Ambiguity: The Administration’s New Weapon

Laws are inherently vague and, often, intentionally so. To many people, this is not surprising. In order to take into account the many forms in which a scenario can occur, when a law is written it is nearly impossible to determine how each expression should be used and what definitions should be applied in which cases. Core Blue, the abbreviated and “reformed” version of Phillip Academy’s Constitution — the Blue Book — perfectly models this ambiguity. Core Blue urges students to focus on growth and accountability, rather than the stress of expulsion or a permanent strike on their record, through the use of three levels of infractions instead of all infractions being major infractions. It is written on the fundamental basis that students will be given a fair opportunity to explain themselves when they make mistakes, the idea that they will be focusing on how to grow from the mistake, rather than the mistake itself. However, these  standards that we are told to uphold are written in broad categories that give the dean or disciplinary committee full agency to interpret based on ““impact, harm caused, and severity,” another set of obscure degrees. 

The lack of information that students are receiving through these vague laws gives administrators undue power. As students, all we are left with is the promise of equality, the pledge of protection, and the word of Phillips Academy. But how do we trust something that we, ourselves, can never fully understand? The ambiguity of the Core Blue violations involves two main dangers: one, it intrinsically harms students by failing to warn them of an offense, and two, it encourages arbitrary enforcement due to their call for immense interpretation.

During the meeting that took place before the Core Bue All-School Meeting (ASM), my dorm discussed the new Core Blue violations.  After we had gone through each level, the first thing that was said was not about how this new policy helps students feel safer and more protected, or how the system looks for growth instead of punishment, no. The first thing that was asked was: “what are we allowed to do?” The first emotion that was noticed was not joy or contentment. It was anxiety. It was fear. In an attempt to decrease the burden that disciplinary actions have on the student body, I fear Andover has only increased such stress. There is no longer any room between what can be qualified as an offense or what is admissible, and while that may be easier to enforce, it is not easier for those it is being enforced upon. This fact can not simply be hidden within the appearance of more reasonable sentences. 

Furthermore, in a system that lends itself so heavily to interpretation, it is hard to believe that everyone will be givenand I quote from Core Blue—“a fair and consistent response process.” Many of the violation categories in each level utilize the terms “misconduct,” “misuse,” or “harm,” which are all phrases that can be associated with multiple attributes that can not be measured simply off of common knowledge, attributes that, as I found out during last Thursday’s cluster meeting, the administration itself can not define. The administration seems to worry that specificity will give the students ways to find new loopholes, allowing students to argue that what they have done does not fall under a certain violation, but what about you, as the administration? How do we trust that you will wield this power with fairness, or better yet, how do we counter when we feel we have not been given a reasonable hearing?

It is true that I have not seen this new system in action. It is true that this system does have the potential to reform rather than simply penalize. However, besides the new terms and levels that appear to make this disciplinary system more centered around restorative justice, it sounds no more realistic than a pipe dream, a promise that can not be backed up. The ambiguity of Core Blue turns these violations into a guillotine that the administration can dangle over the student body’s headsa blade which they can manipulate whenever and however they wish. As a student, I can only hope that that doesn’t happen.