When Loomis Chaffee students, faculty, and alumni first heard about the sexual harassment scandal that took place at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire earlier last summer, the first thought that ran through many people’s minds was, “Nothing like that could ever happen at Loomis; we don’t have that kind of community.” The LC community is now in the process of making sure that this statement is true, because as it turns out, St. Paul’s didn’t believe their community was “like that” either.
In May of 2014, St. Paul’s senior Owen Labrie was accused of raping a 15-year-old freshman, igniting a surge of media attention from all over the world. The trial took place this past August, when Labrie was not convicted of aggravated felonious sexual assault, but will face 11 years in prison for misdemeanor sexual assault, as well as soliciting a minor over the Internet.
Throughout the trial and discussions of the case, news publications became very intrigued with the story, eventually making assumptions about boarding school culture. Many writers claim that the scandal can be blamed on a “rich, white kid mentality,” or “wealth and elitism.” The case painted a very inaccurate picture of St. Paul’s, which could extend to all New England boarding schools. Dean of Student Life Mary Liscinsky believes that “sexual assault happens in all schools nationwide, and should not to confined to independent schools. However, our educators do have the responsibility to inform their students and keep them safe.”
In the aftermath of the tragedy, St. Paul’s is working to rebuild its image, and make sure that the public knows that the incident does not define its culture. In a public statement written on August 28th, Michael Hirschfeld, Rector of the school, said, “We will continue to focus on teaching our students our core values – living honorably, respectfully, and never forgetting to be kind – and that they learn and grow in ways that lead to productive and respectful relationships throughout their entire lives.” Although students of the school are not at liberty to address Loomis directly, they try to generalize their public statements so that people all around the world can use this tragedy as a learning experience. The St. Paul’s Class of 2015 wrote a short feature for the Boston Globe in which they stated that “the St. Paul’s that has been portrayed in the media is not the same school we know and love.”
The students also wanted to make it known to the media and the general public that the term “Senior Salute,” in contrast to what reporters have stated, was not a long-time tradition at the school and refers to “any romantic encounter with a senior class boy or girl” and “does not imply sexual intercourse or any type of competition.” The rebuilding of St. Paul’s image will take time, but for the Loomis community, all we can do is try to remove ourselves from the media’s harsh critiques and assumptions of prep school culture and make sure that our students and faculty are educated for the future.
On the Island, it’s no big secret that there is a “hook-up” culture like at most other boarding schools, including St. Paul’s. Some reporters have said that this is what led to the sexual assault, so how can we make sure that Loomis doesn’t experience the same horrific incident? “We need to take this issue head on with students,” said Dean Liscinsky. “We’ve been having a series of programs with seniors, and will do more programs with all students. Seniors and juniors will work with the underclassmen to form a partnership in this. We need to have the conversation.”
“Having the conversation” can be tough. Many students don’t want to have to analyze their casual romantic endeavors to be aware of something so appalling and extreme as sexual assault, but in this case, better safe than sorry.
When polled, however, two out of ten Loomis students had different opinions on the case. They questioned the integrity of the accuser and suggested the possibility of her dishonesty. Due to the lack of conviction for rape and the fact that no one besides Labrie and the accuser were actually there in the moment, these claims should not be immediately discarded as false, just as some of her claims can’t be determined as true. Regardless of difference of opinion, the incident itself should have never occurred. This is why we as a community need to address the issue.
Talk around campus on the case has also pinpointed the age difference between Labrie and his accuser, as some couples on campus have a noteworthy age gap. Dean Liscinsky hopes that regardless of age, the focus is on healthy relationships, good decision-making, and respect.
The deans are taking full action to ensure that the LC community is educated on the incident to minimize the risk of something like this happening at our school; they have started conversations, held presentations on faculty day, and had discussions during class meetings.
In the wake of such a painful and inexplicable incident at a fellow boarding school, it is important for the Loomis community to provide support to St. Paul’s, as well as to educate ourselves on the topic so that nothing similar will happen again.