Letters to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The Blue Book Diversity Glossary defines inclusiveness as: “A commitment to foster a climate that represents and values members of diverse social identity groups. Inclusive practices occur at the personal, cultural and institutional levels, creating a culture where all members feel they are welcome and belong.” If we are to accept inclusiveness – which Andover’s Strategic Plan emphasizes consistently under the pillar of “Equity and Inclusion” – as an ideal, then we must also acknowledge Andover’s failure to promote this ideal at an institutional and cultural level for all of its students.

The institutional responsibility of promoting the inclusion of “Youth From Every Quarter” falls largely upon the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD). We recognize and appreciate the measures this office takes to make Andover a safer place for students of all races, classes, genders, sexual orientations, geographic origins, faiths and abilities. CAMD’s efforts have inspired much of the healthy and productive discussions on matters of equity and inclusion on this campus. Yet, we also feel that CAMD operates on a selective definition of “minority groups” or groups in need of structural assistance. That is, we feel that CAMD focuses on the needs of black and Latino students over the needs of others, as evidenced by the extensive system of mentoring programs for black and Latino students that have led to CAMD’s appearance of selective inclusivity. Let us be clear: we do not disagree that black and Latino students need institutional support; in failing to support our needs effectively, however, Andover and CAMD have diminished the worth of our collective narratives and deprived us of a safe space on campus. For example, the Brotherhood, one of CAMD’s affinity groups, is rooted in conflicting definitions of racial and ethnic identity. According to the Brotherhood mission statement on its flyer, the Brotherhood believes “those who belong to a community must bond together to ensure each other’s psychological, physical and spiritual well-being.” In an October 17, 2014 article in The Phillipian, a program mentor “stressed” that the Brotherhood “is for all males of color, not only African-Americans.” Two of this letter’s authors identify as “males of color”; however, neither of us received invitations to the Brotherhood.

I, Sina Golkari ’15, an author of this letter, was born in Iran. Although by historical definitions I am technically white, I do not share many of the privileges of my fellow white male peers as a result of my complexion. Even more startling, however, is that I do not benefit from the same support sources available to other minority groups because I am classified as “white.” As a school that boasts students from 38 different countries, Andover must recognize the insufficiency of the American definitions of “people of color” – a term that was itself born from a long history of American race relations. Foreign students, such as the authors of this article, have difficulty parsing the line between white and non-white when it comes to self-identification. With the Brotherhood, for example, students like myself are stripped of the right to self-identify when support groups that are allegedly designed for all “students of color” do not include us. That the Sisterhood includes all women who self-identify as underrepresented people of color shows that progress is currently underway.

Even for non-international students, affinity group eligibility is shrouded in unclear terminology. The term “underrepresented person of color” (which appears in the aforementioned 2014 article in The Phillipian and the affinity groups’ Mission Statements) is conflated and interchanged with the term “person of color” in regards to Brotherhood membership. A distinction between the two terms is critical. In the academic realm, “underrepresented people of color” refers to people of African-, Latino- and Native-American descent; it does not include all “people of color.” Further complicating the matter, members of the Brotherhood informally refer to their organization as one for black and Latino students only. If there is no consensus within the affinity groups themselves, then how can we as a community expect these groups to be comprehensively inclusive? The difference between how these affinity groups are colloquially identified and formally advertised reveals a cultural problem regarding perceptions of and support for “people of color” who might not be “underrepresented people of color.”

While the Brotherhood is an essential support system, its selectivity is detrimental to its cause. The selection process for affinity groups revolves heavily around invitation. We recognize that students who reach out to the Brotherhood’s leaders will not be denied membership, but putting the onus on uninvited students to seek out membership shames and disadvantages them. Because much of CAMD participation involves direct outreach, students not actively invited are “othered” and, frankly, embarrassed. Thus, while CAMD’s affinity groups do not practice de jure exclusion of certain minority groups, they do perpetuate de facto exclusion, effectively depriving many students of a safe space on campus.

