Safe to Snitch

Opinions  /  by Emilia Figueroa-Ortiz '18  /  November 11, 2017

Sophomore Winter was a difficult time for me. I felt burnt out and desperately could have used a close friend. I trudged onwards until I noticed an article written by former editor-in-chief of The Lawrence Keera Annamaneni ’16, in which she discussed her positive experience with one of the counselors on campus. Reluctantly, I reached out to Dr. Apple about a meeting. A week later, I nervously signed in at the infirm’s entrance, attempting to avoid eye contact and the dreaded question from classmates waiting in the lobby, “Are you sick?”

I have no regrets about having met with Dr. Apple that year and on many occasions after. At the time, though I was physically healthy and fortunate in many other respects, I needed someone with whom I could talk openly, who wouldn’t judge me over my concerns or try to give me advice. I just needed someone to listen.

I would’ve never known that Dr. Apple’s office existed, tucked away in the infirm, had it not been for Keera’s article. Even if I had known about the infirm’s counseling branch, I would not have felt comfortable approaching a Housemaster, advisor, or peer to ask about getting in contact with a counselor. Why is that?

This past week, Lawrenceville implemented a “SafeSchools Alert” system, allowing students to anonymously report incidents of bullying or self-harm to a “multi-departmental team” who will then investigate and handle the claims. Although Dean Eldridge touted this system as a means to promote a safer community, it is simply another tool through which the administration can monitor our every move.

In the abstract, granting students an anonymous medium to ask for help in complex situations they do not know how to navigate themselves is beneficial. In reporting an incident of bullying or harassment without anonymity, speaking out may lead to retaliation or getting labeled a snitch, while reporting disordered eating or suicide stemming from sincere concern over a friend’s health may destroy friendships and cause social ostracism. However, if Lawrenceville is truly such a tight-knit community, one in which we refer to our dorms as houses because their alleged bonding and warmth is akin to a familial connection, how could students lack an adult or peer on campus whom they trust to respect their concerns and work with them to resolve a conflict? Instituting an anonymous system highlights a chasm between what we advertise our school to be and what it apparently is. Furthermore, if the school were genuinely invested in mitigating the struggles its students face, why not provide clear information about getting in touch with counselors? Instead of SafeSchools, the school should provide a description of the counseling program, outlining the counselors available on campus, the confidentiality of the meetings, or even directions leading to the counselor’s office rather than having to dodge classmates while waiting in the infirm lobby. For problems affecting friends, a similar anonymous system could be set in place enabling students to ask a counselor or prefect to reach out to the given friend.

Masquerading under the guise of dialogue, the School is merely flexing its powers of surveillance. This is the school where private postings about one’s inner thoughts intended for a limited audience of friends on social media platforms can land you a major. This is the school where you are required to give up the names of those you may only be distantly acquainted with to avoid further punishment for withholding information. And as someone who has gotten a major, I can tell you this is a school where you’re presumed guilty until proven innocent. Opening the SafeSchools website, you are given various options to report an incident: text, email, website. Under the website tab, you can choose to file tips under different categories, e.g. drugs and alcohol or self-injury, yet in many cases, there is an option to include witnesses. Beyond granting students the ability to conjecture whether another student distributes drugs or how frequently he or she use said drugs, we now have the ability to implicate others, and many of them at a time!

As a senior, I now feel more confident about my place at Lawrenceville, but others may be suffering from bullying or suicidal thoughts or feeling generally overwhelmed. Safe School won’t do anything for these people—the School is too focused on creating a “Weapons” tab to question why students would need an anonymous tool over face-to-face interactions with all the adults who are supposed to support them. In summary, be cautious about what the administration could consider incriminating evidence and try not to piss off your roommate, who can now easily submit a tip about you. And remember, Big Brother is always watching.