Hotchkiss Appoints Sexual Misconduct Prevention & Response Coordinator

Recently, cases of sexual misconduct from the past three decades at New England boarding schools have been brought to light. In response, these schools are seeking new ways to prevent sexual misconduct and create a safe and supportive environment for both students and faculty.
Dominic Brown ’14, a Hotchkiss alumnus and former teaching fellow at the Lawrenceville School, was recently accused of sexual misconduct by two Lawrenceville students. According to The Daily Beast, Brown inappropriately touched both a fourteen and fifteen year old at 3 a.m. while on night duty. Brown was fired from Lawrenceville and charged with endangering the welfare of the students and two counts of criminal sexual misconduct.
It has been a recent trend that many New England boarding schools have been hiring independent firms to investigate past cases of sexual misconduct. In August of 2017, Choate Rosemary Hall reported that since 1960, at least 12 former teachers had sexually molested students. Similarly, in 2017, St. Paul’s School, issued a report investigating sexual misconduct over the past five decades. The Boston Globe reports that, since 1991, more than 200 students at 67 New England private schools have reported being abused or harassed by staff.
Though many schools (including Hotchkiss) have made public investigations into sexual misconduct, many other New England private schools are still reluctant to publish information regarding sexual misconduct cases on their campuses. The Boston Globe conducted a study in 2016 in which they sent surveys to 224 private schools asking them about sexual misconduct on their campuses. Only 23 out of the 224 schools responded.
In May 2016, in an effort to confront our history, the school asked a third party, Allison O’Neil, a partner at Locke Lord LLP, to research reports of sexual misconduct by members of the faculty or staff throughout the school’s history. Over 150 people were interviewed and the Locke Lord team reviewed nearly 200,000 pages of documents. The Locke Lord report came out in 2018, describing instances of abuse by seven former faculty members between 1969 and 1992.
After the release of the report, the school took additional steps designed to create a safe environment for all students and faculty. These steps include required training for faculty and staff about roles outside of the classroom, extensive background checks on all employees, discussion during the required Human Development course, and education about how students can speak out if they are concerned with the behavior of a community member.
In 2018, the school worked with the Rape Abuse Incest National Network (RAINN) to conduct an audit of the school’s policies regarding sexual misconduct. According to the school’s website, “RAINN determined that Hotchkiss has established a strong foundation for a highly effective sexual misconduct prevention and response program.” After the audit, the school plans on conducting an annual review of its policies, to ensure they stay up-to-date.
RAINN also recommended the creation of a Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Response Coordinator. RAINN suggested this position to ensure that the school is able to continually improve as an insitution, and help implement program planning, monitoring, reporting, education, and training for all members of the school community.
This role was given to Christy Cooper P’08 ’11. Cooper has served in many roles since coming to the school in 1998, including dean of students, dean of dormitory life, and class dean to the class of 2004, 2013, and 2018. Currently, Cooper is the dean of the class of 2021, the head coach of Girls Varsity Soccer, instructor in English, and a member of the Community Conduct Council. Cooper said, “While there is a part of me that is sorry that this school or any school feels a need for this position, because I wish sexual misconduct were not an issue in our world, I understand its importance.” Dr. Merrilee Mardon, associate head of school and dean of faculty, wrote, “Christy was appointed to this role because of her integrity, sense of responsibility to our community, and her deep commitment to our students and their well-being.”
Cooper hopes to grow both the position and the program over the next couple of years. For now, Cooper’s focus is on listening and learning to understand the past and the present to develop programs that promote creating safe and healthy relationships. Cooper said, “I decided to step forward to take on this new role because I… have faith in the Hotchkiss community”
Cooper hopes to expand the program by creating a student advisory committee. The student advisory committee would assist her in understanding the current landscape of relationships in the school community.