When I first saw Darley Boit’s ’21 Centipede article in the work-in-progress folders of last year’s May issue, I did not know what to think. In my two years spent at Concord Academy, I had known that cases of assault and harassment existed at CA; I had heard, not firsthand, secondhand accounts carrying hazy details of such events, and I knew very well the culture of fear and taboo that hovered over it all.
According to insiders at the Centipede, the article took over a month of “editing” before being published, much longer than normal for the newspaper. Immediately after, and for the first time in my memory, CA’s administration, through Interim Head of School Sarah Yeh, addressed a Centipede article directly in a communication directed at the whole community.
This communication, which involved apologizing to student victims who felt unsupported in the disciplinary process and thanking Darley and the greater student body for raising conversations around sexual assault at CA, must have brought enormous, immediate, community-wide attention to the article.
I thought the floodgates were opened. I hoped, perhaps shallowly, that this article would be the catalyst for change.
I recall the immediate outpouring of support for Darley and for CA’s victims of assault and harassment from parents and alumni, some of the latter who had graduated over twenty years ago. They expressed concerns about campus safety and due discipline for violations. Many praised Darley’s bravery. Some stood in solidarity with the unnamed victims referenced in the article. Some recounted their own traumas from violations that had gone unreported or unpunished long after their departing CA. It was implied that a certain degree of administrative negligence regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment has perpetuated through decades of CA history. (Note that these comments are no longer visible on the Centipede’s website.)
Since the article’s publishing last June, CA has continued to make efforts. The Discipline Committee Task Force, tasked with reviewing and updating the rules for the Community Handbook and the Discipline Committee, including appropriate punishments, led by Sally Zimmerli and comprising student volunteers, has met monthly during the school year. Conversations are revolving around restorative justice and transparency around school procedures. At the time of writing, no official updates to the Handbook have been instituted. The Senior Transition Seminar for CA’s soon-to-be graduates on March 25 included programming on what counted as acceptable behavior for graduates moving beyond CA. The Junior Leadership Retreat, which began on the same day, opened with a speech by Grant Hightower. The speech centered on trauma victims—often sexual assault survivors—who Hightower described as were struggling through the process of reintegrating into society but who shared the mutual goal of uplifting each other for each others’ growth and hope for a better future. Many found the speech poignant.
However, change has come at an inching pace. More concerningly, the culture of conversations surrounding sexual assault and discipline has remained as taboo, gossip-ridden, and bafflingly inaccessible as always.
Two of the three potential changes that Darley detailed in her article: a yearly schoolwide assembly to discuss acceptable behavior at CA and how to report cases of sexual assault and harassment, and a chance for administration to begin facilitating necessary communication between themselves and the victims (rather than waiting for victims to report) have seen disturbingly little follow-up.
Overall, student attitudes regarding the taboo culture of sexual assault have barely changed. Gossip passes through dampened whispers in empty classrooms, unfit, apparently, for public acknowledgment. I witness it almost every day.
I understand that changing a culture from the bottom up is not easy.
As CA approaches its one-hundredth birthday, full of spirit of service and revolutionary fervor, I think it fitting that the administration might begin to address these problems in full. There is no eternal CA if her students are still unsafe.