A Deep Dive into the Disciplinary Process at Lawrenceville
On May 13, The Lawrence surveyed the student body. Lawrentians were asked about their knowledge of the disciplinary system, current initiatives, and areas for improvement. Here’s what students had to say.
Introduction: Despite the administration’s efforts to increase student awareness of the rules and consequences for disciplinary infractions, each year, candidates running for Vice President (VP) of Honor and Discipline advocate for greater transparency and clarity about the process. According to Dean of Students Blake Eldridge ’96 H’12, “If you distill the handbook into three principles, the first is to be safe, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be honest.”
Overview of the Process: When there is concern of a Major School Rule violation, the student in question sits down with their Housemaster, advisor, and the teacher involved with the case in order to outline the nature of the concern and explain the circumstances. Eldridge noted that the majority of the time, the issue is resolved prior to its reaching the level of a Disciplinary Committee (DC).
However, if there remains a concern regarding the severity of the infraction, the Level Director or Housemaster may refer the issue to the DC, a voting panel composed of three students and four adults. The VP of Honor and Discipline and Eldridge connect with the student prior to the hearing to gather the information necessary to convene the DC.
Going into the meeting, the DC is given minimal details to prevent members from “div[ing] in too deeply and develop[ing] [its] own prejudgements,” according to Eldridge. Once the meeting commences, the student shares an opening statement to establish the facts for the DC to consider, followed by a questionnaire session and a closing remark. The committee deliberates, and once its members come to a consensus, they produce a recommendation for Head Master Stephen Murray H’55 ‘65 P’16 ’21, who ultimately makes the final decision.
History of Discipline: While the current disciplinary system consisting of both students and faculty is now the norm, just a few years ago, it was simply a far-fetched idea. Previously, the DC consisted of only the Dean of Students, the Housemaster, and the student. In his application to become the Dean of Students, Eldridge proposed the inclusion of students and additional faculty in the DC to increase objectivity. Pravika Joshi ’17, who served as the first VP of Honor and Discipline to sit in on a DC, said that students who went through this new disciplinary process “really did appreciate that fellow peers were able to share the student perspective to the faculty.”
Equity & Fairness: Despite having greater input, students feel that there are certain inequities, specifically regarding how factors such as socioeconomic status and legacy impact disciplinary outcomes. A certain lack of trust about how decisions are made has resulted in student outcries for increased transparency. Nicole Lim ’18, who served as 2017-18 VP of Honor and Discipline, explained that “it was inevitable for students to think the system is unfair, given the false information that circulates.” In addition, students make conjectures without truly understanding the nuances of each case. According to Tash Wray ’19, the VP of Honor and Discipline for the following school year, “A lot of times after a DC, there will be rumors…If the outcome of a DC was bad, people would…blam[e] [me].” Both Lim and Wray insisted that, from their experiences, the DC always aimed to be as fair as possible: “We tried to treat every case as the most important one because to that student, it was,” Lim said.
Based on student survey responses, 87.5 percent of respondent agreed that the administration should share more information in order to promote more student confidence in the fairness of disciplinary outcomes. While Eldridge agreed that addressing every disciplinary infraction openly is certainly an option, this solution would rid students of their privacy. For the sake of protecting student identities, Eldridge is “willing to accept that a lot of kids will be angry with [him] because they think situations
happened differently than they [did].”
Student Opinions: Many students also raised concerns about specific Major School Rules and the corresponding severity of consequences. 59.1 percent of students agree with the following rule: “Students on probation are not eligible to run for leadership positions and may be asked to step down from existing ones for an entire year following the initial disciplinary infraction.”VP of Honor and Discipline Makayla Boxley ’20 understands that this punishment may deter students from breaking Major School Rules, “it eliminates a portion of the student body from being able to pursue leadership positions, which could potentially be a waste of good leaders and talent.” Elyssa Chou ’20, a member of the Honor Council, echoed a similar idea, stating, “We’re a two strike school for a reason, so I think giving people a second chance also includes giving people the opportunity to lead and find the best [versions] of themselves.”
Another member of the Honor Council, Theo Bammi ’20, believes that allowing students who have gone through the disciplinary system to pursue leadership opportunities is in fact crucial to “creating diversity of thought and experience in these leadership bodies.” Boxley is currently in the process of proposing a policy change that would reduce the amount of time a student on probation would be ineligible to pursue leadership positions.
Future Initiatives: Looking forward, 2020-21 VP of Honor and Discipline Sunjay Riener ’21 aims to transform the disciplinary system into a more personable, supportive one. 75.3 percent of those who responded to The Lawrence’s survey agreed that students going through the disciplinary process should receive additional support from the school and relief from mandatory events. Riener aims to mitigate stress and anxiety a student undergoing the process may face by adopting a “no questions asked” policy, which would render certain mandatory obligations optional.
In addition, Riener hopes to further integrate House Honor Representatives and the Honor Council into the community in hopes of providing students with a stronger support system. 57.2 percent of respondents did not fully understand the role of student honor representatives on campus. Riener’s main focus for next year is to redefine the role of the Honor Council by selecting a group of V Formers that “can relate to all different types of people,” ensuring that all students have at least one person they feel comfortable approaching.
Furthermore, only 29.7 percent of students feel comfortable approaching a House Honor Representative about a disciplinary issue. Riener hopes that increasing awareness about the Honor Representatives will not only assist those currently undergoing the process but also reduce the number of violations in the future. According to Riener, students perceive the disciplinary process to be a “trial,” when in reality, “It’s a discussion between [the student] and some of the faculty members.”