Brace Center Celebrates 10th Anniversary

From Friday, May 18 until reunion weekend after commencement, there will be an exhibit decorating the walls of the Commons stairwells that celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Brace Center, Phillips Andover’s own center for gender studies and the only one of its kind at any high school across the country. History Teaching Fellow Courtney Doucette, History and Social Science Instructor Edward Rotundo and Art Instructor Ruth Quattlebaum were the primary faculty members to set up this exhibit. The exhibit is meant to demonstrate how gender roles have changed over time, by revisiting old yearbooks and photographs from Phillips Academy and Abbot academy, both before and after the two schools merged. The idea arose from discussions of looking back at the past 10 years of Brace Center and Phillips history. Some of the best examples of change can be found in old yearbooks. Rotundo pointed out the exceptional help of the Commons staff in setting up this exhibit. He mentioned Scott Flanagan in particular, who helped to accommodate these pictures in Commons. There will be two different sections of the exhibit. Each will grace the separate stairwells. They will depict and narrate the questions “What Is A Boy?” and “What Is A Girl?” The pictures follow and analyze the progression of each gender at Phillips and Abbot Academy. Pictures from old yearbooks will serve as visuals to show how fashion, appearance, sports, activities and other aspects of Andover culture have changed and stayed the same over time. Some of the pictures include old yearbook superlatives, such as the “handsomest boy,” “prettiest girl” and even the “prettiest boy.” The “prettiest boy” award used to be given to an endearing and young-looking boy and was considered to be an honor. This superlative exemplifies one of the most interesting aspects of the exhibit. These days, males generally look upon being called the “prettiest boy” with disdain. “Gender studies isn’t just for women. It can show how femininity and masculinity have changed over time and the meaning of becoming a man, as well as a woman,” said Doucette. The significant changes in Andover fashions are also noteworthy. Rotundo said, “I found it especially interesting to see how uncomfortable some of these boys’ collars looked. I’m sure many girls who view this exhibit will also be surprised to see what girls’ used to wear, as well.” In contrast to other art exhibits being displayed at the Addison Gallery, this exhibit is showcased in a surprising location – Commons. Commons is a gathering place for students and faculty, which will by default draw the attention of much of the school. However having the exhibit in Commons is ironic because it is one of the buildings that have not dramatically changed over the years. “We are trying to reveal stereotypes,” said Doucette. “More than that,” added Rotundo. “The exhibit looks at historical gender through the lens of student life in the past, and Commons is at the heart of student life today.” Comparison alone, however, is not the sole purpose of this exhibit. In addition to old quotes and pictures, there will be thought-provoking questions posted on the walls to make viewers consider why these changes occurred in the first place. What brought about these changes in gender roles, and what maintained the similarities between then and now? Hopefully, these questions will prompt more student discussion on this topic. “This exhibit is meant to show different windows into the lives and images of girls and boys, and how they have changed by looking at the history of the student bodies,” concluded Rotundo. “We’re bringing the past back to where it has always been.”