We also seek to dispel the notion that the blame rests entirely on the lack of initiative of students who feel CAMD has failed to satisfy its mission. In an article published in The Phillipian on October 17, 2014, a Co-Head of the Afro-Latino-American Mentoring Program (AMP) remarked that AMP “help[s] give tools that aren’t as obvious [to] someone not seeking them on their own. We sort of place them in front of students saying here’s what you can take advantage of.” Considering that AMP was established in the late 1990s, certain racial groups have received this institutional support for more than 15 years. Even without individual initiative, Afro-Latino-American students have been introduced to the resources available to them at CAMD. Thus, CAMD is established as a safe place for students of those racial and ethnic backgrounds early on. Unfortunately, no such programs exist for some of the other minority groups on campus. Students like us, who could otherwise benefit from CAMD’s institutional support, feel we lack any clear historically-available allies in the CAMD office to whom we can comfortably voice our concerns.

So we ask: If we are not invited to join these support groups and feel excluded by CAMD to form our own, then who is working to ensure our “psychological, physical and spiritual well-being”? If Andover does not recognize us as “students of color,” what are we? Why are racial support groups advertised only to students who are invited? On what authority can CAMD make claims on the identities of Andover students?

The root of the issue is CAMD’s reputation on campus as an exclusive support source. This reputation is known amongst a startling portion of Andover students, as evidenced by our list of signatories. While this issue is partially driven by institutionalized shortcomings, let us be clear: this is a cultural problem, too. Again, we in no way seek to diminish all the good CAMD does for the students it supports; we merely aim to highlight the fact that its support systems are flawed when it comes to inclusivity. The potential of CAMD’s initiatives to support all Andover students is damaged by the perception of CAMD as exclusive. The Asian students included in the list of signatories can testify to the pervasion of this cultural problem. While CAMD supports Asian students through numerous clubs and events and has even tried to establish mentorship programs for Asians, some Asian students still feel marginalized by CAMD’s exclusive reputation. Such mentorship programs for Asian students have been unsuccessful in the past and went largely unnoticed by the student population. In fact, the failure of these Asian mentorship programs to thrive due to student unresponsiveness hints at the damaging effects of an exclusive reputation.

Another example of this cultural problem is the Academy’s failure to offer equal attention to world events involving racial, ethnic, religious and geographic discrimination. In wake of the UNC Chapel Hill Shooting – an act of Islamophobia that the Academy failed to address as comprehensively as it had the incidents in Ferguson, for example – an African American student approached one of us and apologized for the Academy’s shortcomings. “It almost feels that you, as a Muslim student, don’t get the same type of resources and safe spaces on campus even though the problems you face because of your identity are just as real. At least I have a support system to go to. It feels like you have nothing,” said the student. This instance is but one of the many personal experiences that reinforce our perceived exclusivity of CAMD. Andover’s failure to address current events and holidays associated with certain races, ethnicities and religions are but one example of the hostile atmosphere that those excluded from the selective definition of “minority groups” feel.

In the spirit of positive and fruitful discussion, we can publicly offer several suggestions that might lead to a more comprehensively inclusive campus: 1. Thorough revision and introspection regarding mentorship groups, particularly the invitation process. a. Develop clear protocols for the formation and regulation of affinity groups. 2. Public advertisement of all support resources offered through CAMD to all Andover students, regardless of applicability or eligibility. 3. Increased outreach to students to allow for comprehensive recognition of holidays and current events that bear cultural, religious or historical significance to Andover students. 4. Greater transparency between CAMD and the student body to relay updates on new efforts to promote inclusivity.

We respectfully ask all those affiliated with CAMD to resist the natural tendency to grow defensive in the wake of criticism. Rejecting the premise of this article could not possibly lead to the sort of productive discourse required to take strides towards our common goal of inclusiveness. Progress is out of sight until the problem itself is recognized. These are our experiences – some of them quite painful; please respect them. Our concern is not for those students who disagree with us (i.e., those who feel supported by CAMD) but rather those who do not; even one person who feels alienated is too many.

Sincerely,

Tejasv Arya ’15, Issraa Faiz ’15 Sina Golkari ’15

Signatories:

David Gutierrez ’15 Alejandra Uria ’15 Meera Patel ’15 Diego Blandon ’15 Rocco Amorosso ’15 Matthew Osborn ’15 Eun Jae Kim ’15 Abhinav Venigalla ’15 Julia Zell ’15 Tyler Tsay ’15 Rani Iyer ’15 James Towne ’15 Bianca Navarro Bowman ’15 Grace Tully ’15

Editor’s Note: Meera Patel ’15, Eun Jae Kim ’15, Rani Iyer ’15 and Grace Tully ’15 are all members of The Phillipian, vol. CXXXVII.

May 22, 2015