Changes to Prom Policy Garners Mixed Reactions From Students

Uppers and non-Andover students will no longer be allowed to attend both Prom and the Promenade, according to Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students. On December 16, the Student Body and Cluster Co-Presidents organized a forum [a]to discuss these changes.

This is the first major change regarding Prom attendance since 2007. Juniors were barred from participating in 2006, and Lowers in 2007[b]. Although the initial plan outlined that Uppers would not be allowed to attend starting in 2008, only now are Uppers prevented from going to Prom.

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

There is an expectation to ask someone privately to Prom before performing any public gesture, known as a Promposal, but 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.

Elliott hopes that these changes will make Prom more inclusive, less heteronormative, take social pressure off Uppers and Seniors trying to find dates, and generally allow Prom to act as a “celebration of Seniors.”

The administration was also motivated by logistics, which prompted the change from holding Prom on Thursday night to Friday night of Commencement weekend. According to Elliott, this will hopefully ensure more parents will be able to attend Prom, as well as allowing for a greater flexibility in Prom venue.

“I think for kids to feel like they could just go with their friends or with their roommate or by themselves, that should socially and culturally be accepted and embraced. That would feel a lot better. We have heard students who have offered feedback on all sorts of really traditional notions about this evening. In a community that wants to continue to push to be more thoughtful, more inclusive, that felt more consistent with those efforts,” said Elliott

Jessica Scott ’20 and Jackie Rossi ’20 highlighted how current Uppers are now able to look forward to their own Senior prom.

“I’m not that upset about it because I know no matter what, Seniors are going to have a really fun time and Uppers will have their time to shine,” said Scott.

“I’m a little upset about it just because I think Uppers are a really big part of my life here, but I also think that they will get their time next year. And it’s unfortunate that this happened this year but [eventually] it will be fine,” said Rossi.

However, not all students are on board with the new changes to Prom. 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.

Following the announcement, many students were frustrated by the lack of input from the student body for these changes, despite their intent to improve student experience. Raines Seeley ’21 believes this decision highlights a disconnect between the administration and student body.

“I know a lot of people are really upset, mostly about the fact that Uppers won’t be able to go to Prom, but I think that I’m more taken aback by the disconnect it shows between the administration and the student body, and what the student body seems to want,” said Seeley.

While Elliott acknowledges the negative feelings that Uppers and all students may have about the policy decisions, she hopes the community will adapt and recognize how the administration feels the change better aligns Prom culture to the school’s values. She emphasized that “[the change was] not meant to be personal at all.”

Grace Hitchcock ’20, Co-President of Abbot Cluster, 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.”

Elliott has spoken to some students who, like Enes, have voiced the opinion that Prom is an important time for Uppers and Seniors to honor their friendships and say goodbye. She says the administration will continue to look into the possibility of creating such opportunities in the last days of school, in lieu of a combined Prom.

“I won’t diminish or minimize how sad [the exclusion of Uppers at Prom] feels and that there are a number of really close friendships between 11th and 12th graders. It’s really hard when the Seniors graduate that feels like a breaking of sorts that’s emotional, that it’s hard, kids feel like the Prom is an opportunity for them to have one last time together,” continued Elliott.

Elliott hopes that Prom can help bring the Senior class together one last time. Recalling prior Prom experiences, Elliott’s favorite moment at Prom is seeing the Seniors engage with each other on the dance floor.

“It’s rare that at a place like [Andover] where our kids push each other and push themselves… that they let go and they really feel this lightness about them, their academic responsibilities are completed, they are really looking forward to this special weekend that they have been looking forward to for so long. You just get the chills. They’re just there together,” said Eliott.

While Elliott noted that Andover students will continue to feel strongly about the decision, she hopes that students will still be excited about Prom.

“That’s the aim, to take care of [the students], and do something for them. It’s not to penalize anyone. My one solace when I hear all the criticism is we will make next year’s Prom for the current Uppers, we’ll try to make next year’s Prom really special for them,” said Elliott.