Aiming to address the call for Discipline Committee (D.C.) reform expressed by many students, Andover has created a Student Conduct Task Force to further incorporate restorative justice in Andover’s disciplinary system. According to a school-wide email announcement by Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, the Student Conduct Task Force will be an extension of Andover’s efforts to improve the current practices, policies, and processes in response to student conduct.
“As you may know, we have been reviewing our practices, policies, and processes for responding to student conduct for over a year. Last year, a cohort of faculty members went through a restorative justice training, we invited Dr. Fania Davis to engage with our community to share her efforts with restorative justice in schools, and we shared a proposal for a revised system with faculty members and student leaders last spring. This winter, we will continue these efforts through a Student Conduct Task Force,” wrote Elliott in the email.
Chaired by David Gardner, Dean of Pine Knoll Cluster, the task force will consist of a selected group of student leaders, faculty members, and members of the administration. Soliciting feedback from interested members of the community, the task force will analyze and review these suggestions, especially emphasizing student input and opinions. The goal of the task force is to implement an amended system by Fall 2022, according to Elliott.
“This group will present their thinking to the Senior Administrative Council, the Dean of Students office, and to the full faculty by February 2022 for consideration and feedback. The task force members will then present a final set of recommendations to the Head of School. This timing will allow us to prepare, train and educate our community in preparation for the 2022-2023 academic year,” wrote Elliott.
Nikitas Alexandrakis ’22, a D.C. representative for Flagstaff, hopes that the task force will create more opportunities for student voice and feedback to be incorporated in the D.C. system. As a D.C. representative, he has attended D.C. hearings, read over student statements and provided help to students going through a D.C. Although he envisions the role of the task force to be dissimilar from that of a D.C. representative, Alexandrakis considers the proposed impact of the task force to be beneficial.
“It seems very different—[D.C. representatives] are more reactive in terms of our involvement. We’re after the student who has already committed the violation, whereas the Student Conduct Task Force seems more for the purpose of students holding each other accountable so these violations don’t happen in the first place, which I could be really helpful,” said Alexandrakis.
Alexandrakis states that he has seen discrepancies in response to certain student violations and believes that continued student conversations with the administration as well as the involvement of more faculty in D.C.s can lead to more equitable solutions.
“Truthfully, I think they are at times inconsistent. Obviously, D.C.s and the reason why people are there and the very context of the situation—it’s kind of hard to put each case into its own category of punishment. That being said, I feel like I’ve both seen and heard stories of two very similar crimes or violations receiving somewhat different punishments,” said Alexandrakis.
Zadia Rutty-Turner ’23 believes that a lack of student awareness of the D.C. process has contributed to inequities in D.C. consequences. In fact, according to the 2021 State of the Academy (SOTA), only 9 percent of students answered that they have a complete understanding of the D.C. process. Rutty-Turner hopes that student-led education and activism through the task force can increase student knowledge of the D.C. process.
“A lot of students generally don’t get what the D.C. process entails. And those who are more knowledgeable about it generally don’t have the same negative consequences from it just because when you’re informed of a process, you know your rights better. But the D.C. process, for a lot of students, just seems unfair on who gets D.C. at the beginning of it,” said Rutty-Turner.
Newer members of the Andover community—Class of 2024 and 2025, in particular—have an insufficient understanding of the D.C. process. According to Arun Kapoor ’25, he has only had a few chances to learn about the D.C. system.
“I honestly have only heard of the D.C. board and process once maybe twice when my advisor was going over all the basic things we needed to know at the start of the year. I, along with every other student, agreed to uphold academic honesty, but I don’t actually know what will happen if I don’t; it’s just that general sense that it won’t be good. I think it could be helpful to know more about the process and everything that comes with it,” said Kapoor.
Aviva Cai ’24 agreed with Kapoor on the lack of opportunities to learn about what the D.C. process entails. It was only until the first few meetings of Justice Café—a space created to critically engage community members on topics relating to justice, especially with regards to D.C. reform—that Cai was first exposed to the D.C. process.
“I barely know anything about [the D.C. system]. I know that students get into a meeting with a team of students and teachers, but that’s really it. They should tell us more about the consequences of D.C., making the process more transparent so that we as students know what will happen during and after it. The topic was talked about very little until the last term, all the events and speakers, which was when I first really get to know about the topic,” said Cai.
Furthermore, Rutty-Turner emphasized the emotionally taxing experience many students have had during the D.C. process. Given the prevalence of stress and confusion associated with the current D.C. system, Rutty-Turner hopes that the Student Conduct Task Force can generate changes that would provide students with further support throughout the various stages of a D.C.
“I think a lot of people tend to feel alone when they’re being D.C.’d. I know there’s a student representative and a teacher that can support you, but there is a feeling of loneliness since it’s a scary process. Students being D.C.’d have already done something that’s punishable by the Academy, and just that feeling of loneliness and isolation—you can’t really talk to other people about what you’ve been D.C.’d for,” said Rutty-Turner.
Nigel Savage ’23 shared a similar sentiment as Rutty-Turner and expressed hopes for a reformed system that promotes learning and growth, rather than the current D.C. process’s reliance on retribution and punishment.
“I think there can be work done just to make it broadly less punishment-based and more focused on growth and try to learn how to grow from this experience and less on how to punish the student for doing this thing. Specifically, I think there can be work done on the college reporting process. Because there’s a lot of scariness that you’ve come this far and you just lose it all because of one mistake,” said Savage.
Similar to Alexandrakis, Savage expressed concern regarding a lack of consistency in the current process and noted instances of different responses for similar behaviors, especially along lines of race and class. In order to promote transparency and equity, Savage suggested the incorporation of a method from previous years that he believed was effective.
“One thing that was really really positive last year that I really liked was having a member of Brace or [the Community and Multicultural Development Office (CaMD)] on every D.C. hearing or case because a concern is certain people not having equal opportunities or equal outcomes, which was pretty cool. I think having a voice from those parts of campus balances it out a little more,” said Savage.
Savage views the creation of the Student Conduct Task Force as a positive indication of Andover’s efforts to further improve the D.C. system. He believes that instilling changes for the better in the Andover community will go on to create larger impacts in other communities.
“Andover is a leader in a lot of aspects, and I think if there’s a better way of doing things, Andover should be the institution that leads. If we start doing it, then Exeter, Choate, Hotchkiss—they will start too,” said Savage.