Every time I come back from a vacation, I have to take at least two weeks to adjust to the Blair lifestyle. Even though as a four year senior, I’m well aware of the restless hustle of the Blair schedule and the school’s unique sense of community, from time to time, I still find myself amazed at some “Blair-special” phenomenons.
One of the “Blair-special” mindsets is the ambivalent attitude towards drugs and sex. It seemed as if, in an era of permissive drug use and casual dating, this generation is becoming more tolerant of consuming substances and sex. Drug use and sex remains one of the Blair unicorns, as in its existence is well-known but seldom fully explored in conversations.
The Oracle team received the results of the Independent School Health Check Survey, and the report on drugs and sex was especially interesting. On one peaceful afternoon, I embarked on a mission to interview two of the greatest minds in Blair Student Life: Mr. Pagotto and Mr. Mazza on this topic.
Chris Liu ’18: Were you surprised that the report showed that 96-99% of students reported nonuse of drugs in the previous 30 days?
Mr. Mazza: No. I would say that I’m pleased to hear this result.
Mr. Pagotto: I’m not that surprised, in part because of the period of time [the survey was conducted. It was during] a 30 days span when most of the students were on campus. So, I think the reality [of this number] is a little bit higher, but one message we want to get across is that a large percentage of our students are not making choices that run contrary to school rules.
CL: How has the drug use at Blair changed over the past few years?
Mr. M: We used to have a lot more alcohol cases, and juuling has heightened our awareness of substance [use]. But kids [have come to see the] value of being at Blair much more, and we are seeing fewer kids taking chances on campus.
Mr. P: Yes. 15 plus years ago, we had more students…who were willing to take a chance and maybe didn’t feel as connected to the school and the community…they did the calculus (laughs) in their heads and thought “alright, so I get kicked out, no big deal.”
CL: Would you also say that Blair’s drug policy has changed? The survey showed that 10% of Blair students have consumed nicotine through vaporizers, and 3% have done the same with marijuana.
Mr. M: No, the policy is still the same— one strike.
Mr. P: The change that we made was that we are treating JUULs as drugs, [meaning] you get tested if you have a JUUL. Initially when vaporizers were first a thing, they were just treated similar to a tobacco offense.
Mr. M: There’s also the “Safety First” policy, not that we get a lot [of those cases]. But we do have kids who seem to know that policy more now than before.
CL: There seems to be some confusion around that particular policy. Can you explain more explicitly how and when to use it?
Mr. P: It’s designed to be used if a student is in danger. We want kids to make the decision to prioritize their safety and wellbeing. I understand the confusion given that a student or two came forward with JUUL pods and admitted to a nicotine addiction and we treated it as a medical issue and got them help. They came forward voluntarily and were not caught violating a rule.
CL: I think some of the confusion also comes from the inaccurate information or rumors that can be spread around campus. Students can get mixed messages regarding one single case and in the end don’t know what to believe as true.
Mr. M: It is hard to draw a fine line of what we can tell and we can’t tell [students about a case] because of the issue of privacy. But I always tell kids that if you come in and tell me something, I will tell you whether it is true or not true. But to get up at School Meeting to tell [students about a case] detail by detail… we just can’t do that.
CL: The report showed that about 26% (about a quarter) of Blair students reported ever having sexual intercourse, which is a little bit higher than the national average. What’s the school’s reaction towards this number?
Mr. P: I’m not surprised considering students are in a co-ed boarding environment. I think it [makes it] easier for students to “connect.”
CL: But there’s also a slightly higher number of students who reported having sex by the age of thirteen, which is probably during student’s freshman year, compared to the national average. Will this number affect the content in future freshman seminars?
Mr. P: Yes, it actually already has. As you know, the freshmen are getting more formalized sex education which seniors did not have in their freshman year.
CL: It’s interesting you bought up the new sex education program. Why only target the freshmen instead of having sex ed for all grades?
Mr. P: This is mostly because freshmen have more flexibility in their schedules. You guys, once you are juniors and seniors, you want to take six or seven classes. And, we are setting them up for the years ahead.
Mr. M: And for seniors, at the end of the year you will have Senior Seminars. One of the seminars has our faculty members who graduated more recently from college talking about sexual relationships, consent, and looking after your friends at parties, etc.
Mr. P: One of [Senior Seminars] we have is Varsity Chat. And one of things we want to do is place the healthy relationship talk into dorm conversations. Ms. O’Neil used to have CHAT in her apartment with upper school girls, just to talk. So we’d love to have those organic talks in the homes or apartments of faculty just about things that juniors and seniors are wondering about and discuss various issues before they go on to college.
CL: A lot of students aren’t sure if there’s any disciplinary response to sex.
Mr. P: We have a sexual intimacy policy in the Student Handbook. But we don’t “criminalize” sexual behavior in the way we do with JUULs or drinking.
Mr. M: But there are very specific dorm rules that have consequences. If you are somewhere you shouldn’t be during a certain time, for example in a locked classroom, that’s against the rule of being behind a locked door [with a member of the opposite sex or anyone you are having relations with].
CL: How are Blair’s rules different or similar to those at other prep schools?
Mr. M: Mr. Pagotto and I actually meet with [administrators from] other boarding schools each year. We sit and compare notes with each other. We help each other to come up with rules.
Mr. P: In terms of our rules we are pretty consistent with other schools. Certainly [we are when it comes to] sexual intimacy. We’ll be hosting a group of 7 boarding schools at Blair in just a few weeks, in fact.
Mr. M: The day-to-day rules are pretty closely in line. The JUUL policy pretty much is the same across the board: everyone is treating it as a kind of drug.
Mr. P: At Hill, for example, if you drink in the dorm, you are out. But Blair doesn’t distinguish between the dorms and non-dorm area like the football field. And Lawrenceville has a two strike policy with drugs whereas we are one strike.
(Copyright 2018 Chris Liu)