Maria Akaras ‘24 and Erika Tso Sowah ‘24
Dec 9, 2022
In order to enforce expectations set in the Blue Book, the student handbook, Mercersburg Academy utilizes a behavior point feedback system. When a student violates one of the expectations, they are alerted by the faculty member who witnessed the violation and then later by Veracross with a notification of the points they received and why.
Associate Dean of Students, Coleman Weibley, said, “Prior to the behavior point feedback system, there would be more immediate consequences for behavior issues. We felt that the system felt more punitive than we wanted it to be, so instead we decided on a point-value system so students would face consequences once they reached a certain threshold.” This change resulted from the Office of Student Life’s regular review of the feedback system and its effectiveness.
“I believe that the student life team has given a lot of thought to the behavior point system and has revised it this year in response to feedback from last year. The behaviors are clearly defined and it is up to the faculty to trust in the system and log behaviors when they see them. My concern about the system is that I feel that immediate feedback is most valuable when trying to change behavior, so a log that might not get formally addressed for a day or two loses some of its meaning. However, I do understand the underlying rationale of supporting students' agency and choice and giving space to make mistakes and to then learn from them,” Jackie Sweeney, Main Hall Dorm Dean, said.
The intention behind the behavior point system is crucial to understand in discussions about system’s design. Ideally, the system is a way to encourage students to adhere to the school's policies, by recognizing the patterns of a student struggling to meet the Academy’s expectations. Weibley said, “A lot of the time the Office of Student Life is seen as being more disciplinary, but we genuinely want to help students feel like they are being treated fairly.”
Regarding fairness of the system, Fowle Hall dorm dean, Haley Tyree, explained, “There are multiple checks and balances to try and make the behavior point system as fair as possible. First, students are notified about the behavior point by the faculty member giving it and via email through Veracross. In that email it states that the student has 24 hours to address this point if they think it was given incorrectly. In the dorm specifically, we meet as a dorm faculty to try and set norms and expectations. I ask all of my faculty to add in a note when entering behaviors so that I can review why different things were logged and make sure we have clear documentation. At the beginning of the year, we go over rules and expectations with dorm residents and give many reminders throughout the year in dorm meetings, wing meetings and emails. Dorm faculty communicate with advisers and address students individually when we see that someone is struggling. Finally, all of the dorm deans meet regularly and have consistency checks to try and ensure that we are enforcing rules and expectations in a similar manner.” Weibley added that the consistency check is designed “to address the narrative that certain dorms are more relaxed than others to make sure that every faculty member is held to the same expectations.”
The perception that some dorms are more relaxed than others is one that many students hold. Weibley said, “I know that this narrative is not the case, but being aware of the student perspective helps us address that and ensure that we are trying our best to be as consistent as possible.” Sheri Mahoney, Keil Hall Dorm Dean, adds, “What we should always be doing is working towards fairness, and I know that the residential life team is doing that. We look at the data and we talk with our faculty and show them the data. We touch base with our residents and use all of that information to make policy changes when necessary.”
“If students are feeling like they are being treated unfairly in any situation for any reason, they are willing to have a conversation with the Office of Student Life or the DEI office to help find a solution. We don’t want any students to feel like they are being treated differently; we want everyone to be treated fairly. We are really big on having that egalitarian spirit and finding solutions to these perceptions,” Weibley concluded.