There are no secret taps on a girl’s shoulder nor anonymous invitations slipped underneath her bedroom door. Instead, girls are known to receive an email inviting them to meet a boy as part of a senior salute – a tradition an elite New Hampshire boarding school that came to light in a police affidavit.
“[T]here is a horrible tradition at the boarding school called the ‘senior salute’ in which a senior emails a younger student regarding a ‘conquest’ before they graduate,” Detective Julie Curtin wrote in a Concord Police affidavit, which was obtained by the Concord Monitor.
Last year, two days before the St. Paul’s School 2014 graduation, a girl, whose name is being withheld due to the nature of the case, agreed to meet Owen Labrie in a secluded area of the school after she turned down his initial invitation.
“When she accepted Owen Labrie’s ‘senior salute,’ her understanding was that it would be ‘just a hook up,’ which to her meant kissing or making out and ‘that’s all,'” according to the affidavit.
What happened between them is being tried in a Concord courtroom. She says he raped her. He says they didn’t have sex. Labrie, now 19, has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of felonious sexual assault among other charges. Meanwhile, friends and alumni have attempted to clarify the term that has the country buzzing about campus life at a top-tier elite school.
A 2014 graduate of the school, who loved his experience from living in the dorm to exchanging thoughtful conversations, says the senior salute has different meanings.
“The senior salute, from what I heard, is just a longstanding tradition that means a senior will hookup with somebody who’s not a senior. It can be anything from just kissing to having sex,” he tells PEOPLE. “It’s always coordinated through an email.”
Since the trial started last week, Labrie’s friends have been questioned about a variety of terms: senior salute, scoring, slaying, hooking up. Over and over, the students say it can mean anything from kissing to sexual intercourse.
Still, the school is aware there is a problem. In the earlier affidavit, the school’s dean of students told police, “St. Paul’s School has advised that ‘sexual scoring’ and ‘the scoring culture’ is a hot topic and something that they have been trying to educate against.”
Katherine Tarbox, a former student who graduated in 2000, has kept close ties with the school and has spoken to a handful of alumni.
“What I can piece together is that this developed in the last two to three years,” she tells PEOPLE about the senior salute. “I have to fully believe they don’t fully understand the consequences.”
Labrie is expected to take the stand on Wednesday.
•Additional reporting by Tara Fowler
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