As a student of Principia College, I had heard rumors of the incident at the Upper School, but felt I had been given no concrete explanation of the situation. I was worried that if I were to research the topic online, I would find a lot of biased reports. I decided to look within the Principia community for a clearer account of the occurrence. The following is an interview with Laurel Walters, Communications Director for Principia, about the incident at the Upper School.
Firstly, could you give me a little explanation of your duties as Communications Director?
As Communications Director for Principia, I am responsible for handling all contacts from the media to Principia and overseeing all internal and external communications.
Please could you describe, in as much detail as seems appropriate, the incident that happened at the Upper School?
During last August’s sports camp when only boys’ football and soccer camps were living in the Boys’ Dorm, a small number of boys entered several other students’ rooms during the early morning hours with the intent to bully underclassmen. This alone would have been a serious incident. Unfortunately, the incident escalated and became even more serious. Contrary to speculation, all students involved were clothed.
Is this a one-off event, or has anything like this happened before?
Principia has had a boarding program in place for more than 115 years and has an exceptionally strong record of providing a safe, nurturing environment that promotes excellence in character. We view this as a one-off event. Had Principia been made aware of any previous such incidents, they would have been reported immediately to law enforcement, as occurred in this case.
Has the Upper School tried to ‘hush up’ the event? Did they go straight to the police? Ultimately, how did the School respond to the event?
As soon as the administration learned of this incident, they contacted both the Town & Country Police Department and Child Protective Services. Principia has been as open as possible about this situation. Since the case involves minors and is an ongoing criminal matter, Principia is not at liberty to share many details but has fully cooperated with the investigation by law enforcement and the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney’s office. The School has been in regular communication with Upper School students and families to keep them informed about the situation.
What has happened with those involved?
The students who entered other student-athletes’ rooms and participated in the inappropriate activity were promptly dismissed from Principia and banned from both campuses.
What is happening now (with legal issues, media, etc.)?
On January 27, charges were filed against three former Upper School students who were involved in this incident. The local media became aware of these charges and contacted Principia for comment and information. We provided a statement to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and local network news stations that requested information. The story was on the evening news that night and on the front page of the Post-Dispatch.
What can we expect to happen in the near future concerning this event?
The matter is now between the St. Louis County Prosecutor’s office and the former students currently facing charges and will be handled in the St. Louis County Courts.
What are the possible consequences of this event for the Upper School/Principia as a whole?
The Upper School dorms’ nighttime supervision procedures were immediately reviewed, and we have been in the process of determining and introducing new safety measures. The Upper School students, faculty, and coaches have been focusing on the issue of bullying and hazing throughout this academic year in order to raise awareness. Training on the issue is taking place for all coaches and student support staff, and this training is being documented and tracked.
The administration is encouraged by the increased discussion of and alertness to the seriousness of these matters and expects to continue having conversations about hazing, bullying, and the resulting inappropriate behaviors that can quickly escalate out of control in these situations.
Do you think the media has been fair in their coverage of this event?
In both August and January, it served Principia well to provide a statement to allow the media to have the truthful information that could be publicly disclosed. It’s impossible for the public and the media to know all the facts in a situation like this. Therefore, it leaves a great deal of room for speculation and assumptions.
What do you recommend that College students consider/pray about in regards to this event? Is there any way we can help?
Thank you for asking this question. We all have a role in making sure that bullying, hazing, and assault do not occur at Principia. This requires alertness to standing up to any temptation to draw lines between older and younger students or those who are different. Fortunately, we have very clear support for this effort in our common bond of Christian Science. We can all strengthen and behold the purity of our community and within one another by living this year’s Principia-wide metaphysical theme: “ . . . love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39).
As School Principal Travis Brantingham told the Upper School students in August, we have a responsibility to resist spreading gossip and false rumors verbally or through social media. In the spirit of the Golden Rule, this situation provides an opportunity to challenge the world’s impositions about teenagers and to work daily to protect one another and our entire Principia community metaphysically. One way we can do this is to live and embody the Sixth Tenet: “And we solemnly promise to watch, and pray for that Mind to be us in us which was also in Christ Jesus; to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; and to be merciful, just, and pure” (Science and Health, p. 497).