Facing the Tensions

During All-School Meeting (ASM) on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Head of School John Palfrey asked the keynote speaker, Steve Pemberton, Chief Diversity Officer at Walgreens, how Andover can better embrace diversity. In response, Mr. Pemberton stressed the importance of immersing ourselves in “experiences beyond our own” and seeking a common ground with our peers.

Supporting the ideas that Mr. Pemberton explored, the Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Office naturally serves as an anchor for understanding and sharing diversity on campus. In accordance with its mission statement, CAMD creates venues for students to engage in cross-cultural dialogue through its advising system and various clubs and programs. We commend CAMD for its initiatives, particularly for its success among diversity groups at Andover.

Despite these accomplishments, a significant portion of the student body does not engage in CAMD programs. While most CAMD clubs are non-exclusive, our community often regards them, incorrectly, as affinity groups because they center around specific cultures, beliefs or orientations. Students sometimes perceive that these organizations emphasize the differences between us, rather than aim to foster understanding. Thus discouraged, these students do not attend meetings, and groups become homogenous and at odds with CAMD’s overall purpose.

From here at the paper, we often hear students say, “I can’t join Asian Society—I’m not Asian.” For an “outsider,” it can be intimidating to participate in, or even step into, environments specifically dedicated to multiculturalism. This discomfort, as well as physical differences, can drive “non-minority” students away from CAMD (although, as with any generalization, there are student exceptions to this rule).

Whenever sensitive questions arise, such as those regarding sexual orientation, race or socioeconomic status, any student, no matter his or her background, will feel some degree of discomfort. Although it can be easier for students to discuss diversity in settings of like-mindedness, the unsheltered world outside Andover demands that we as students face these tensions head-on. CAMD’s efforts establish a genuinely functional forum for these conversation. But to truly embrace the understanding of diversity that Pemberton emphasized, we must work, as a community, to remove the stigmas that cloud the CAMD office in the eyes of Andover students.

Though discussions may at first feel artificial or invasive, discomfort should not deter us from further engagement in CAMD. Only by continuing these conversations do they become genuine and effective.

As Mr. Pemberton highlighted at ASM, every student, no matter his or her “extent of difference,” has something to give to and something to learn from the active execution of productive discussion.

This Editorial represents the views of The Phillipian Editorial Board CXXXV.