Demystifying the Disciplinary Committee


“What could you have done differently?”


It’s a weighty question. As it lingers in the air, the student pauses. Some members on the Disciplinary Committee describe it as one of the most important moments at the end of every Q&A—and it is always asked, for good reason.


The disciplinary system at Groton is not a topic commonly talked about, shrouded by its taboo nature. Composed of three faculty members and five students, Groton’s Disciplinary Committee (DC) stands at the system’s center. The students are made up of the two fifth-form officers, the two senior prefects, and a non-prefect senior who is appointed by the Headmaster. Reserved for more serious offenses, the DC advises the Headmaster on a recommended consequence. 


Yet, despite its ominous title, the DC is not designed to simply punish. Instead, it aims to do the contrary and serve as a safeguard against unfair punishment—the Committee ensures that the student has their voice heard by having its members represent the wide ranges of voice in the student body. As DC faculty member Mrs. Gracey puts it, the Committee practices “Empathetic Discipline.”


Mrs. Gracey’s room, the location of these DC meetings, has a large table at its center. In a typical DC meeting, before the DC’d student and their advisor enters, the members of the DC take a seat around the table.”Mr. Anderson might even bring out a bag of Milano cookies for us,” says Brayden Haggerty ’23, a fifth-form officer in the DC.


Despite the gravity of the situation, Anthony Wright ’22, a senior prefect and DC member, recognizes that the students are also there “to make students who are being DC’d feel heard.” The presence of students on the committee certainly does not make it a light-hearted meeting—in fact, the students on the DC handle these cases with incredible maturity and objectivity, according to Mr. Anderson. As Mr. Anderson puts it, “the DC is there to be supportive.” He adds how Mrs. Bannard and Mrs. Gracey, the other two faculty members, do a very good job of playing a supportive role.


A Dean then presents the facts of the case, with the DC’ed student and their advisor present. Though the Dean is present in the meeting, they do not contribute to the DC’s ultimate recommendation to the Headmaster. Even though the Dean may be the one to tell the facts of the case, Non-Prefect DC member Jasmine Garcia ’22 emphasizes that the student still has agency of their story: “If the Dean gets something wrong with the facts of the case, the students are free to step in and clarify.”


DC’d students are then further given the opportunity to present their side of the case with a prepared statement, along with a statement given by their advisor. After the given statements, the DC then questions the student. However, Mr. Anderson clarifies that the DC’s purpose is not to investigate—instead, members ask questions to understand.


“What could you have done better?” or “what can you do to make the situation better?” are questions that are frequently asked. As Mrs. Gracey puts it, the questions are meant to “pick at their brain,” and understand the motive and context behind the situation. She adds how the process is “human and empathetic,” and no one is out head-hunting for consequences. 


Sixth-Form Prefect Maya Varkey ’22 describes how the committee “wants to see growth” in the student. Maya Luthi ’23, a fifth-form officer, adds that the DC is there to “understand the student’s situation better.” In many ways, that is why the students are on the committee—as students themselves, they can be more empathetic towards the struggles that their peers face. 


Once the student and their advisor leave the room for the DC to deliberate, conversations on the motive and context behind the wrongdoing are discussed at length. Jasmine notes how all voices at the table are equal, and how “everyone bounces off of each other” when deliberating. The DC does its best to do “what’s fair,” as Brayden puts it, and tries to understand whatever personal causes may be behind the accused’s actions. 


There is no set code for determining the student’s consequence. Nor are recommendations based strictly on precedent. The members of the DC reiterate how each case is viewed uniquely with its own merits, with context and motive playing a huge factor. The students on the DC also emphasized the importance of the response to the question: “what could you have done better?” Mrs. Gracey notes that the DC does not present a retributive form of justice but serves as a method of learning and growth for the student. A mature and proper response to that question already demonstrates that the student is halfway there, as Maya L. puts it.


Beyond striving to be empathetic, the DC also strives to be a diverse representation of the student body. With five students, it is undoubtedly difficult to represent the wide range of students, but the inclusion of the non-prefect senior member helps towards increasing its diversity. Mr. Anderson describes how the role of the non-prefect senior member is to represent a “different niche that is not represented by the elected senior prefects and fifth-form officers.” Typically, this will mean that the non-prefect senior will be international, as has been the case for the past couple of years. 


However, a student who had been formerly DC’d pushed back against the notion that the committee provided a comfortable platform through which he could share his story. The meeting was tense, despite the students’ and faculty’s best efforts. Some of these factors may be attributed to the student’s specific case however, and depend on the severity of the offense. Ultimately, the student did say that he believed that the consequence was fair.


The student, however, did mention that he would have liked to be better informed about the disciplinary process before facing the committee. Even Mr. Anderson recognizes this drawback, and advocates for the need of more open-discussions regarding the workings of the DC. 


The DC may not be perfect, but Mr. Anderson reiterates how the committee offers students a mouthpiece to voice their side of the story, which may not be told if their consequences were decided by a single person. Though it is often feared and regarded as a committee of punishment, in truth, it “practices empathy in discipline.”