Student Leaders Organize Forum on Prom Policy Changes

The Student Body and Cluster Co-Presidents organized a forum on December 16 in response to the announcement made on December 15 by Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, that Uppers will no longer be allowed at Prom. Students reacted to the announcement, circulating a petition on social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat.

According to Sadie Cheston-Harris ’20, Co-President of West Quad North, the Co-Presidents met with Elliott and the cluster deans before the decision was released, but had no input on the change. The deans hope to combat unhealthy inter-grade power dynamics, avoid scheduling difficulties, and make Commencement Weekend Senior-only, according to the Co-Presidents.

The administration switched prom from Thursday to Friday because many Andover parents can’t afford to take off two days of work to attend the Promenade, according to Abigail Ndikum ’20, Co-President of West Quad South. Cheston-Harris explained that the administration was concerned about accommodating both Seniors and Uppers for two days after classes ended.

“Another reason [the administration] wanted to move Prom to Friday [is] that they are taking into consideration that a lot of students, their families can’t afford to take two days off from work for stuff to start on Thursday so they switched it to Friday for that reason,” said Ndikum during the forum.

According to Student Body Co-President Sebastian Romero ’20, Elliott stressed during their meeting that the power dynamic between Uppers and Seniors can make younger students feel coerced into going to Prom. Though there is an expectation to ask someone privately to Prom before any public gesture, known as a Promposal, some students have not followed this standard, according to Student Body Co-President Shahinda Bahnasy ’20.

“In the past, there have been several situations, even before we were here as Seniors, where this thing happens, the routine disrespectful dynamic between Seniors and Uppers. It’s a trend at this point. This is what the Deans and Ms. Elliott recognize because they’ve been here for so long… After time and time again, if [students] aren’t following [standards], [the administration] has to do something about it and that something has turned into banishing everyone who’s not a Senior,” said Bahnasy.

According to Chi Igbokwe ’21, the administration has not done enough to combat power dynamics to merit the ultimate decision of banning Uppers from Prom.

“I think it’s really disrespectful to minimize the issues of toxic prom-askings to a Senior-Upper issue. If a Senior asks an Upper and puts them on the spot to go to Prom, it’s not that the person’s a Senior, it’s because that person’s a [expletive]. The administration has not set any sort of actual precedent to punish those people, but they want to make decisions like this and I just think they haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the things that happen on this campus,” said Igbokwe during the forum.

One reason that the policy change is being enacted this year is the recent appointment of the 16th Head of School, Dr. Raynard Kington. According to Cheston-Harris, the administration didn’t want the Prom rule change to be Kington’s first major decision as Head of School.

According to Bahnasy, the policy decision wasn’t communicated to students in the way that the Co-Presidents had asked. Cheston-Harris said that she was surprised when she saw the email, as she believed that there would be more transparency of the issues they had discussed previously during their meeting with the Deans on Sunday.

The Co-Presidents are currently brainstorming ideas for another event that would involve both Uppers and Seniors, according to Cheston-Harris. This event would most likely occur during the last week of school, which would allow Uppers and Seniors the chance to say goodbye before Uppers leave campus.

According to Violet Enes ’21, the Prom rule change limits the amount of time she can spend with her Senior friends at Andover. Because of this, Enes believes that Andover’s values don’t seem to correspond with this new policy.

“[The removal of Uppers] kind of implies that we are all separate from each other. If Andover preaches so much about how we’re a community and how much grades should be able to communicate and be really open with each other, none of this is lining up with what the school supposedly believes,” said Enes during the forum.

Salvador Gomez ’21 believes that the trends of unhealthy power dynamics of previous classes shouldn’t influence policy changes that affect current classes.

“The Upper class, the Class of [2021] in this case, should not be punished for the failures of the Seniors from previous classes. We’re the ones getting banished… I don’t see how banishing us from prom is helping the students upholding expectations in the future,” said Gomez.

Although the Deans are unlikely to change their position on the changes, Romero believes that if the student body really wants change, they can send a unified message to the administration and possibly change the policy for future classes.

“[The way to address this issue is] to promote affirmative consent around promposals, get everyone to sign on it [and send the message that] we’re going to promote affirmative consent so we’re upholding standards… If all of us sign on on something like that, that is the way we can change it. We can’t change it by going in there and yelling at [the Deans],” said Romero.

Grace Hitchcock ’20, Co-President of Abbot, believes that this decision can provide as a jumping off point to enacting change on campus.

Hitchcock said, “I think that perhaps if we look at it a bit differently and don’t look at this as an exclusive solution to the problem and instead look at it as a very public jumping off point, this is something that the Uppers in the room can run with and use as a starting point to facilitate actual and tangible change on consent and power dynamics on campus.”

Editor’s Note: Shahinda Bahnasy ’20 is a Photo Editor for The Phillipian.