Commentary

Summer: Not So Simple

With summer fast approaching, one question has become increasingly popular among Andover students, usually tossed around on the paths from the library to Samuel Phillips Hall, as we wait for a chemistry experiment to run its full course or while in the stir-fry line. We ask each other, “So, what are you doing this summer?”

The question sounds innocent, but its diverse answers illustrate one of the greatest divisions within Andover. Many students will be traveling abroad with the school or vacationing with family. A few will be interning in elite programs around the world. Others answer with a deflective, “Oh, you know, nothing. Just hanging out.” The range of answers is telling about the socioeconomic diversity of our community. Students with more family connections and money to spare have more access to trips and internships. Students from working-class families, however, may need to work over the summer, and are therefore less likely to travel across the globe for an internship or trip. The question “What are you doing this summer?” reveals much more than itineraries or flight plans. As the year ends, the reality is that returning home for the summer looks radically different depending on a family’s financial status.

Since becoming need-blind, Andover’s approach to financing summer trips abroad has been incredible. Students who qualify for full financial aid also qualify for full financial assistance for summer trips – but only for one trip. Andover’s initiative to make its Learning in the World program accessible to all students, regardless of financial ability, has been greatly successful, but it cannot make up for all the summer opportunities offered to students whose parents can afford to take these trips every summer, every break and every time their child wants to take an internship abroad or expresses an interest in a new language.
In an intentionally diverse community like that of Andover, summer is complicated. Although the annual Summer Opportunities Fair offers interested students lots of information about their options, there is only so much that Andover can give to students before the school and its students must admit that there is no way to completely level the financial playing field outside of Andover’s campus limits. There is only so much that students who don’t have access to money can do to earn internships and places in prestigious summer programs if finances get in their way.

The solution to this imbalance of opportunity is neither easy nor obvious. There is no way to eliminate the inherent advantage of students with college-educated parents, with family members who work at highly-competitive, high-paying jobs and who can help them get internships. It is inaccurate to say that students receiving summer opportunities abroad don’t deserve it. There is, however, undoubtedly an imbalance of summer opportunity accessibility, and it demands to be recognized.

Asking about summer plans is usually an innocuous question. But as students, we have a responsibility to recognize that the question is lot more complicated than it initially sounds. Only when we can see the complexities of its many answers for what they are – admissions of identity, of status, of social and financial mobility – can we begin to clearly see each other’s diverse backgrounds.

May 28, 2015