The 2022-23 school year at Lawrenceville has marked significant new changes to school policy and the Disciplinary Committee (DC) process, as the School hopes to make trust, communication, and support pillars of its discipline system. Initiatives aimed to improve transparency and communication include the appointment of former Dean of Students Blake Eldridge ’96 H’12 as the Chair of the Disciplinary Committee, a revised DC process that includes a new class of “minor infractions,” and a new student handbook. The approach to the current academic year focuses on addressing concerns expressed by the student body and reviving policies and activities in the Lawrenceville community that were common prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Last Winter Term featured a student town hall, during which students discussed issues of trust and communication. “My regret for the town hall is the sentiment that we never did this [before]. We used to do this regularly, but we didn’t for three years because of COVID-19,” said Dean of Students Devondra McMillan. Vice President of Honor and Discipline Lucas Garcia ’23 hopes to address the concerns discussed in the town hall, recognizing that “there was a lot of unrest. The faculty and administration recognized that. We needed to change the discipline system [so] that people would feel more comfortable with the outcomes.”
While individual policies have mostly stayed the same from the previous academic year, the new system features disciplinary consequences that have become more personalized to the individual student and the gravity of the violation. The introduction of Minors, as opposed to just handing out Majors, allows for more nuance in the disciplinary system. “We can look at each individual case and recognize when a rule was broken, but we believe different situations should lead to different responses,” Garcia said. Similarly, the intentional change in language from Major School Rules to Principal Expectations clarifies circumstances where students violate a Major School Rule but receive a Minor due to the intent, gravity, and other extenuating circumstances that may have come to light while in the disciplinary committee.
As Eldridge explained, “You can reduce the Principal Expectations to three simple imperatives: Be kind. Be safe. Be honest. Any community member motivated by those three [directives] will represent themselves and the community well.” While the DC process will still result in the same recommendation being given to the Head of School, the differentiation between a Major and a Minor will now be determined on a case by case basis. Despite the more nuanced response, the School is “not lowering [its]collective standards, and there will still be moments where probation is the proportionate and appropriate response,” Eldridge remarked.
In practice, the difference between Majors and Minors “surrounds the probation piece…saying if you were to do this a second time, [the Disciplinary Committee] would want to be discussing your dismissal and separation from the school,” McMillan said. Although dismissals are a rare result, McMillan hopes to communicate to students the gravity and difficulty in reaching such a decision, saying, “It’s difficult to hold a hard line of looking at the consequence of an action and saying ‘I’m going to need you to go to school someplace else.’”
The appointment of Eldridge as the disciplinary process’s overseer allows a seasoned faculty member to take charge of the process, while simultaneously allowing McMillan to focus on the wellness aspect of student life. This year, a disciplinary committee will include Garcia, Eldridge, Assistant Dean of Students Doug Davis, the student’s Head of House, three Honor Council members, and another faculty member. After all members present uninamously come to a conclusion, they then write a recommendation and send it to the Head of School, who makes the final decision. “We have a lot of meetings to talk through scenarios. We start by thinking about the rules and the expectations in the framework of what it means to be a community before the council discusses the emotional piece,” McMillan said. The Honor Council members are appointed by the Vice President of Honor and Discipline; Garcia emphasized how during the selection process, he “really wanted people [who he believes] would hold up the discipline system of the school and also be sympathetic towards the student, but also realize that this is where we need to assess Majors and understand the gravity of violations.”
Looking towards the upcoming year, Garcia hopes to implement a number of policies to continue student outreach. This includes introducing students to the current Honor Council and holding another mock DC during a school meeting. “I hope this allows students to feel more comfortable asking [the Honor Council] questions and reaching out,” Garcia said. He also hopes to establish a disciplinary guidebook to give examples of previous rulings for students and provide guidance for future Honor Council members.
Guidelines surrounding class dress have also been altered; both Garcia and McMillan emphasize the recognition of current standards while also stressing the historical significance of class dress. “We're preparing you for the rest of the world. If we didn't prepare you to at least think about how you present to the world in a different way…I think we'll be doing you a disservice,” said McMillan. In addition to a more lenient dress code policy, McMillan also hopes that the dress code will be enforced more rigorously this year.
The new academic year represents a time for change, clarity, and communication. The appointment of Eldridge as the DC chair, the implementation of Minors, and McMillan’s focus on student wellness are initiatives aimed at responding to the issues brought to light by the student body during the town hall. McMillan’s message to students surrounding the changes in policy and the philosophy of the administration is clear: “The trust issue was really hard last year. It was really hard to trust what our reasoning was. I want students to understand that I am trying to set up this school to be a place where students feel supported and [that] they have the right and privilege to learn, including [making] necessary mistakes” along the way.