A Look at Integration at Phillips Academy

Because Phillips Academy began the process of integration long before the Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision, Andover’s own struggle with race and integration could easily be overlooked as the country commemorated the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education last Monday. The Supreme Court ruling, which declared racial segregation in public schools a violation of the “equal protection” clause of the Constitution, was considered a turning point in public education. At Andover, however, the year 1954 passed with relatively few changes. Instructor in History and Social Science Jay Rogers, who, later this year will become the first African American faculty member to retire, commented, “I don’t think [the ruling] really affected Phillips Academy a great deal because they had already taken the initiative. Because the school is private, the decisions about integration have all been voluntary.” This journey toward integration and racial equality began for Phillips Academy in 1865, the graduation year of the Academy’s first black student, Richard T. Greener. Greener, who would later attend Harvard University and serve as an attorney and diplomat, arrived at a school very different from today’s Phillips Academy, which prides itself in tolerance and diversity. Samuel Phillips was known to own slaves, and as late as 1835, students at the Academy were prohibited from attending meetings of abolitionist groups. Even after the school began admitting token numbers of black students, the non-white students were hardly integrated into the life of the school. With so few non-white students and no mechanisms to aid their acceptance into the community, the token African American students at the Academy often felt out of place, a feeling that was only intensified by the often negative and suspicious reactions of the other Andover students. “I can only imagine that it was a daunting experience at the very best. Being in a group of people that are very different must have been extremely challenging,” noted Dean of Community and Multicultural Development Bobby Edwards. In the 1960s and 1970s, Andover took major steps to alleviate these students’ difficulties. “It was not until the early 70’s that there was a concerted institutional effort to include students of color in the Academy. The admissions office tried to increase travel and outreach and to diversify the student body with qualified students of different racial backgrounds,” Edwards explained. Assisting in this effort, A Better Chance, a recruitment program aimed at providing better educational opportunities to minority students, was formed in 1963 in close collaboration with the Academy. Further steps in this direction were taken during the following decades. Math and Science for Minority Students (MS2) was established at PA in 1975. By 1982, then Headmaster Ted Sizer formed the Committee on Minority Life, which looked into ways of increasing the relatively few teachers and students of color. Under former Dean of Faculty Kelly Wise, the aspirations of this committee finally materialized as the representation of minority groups in the faculty dramatically increased. By the mid-1980s, the school, responding to concerns expressed by members of the student body, hired a Minority Counselor, and within a year, the position was expanded, eventually leading to the formation of the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD). “More and more, the school has been attempting to address the cultural needs of its students… the school needs to be sensitive to the needs of students of color once they are here,” explained Jay Rogers. Dean Edwards agreed with Mr. Rogers’ assessment, commenting that the school has made tremendous progress since the days that Samuel Phillips flaunted his slaves during walks into downtown Andover. “The 50th Anniversary of the ruling calls us all to pause and ask just how far we have come in reaching the goal of providing an equitable education to all students,” said Dean Edwards. “It is an opportunity to ask what we still need to do to fulfill the mission of that ruling.” Looking toward the future, Dean Edwards feels that the most important steps the Academy can take toward fulfilling the objectives of Brown v. Board of Education are to focus on making certain that all students are granted the opportunity to feel comfortable and succeed at Andover. “As a school, I think we’ve done a relatively good job of integrating and bringing many different students to the table,” Edwards said. “Now that we’ve been able to do this, the question is, are they all able to leave equally full of knowledge.”