged on campus, he added, “Some aspects of this topic are clear and obvious; others are a bit more complex.”

In the category of “clear,” he included Andover’s zero tolerance policy for sexual assault, Massachusetts’s required age of consent and the “yes means yes” policy that has become a part of Andover’s disciplinary policies this year.

“We cannot and do not tolerate sexual assault at Andover,” said Palfrey during ASM. “If anyone is unclear on that topic, let me know. If you are worried that what you engaged in is sexual assault, then stop. If you have experienced something that you wonder was sexual assault, seek help. If you don’t know what I mean, what I am talking about, please find someone to talk about it with, whether or not [it] be me or someone on this stage today.”

A subtle point he mentioned was that conversations about sexual relationships should not be exclusively heteronormative. Palfrey warned students against letting stereotypes surrounding different sexual expectations and power dynamics between varying genders dominate such important conversations.

“Everyone has a right to feel safe and respected on this campus regardless of your age, your gender, your sexual orientation, your moral perspective or your faith. As many of you have pointed out, too many students, here at Andover as elsewhere in the world, have suffered from unwanted sexual encounters,” said Palfrey.

Following Palfrey’s speech, Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students, concluded ASM with a call for conversation regarding sexual assault and violence, highlighting the seriousness with which Andover faculty is taking such topics.

“I know this can be daunting, but we are here for you. The entire faculty is gathered here and in Kemper as a show of our shared commitment to you and to your safety. We care about you and we will engage with you in these conversations,” said Elliott.

Also on stage were Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English, and Tasha Hawthorne, Instructor in English, both of whom are Co-Directors of the Brace Center and members of the Community Conduct Council (CCC), as well as Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director of Isham Health Center and Carol Israel, Director of Graham House Counseling Center. These faculty members were present to represent the faculty as a whole and to demonstrate the faculty’s support of students by engaging in further discussion on sexual health.

“In the coming days and weeks, I hope you will heed our call to conversation,” said Elliott. “In dormitories, you will be discussing healthy relationships, affirmative consent and campus resources. In advising, you will engage in the same issues. In your friend groups, initiate these conversations. On your sports teams and with your clubs, promote these conversations. As faculty, we are here to support you in these efforts.”

To open up more discussion on sexual assault, the school will divide into small, mixed-gender groups to partake in a workshop for both students and faculty. They will engage in conversations surrounding sexual health and maintaining healthy relationships on campus. These conversations will occur in lieu of ASM on Wednesday, October 7.

Page A7 features a flowchart detailing advised responses to harassment, stalking, relationship violence or sexual assault, sent by Elliott to students this past week.