Killing the Community: Demerits

Is it worth the demerit?”

It should not be. In my opinion, the moral implications of attendance outweigh the thirty extra minutes of cramming or more sleep. As some of us are aware, Groton students can receive demerits for missing commitments or other lesser infractions such as tardiness and violations of the dress code.

A student can receive a demerit by missing study hall, chapel, sit-down dinner, class, work program, sports, co-curricular, and lectures. When students have accumulated more than six demerits, they are required to partake in a 2-hour work crew, during which they have to help with manual tasks around campus.

Demerits may seem like they change daily activities into obligations or duties we have to commit to. However, I do not think the demerit-worthy actions at Groton should be liabilities. Attending chapel and showing up to class are inherently our responsibilities as Groton students, and if the whole student body can carry out its duties, there is no reason for a single student not to.

Michael O’Donnell, the Dean of Students, believes that demerits are “a way of articulating the importance of commitments to community efforts.” He also explained that the majority of demerits are given out to students who miss chapel.

“The choice to miss chapel is to absent oneself from a significant community event of our daily lives at Groton,” he said. “Chapel is when we are all truly in one place.”

Dr. Reyes, who was in the class of 1980, told me about the penalty system he experienced during his years at Groton. Before he had arrived, a student could clear a demerit by running around the Circle. Each lap around the Circle would clear one demerit. When Dr. Reyes arrived to Groton, instead of running around the Circle, a student would help in more ‘useful’ ways, such as dining hall table wiping and assistance at the alumni office.

Whenever a prefect or a teacher wanted to give a demerit to a student, he or she would write down the student’s name in a notebook that was located in the Deans’ Office (now the Visitors’ bathroom). On Wednesday, the students would receive a pink slip in their mailboxes, on which the number of demerits was written.

I have cleared many demerits only when I felt that there was a mistake, and every time I accidentally received one, it definitely felt like a tarnish on my records. Even if the demerit system did not exist, I would still carry out my responsibilities, because doing so is simply the right thing to do as a member of the Groton community.

“As chapel prefect, people are always mad at me for giving them demerits. They don’t really mean anything until you get enough for a work crew,” said a chapel prefect. “Not everyone follows the honor code; some people will clear their demerits even if they deserve them.”

We will never know the truth about who deserves to clear a demerit, and maybe the demerit system needs to be reinforced so that there will be no loopholes. But perhaps these people recognize that their actions are wrong.

The Guide to Groton states that the goals of the disciplinary process is meant “to hold students accountable for their behaviors by emphasizing that all actions have consequences” and “to help individuals and the entire School community understand how individual action affects the larger community.”

As an alternative for the demerit system, a student should not be allowed to clear his or her demerit because the system can be abused; instead, either only a teacher or prefect should be allowed to remove the demerit or the demerit system could be reinforced by making the consequences more severe.

Mr. O’Donnell suggested that we receive assigned seats in chapel so that absences are more noticeable. He is also aware that some students “ask chapel prefects to cut them some slack” and said that it may be more helpful for people other than chapel prefects to take attendance as well.

“It is a shame to be inclined to take advantage of what is a matter of trust,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

Demerits are simply results of not doing what is expected of us. Being a student here fundamentally means that we have commitments we have to make as part of a community, and we should respect what is being asked of us.

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