For years, I had attended private schools populated by students similar to myself: white and from upper-middle class families. So when I moved to a public middle school that was over 80 percent Hispanic, I clung to what I knew. I stuck to the few other white students.
Surprisingly, my middleschool self reminds me of what I see among Andover students every day. Although Andover prides itself on “youth from every quarter” and its diverse student population, our campus lacks integration. Students tend to gravitate toward those with similar ethnicities and socioeconomic statuses as themselves.
Mealtimes at Paresky Commons are some of the best times to watch these subtle social identifiers and barriers in action. Separate, categorized tables are split up by students from certain geographic locations, specific racial groups, and different sports teams. Students clump together with peers of similar backgrounds as themselves because they subconsciously fear change, unfamiliarity, and their peers’ perceptions of them. It can be hard to explore the lives of students whose cultures differ drastically from your own.
This tendency to stick with who and what we know, however, stops us from expanding our worldviews and truly taking advantage of Andover’s diversity. When we cling to people similar to us, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to meet people who will challenge our perceptions and introduce us to new ideas and perspectives.
I know this from personal experience. It was only when I encountered peers at my new middle school who challenged my narrow perception of the world that I saw how truly boring it was to solely interact with people who have similar backgrounds to me. In turn, when my beliefs were eventually called into question by people different from me, I was challenged to reevaluate my view of the world. For the first time, I began to think about ideas like race, gender, and the struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community. Since then, I have been introduced to so many ideas that I would never have been exposed to in bourgeois, suburban California. Andover students are no different: Once we learn to create relationships with peers different from ourselves and step outside our comfort zones, our worlds expand.
Though the school has done a wonderful job promoting diversity and a culture of awareness and openness to discussion, change comes from the students themselves. We are the ones who must take full advantage of and celebrate Andover’s diversity. Students, I urge you to learn about different cultures and ideas by sitting with different groups of people at lunch, or by striking up conversations with people you have never talked to before. Unlike less diverse pockets of the world, our campus provides us with countless opportunities to learn how to accept and appreciate people and cultures different from ourselves. It is a unique privilege, and we should recognize and value it as such.