“Speak Up!” Project to Document Racism on Campus

Students gathered this past Thursday to encourage candor about race on campus through “Speak Up!: A Personal Short Stories Project,” a two-year initiative led by the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD). CAMD hopes to garner interest by compiling written accounts of students’ experiences with race and racism at Andover, working in conjunction with Boston Mobilization, a local non-profit that produced the book “Speak Up!,” a collection of personal narratives on race in New England schools. Susanne Torabi, International Student Coordinator, said “This project looks at the angle of ‘Do we have racism in our school?’ And, as we know, people don’t like to talk about race. I have personally experienced [racism] in this school myself, and I have seen how students were not able to deal with it.” Torabi, Linda Griffith, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD), and other members of the CAMD department will lead the “Speak Up!” Project. However, their efforts will depend primarily on the contributions of Andover students. In Thursday’s Project Feedback Session, students who had read “Speak Up!” shared their responses and considered the applicability of the project at Andover. Attendees expressed excitement at the opportunity to speak about sensitive subjects in a safe environment. The “Speak Up!” project will draw from an anonymous base of student contributors, as students often feel more comfortable writing about personal racism-related experiences when they do not have to have to worry about the reactions of their peers. Farris Peale ’14 said, “Many times, [students of] Phillips Academy think that [the school] is a really liberal and open community. In a lot of ways, it is. But in a lot of ways, it’s not. By doing [the ‘Speak Up!’ Project], I think we can kind of open up and see what those problems are that are still there but are more hidden.” Abigail Burman ’12 said, “Everyone carries with them the issues they have been dealing with at PA. It’s not only racism. It’s classism, sexism, homophobia and problems with religious groups. And I think that we need to confront that.” Based on the eagerness of the students who attended the meeting, Torabi said that there is a high chance of Phillips Academy completing the efforts of its very own ‘Speak Up!’ Project. “We had Asians, black students [and] white students and they all seemed to be very engaged. I liked their thoughts. I liked how they were pushing it. They said, ‘Yes, we can do this. But we want to do it the right way,’” said Torabi. The “Speak Up!” Project was founded by youth members of Sub/Urban Justice, one of the programs of Boston Mobilization. Chris Messinger, Executive Director of Boston Mobilization and Sub/Urban Justice, attended Thursday’s meeting. “We started ‘Speak Up!’ with students in New England Independent Schools who were part of this Sub/Urban Justice Program. They wanted to take action to address the racism in their schools and felt like personal stories were a good way to address that racism,” he said. The “Speak Up!” Project will be hosting its next meeting in October and will focus on progressing the project with students. Messinger plans to attend this meeting. It has yet to be decided whether the project will be limited to only the CAMD department and the students who attended the meeting or whether it will involve the entire school. “I would be disappointed if the project did not work at Phillips Academy. If it fell through the cracks, it would clearly show that there is a lack of willingness to go a step further, because I think Andover students are very capable of doing this,” said Torabi. “We want to be honest. We want to improve. We want to be the best school we can be.”