“Nicki Minaj is so ratchet.” I cringed as the words left my mouth to a roomful of new Juniors. As a Power Player for the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) this year, I had the opportunity to return for New Student Orientation to write for and perform in a series of skits highlighting social issues on campus. Topics included racism, sexism, microaggressions, the hook-up culture and more.
While creating the skits, the other Power Players and I were forced to ask ourselves complicated questions about identity, vocabulary and respect. Time constraints and the limited understanding of our audience members’ backgrounds demanded that we define as a group what topics were most important – which merited discussion about what should be left for a later presentation. We hoped to impart our community expectations with candor and intellect and to teach the new students about living in an intentionally diverse community.
Many times, I was astonished and pleased to see Juniors engaging in a challenging and uncomfortable discussion of identity, privilege, language and the ways in which these elements of life intersect. The older students, eager to provide answers and gain understanding, were passionate and direct, asking many questions and building on the ideas introduced in the performances. I feel incredibly grateful to have seen such a receptive approach from new students, and I hope that many of them have taken away thought-provoking explanations and important ideas from our brief time together in CAMD.
I, however, cannot say that I have not been disappointed by the behaviors and mindsets of certain students. To see some students who have been on campus for less than a week, who have never taken a class at Andover nor attended a dorm meeting, be so dismissive of our community values is profoundly discouraging. Some even offered blatant rejection when the invitation to return to CAMD in the future was offered to them.
These moments of disrespectful dissonance were particularly concerning. As members of our community, it is not an option to remain ignorant and it is unacceptable to actively destruct attempts to spread awareness and understanding.
Part of the Power Plays this year focused on the idea “calling out” versus “calling in”. My intention here is not to “call out” students who refused to offer respect and appreciation for the socially conscious community that they are entering, but rather to call them “in” to forums and performances and classroom discussions, to remind them that Andover has much more to offer if approached with an open mind and an attitude of learning. We are presented with an incredible opportunity at Andover, to live and thrive within a community that teaches us to find connection despite our differences in upbringing, ideology and identity.
All students, new and returning, would benefit from looking at The Blue Book’s new “Diversity Glossary.” In a community that values knowledge and kindness, awareness of the terms listed satisfies both categories. Gaining fluency in the language of diversity and its complexities is an invaluable skill not only in our community, but in interactions with all people, from all the quarters and mindsets that we will each encounter in our lives. I encourage every member of our school community to view living respectfully within a diverse community not as simply a presentation to be forgotten, but rather as a mindset of curiosity and bravery, of asking and being answered, of accepting and being accepted, and of understanding and being understood.