Before I came to Andover, I went to a Chinese international school that was 80 percent Asian. Later, I transferred to a small Mormon school where my brother and I were the only two Chinese speakers. Like me, many students here come from different cultures and have identities that make it difficult for them to feel part of the Andover community.
I first felt this reality just an hour after arriving on orientation day, when I discovered that my worldview differed starkly from that of my roommate. Though we have since become great friends, the initial clash of our views made me reluctant to get to know him. We are now confident and trusting enough in each other to engage in sensitive discussions that might otherwise be marked as offensive or awkward. This is because we have slowly erased our identity barriers and transformed them into a mutual understanding.
Andover should develop a program in which students work towards breaking down personal and cultural barriers they may have upon arrival, similar to the ones I shared with my roommate. This initiative would encourage the expression of perspectives and opinions without the fear of rejection. Such a program could help create a community of genuine acceptance where differences are openly aired and debated, not hidden and stigmatized.
I would like to acknowledge that although Andover has the new Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion (EBI) program, it has not been what I have described so far. As of now, we have done team building activities and icebreakers, and we have discussed course load and stress management. I would like to see EBI take a slightly different direction in the future. If it does not, a new program would be beneficial.
Andover should implement a program that draws from both Stanford University’s Beyond the Line (BTL) program and from Northeastern University’s Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP) program, which has been available to Lowers on campus for the past three years. BTL was launched in 2014 to enable students to share their different perspectives in a safe context. Students gather by dorm at an arranged time to participate in organized activities, such as “Agree or Disagree.” In this activity students are presented with purposefully “controversial” statements, and after a moment of thought move to a designated “agree” or “disagree” side of the room. This activity allows students to express their opinions on certain topics without being singled out, as they do not have to raise their hands or speak individually. The “Agree or Disagree” activity is also used in MVP, in which I am currently a participant.
By establishing a new program, students would engage in activities such as “Agree and Disagree” on a monthly basis. However, this new program would also differ from BTL and MVP in numerous ways. Unlike MVP, it would not only focus on gender-based violence prevention, but also on other current controversial issues like religion or gender identity. Additionally, MVP is voluntary and only available to Lowers, but the new program should be mandatory for students in all grades. Finally, both BTL and MVP are led by adult mentors, but this initiative should be focused on and led by students. If the statements for the activity are generated by students, they will be more relatable for their peers in the program.
If this idea is implemented, it would impact the student body profoundly. It would give us insight on how to form bonds with a larger variety of different people. Students would have an easier time making friends from various political backgrounds, races, and cultures. This proposed program would help the Andover community break barriers to reach a point of greater mutual understanding.