Holderness School In Need of Yet Another “C”: Clarity
May 16, 2017
I think any Holderness student jaded with meetings blocks and school nights and sit-down lunches would tell you that the fourth “C” in our time at Holderness is “Consent.” In the immediate aftermath of the Owen Labrie incident (here’s an interesting article written by a St.Paul’s alum evaluating what that school did/didn’t do), the school made an active attempt to evaluate and educate our student body and culture. It was absolutely necessary, in both actual necessity and in optics. But as I prepare to leave the school that I love, I am struck by the sour feelings I have towards the way the school handles teen sex. The efforts post-Owen Labrie seemed focused on the students and our culture towards sex, but to us it appears the school did very little in altering its own treatment of it.
There is a gap between what appears in school policy and what is practiced by teachers on campus. There is no formal protocol for how “on duty” teachers should handle walking in on couples. The handbook notes the school’s abstinence policy, stating that students could face disciplinary trouble or even expulsion for even legal sexual encounters. Yet no teacher, I hope, who has ever walked in on a couple in Team Room D ever suggested they face a DC.
The problem is that though the practice of teachers is much less severe, the policy of the school trickles down into student culture. Because of the system the school has set up around student romantic life, students have no choice but to sneak around, and even break into buildings, to deliberately avoid encountering other people in their attempts to be together. The school can’t obviously just encourage open sexual activity, but the grey space and indifference created by the abstinence policy leaves no institutions to actively protect potential victims.
With the way the school has been in my four years here, both before and after the school’s actions post-Owen Labrie, any student who could potentially find themselves in an uncomfortable situation is left without any lifelines until after the encounter is over. That is a problem. Imagine if the interaction between two students who had snuck into a locked Hagerman or Alfond turned dark. Of course, students should stay out of locked buildings, but there is still a blind eye turned towards that kind of situation. I don’t think they are likely situations at our school, in part thanks to the workshops we did, but we should nevertheless be better prepared to prevent them.
I know the school can’t not have an abstinence policy. Teens are still going to sneak around. But if there was clarity, there would be less shadiness in the culture around hook-ups here. People would not have to break into buildings. Students should, to quote Ms. Dopp, be allowed to be together in any room of any unlocked building: students should be allowed to be close with one another as long as abstinence is still being practiced. We should be allowed to watch movies in Schoolhouse without being forced out of the building. This allows the development of healthy relationships and reduces the need to break into locked buildings.
We have been workshopped and discussion-ed and human D-ed as students into clear communication in regards to sex. In the Owen Labrie case, there were more communication problems than the one between Labrie and his partner. The school needs to amend its abstinence policy to match its practices in what is and is not acceptable. Students, Parents, and Teachers should be afforded the respect of knowing what is and is not allowed and what the protocols are on Saturday nights.