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Hazing and Abuse at Miss Porter's

Prep Talk: Justifying Hazing at Boarding School


High school girls have many ways of punishing each other, the silent treatment being a classic tactic. But what about seniors marching through dorms with the precision of the gestapo, lining up freshmen, yelling at them, making them perform chores, and forcing them to count to 100 in German? It's not reform school — it's an annual ritual at Miss Porter’s, an all-girls boarding and day school in Connecticut where Gossip Girl-sounding names are as common as class rings.

Since Miss Porter's students, graduates, and even the administration are a secretive brood, it’s hard to know which rituals continue today, but we do know traditions die hard on the leafy-green campus. The school even has its own Skull and Bones group named the Oprichniki, after Ivan the Terrible’s secret police. And while Miss Porter's denied its existence in a March New York Times article, 2007 graduate Blair Clarke confirmed it in July's Vanity Fair when she said she “crash-studied German” to join the Oprichniki.

While we can let our imaginations go wild trying to figure out what really goes on at Miss Porter's, we do know this: Tatum Bass, a former student who was expelled, is suing the school for not intervening when she was harassed by the Oprichniki. Why would an otherwise popular senior in student government earn the infamous group's ire? According to Tatum, it started after she suggested the school participate in a multischool prom. As a breach in Miss Porter’s tradition, it was a major faux pas. The taunting, she claims, led to her skipping class and cheating on a test, which led to her expulsion.

What’s shocking is not that she was expelled or that a secret society exists, but that the reaction of students and alumni was, more or less, "Buck up, Bass!" To find out how they reacted, read more.

The ability to tough it out and not go crying to parents is a quality the school proudly instills in girls. So it's no surprise that students and alumni were appalled that Bass used taunting by classmates as an excuse to cheat. Cheating aside, how is it that adults justify teens abusing teens? I found my answer in both the Vanity Fair and New York Times pieces.

Blair Clarke, the confirmed Oprichniki member, said the group never inflicts real pain, just the anticipatory fear of it. Sarah Hart Hansen, a 1974 graduate, told the New York Times, “Maybe there’s nervousness in the beginning, but it’s a bonding moment.” Ah-ha! So it’s not hazing if there’s no physical pain? What a great definition that will create loopholes for underground societies, sororities, and fraternities everywhere.

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