An Open Letter to Our Community

Here we are again, two months later, apologizing for a gross overreaction to an unannounced rule change. I hope that I can speak for all of my peers in saying that we are tremendously sorry for the wildly inappropriate attack on Mrs. Perrenoud and her family. I also hope to provide a glimpse into why this has happened twice this year, and it’s not even Thanksgiving.

On August 30th, the students received an email that outlined new dormitory visitation policies for the upcoming year. A student quickly decided to create a petition to allow others to voice their opposition to the new rule. Within hours, some students, many under the mask of pseudonyms, decided to comment on the petition and further articulate their frustrations. Some of these individuals shared intelligent, thoughtful commentary, while others resorted to hateful attacks aimed at administrators they thought were responsible for the rule. An apology soon followed, and discussions between students, faculty, and administrators eventually led to a resolution that satisfied many members of the community as reasonable.

Spirit Week began on Monday. In the days preceding this much-loved series of events, rumors began circulating about new regulations censoring psych cards and Taft Day T-shirts. This unrest peaked when the Blue and White club heads announced the shirt design in Walker Auditorium, only to be met with deafening silence and a few disgruntled boos. In response, Dr. Gibb, Dr. Droz, Mr. Smith, and Ms. Chandler cosigned a letter to the Hotchkiss community outlining their desires for Taft Day and denouncing students’ conduct in Auditorium.

As Spirit Week began, an anonymous Instagram account dubbed “Hotchkiss memes” posted an image again attacking administrators for what they believed to be questionable decision-making. Students who “liked” the post were summoned to the Science Lecture Hall on Monday night and chastised. While I was not in attendance, other students told me that the tone of the meeting was solemn and apologetic, as students quickly realized the mistakes they had made and the grave impact those mistakes had on members of our community.

Why have students continued to resort to online attacks to vent their frustrations? I believe that this is a result of a complete breakdown of communication between the varying levels of our community; all the way from Preps to our most senior leaders.

The new visitation policies were dropped on us with no notice whatsoever, a mere day before returning to school. Despite this, the Administration claimed that they had discussed the new rules with student and faculty leaders last year and decided that the changes were best practice. This was proven to be largely untrue, as the little feedback they received was negative and the majority of students and faculty were surprised by the changes. The Administration also claimed that “empirical and anecdotal data” was used in formulating the decision, yet never presented that data.  (Anecdotal data, by the way, is just another way of saying rumor).

This issue is a result of a complete breakdown of communication between the varying levels of our community; all the way from Preps to our most Senior leaders.

The new Spirit Week regulations were also not announced until they had already spread through word of mouth and infuriated a solid portion of the student body. When they were officially announced, frustrations continued and blame was undeservedly placed on our beloved Blue and White heads. As decorating began, we were told that the tarp in main hallway that reads, “Taft, wipe your feet here” was offensive and needed to be removed. The tarp in front of the library reading, “Taftie free zone” was also removed, presumably for the same reason. This decision was largely influenced by Administrators and faculty who have shorter tenures than most of the Senior class and have not enjoyed three previous Spirit Weeks.

Teenagers are rebellious by nature. We like to express ourselves in many ways that are considered questionable by older generations. We also like to vent our frustrations to those we believe can address them. Here at Hotchkiss, we are now scared to publicly speak up and demand change. Students are scared of receiving an unfavorable reputation in the Dean’s wing or worse, disciplinary action. As a result of this, we often choose to express ourselves online, behind the protection of anonymity and secrecy. This culture has become toxic, in that our bottled frustrations often result in us posting something that we do not truly mean or is not designed to be hurtful in response to opaque decision-making. Having lived in this community for four years now, I know that nobody truly regards anybody in such a negative light, because we are a community that is meant to be based on trust, respect, and openness. I have, however, watched these values slowly erode in my time here, leaving an air of hostility and distrust.

The Hotchkiss student body is comprised of six hundred and four intelligent, thoughtful teenagers who refuse to be pushed around and bullied. We demonstrated this when we came together and changed the inter-dorming policies. We feel like our voices and opinions do not matter. We feel like we are not trusted by the Administration to know what is best for us. Finally, we feel disrespected because we are so rarely included in the decision-making processes that directly affect our daily lives.

I love this community, and I believe that the relationships I have formed here will last well beyond Hotchkiss. I fear for the underclass students who do not know the freedoms we once had and will certainly experience a tightening of their leashes. Moreover, I fear for the future of this school that I call home as tensions build, bridges are burned, and our fundamental rights to expression are stripped with each passing day. I hope that my experiences can begin a conversation that encourages discussion amongst all members of this community, and I believe that failure to do so will lead to detrimental consequences.