Adapting to Diversity Within Diversity

Fifteen minutes after the Asian Society meeting started, the chairs that lined the table in Ada’s Room of Paresky Commons remain unfilled. The few occupied seats belong to the six board members, who cast periodic glances at the door.

Despite much publicity—posters, emails and word-of-mouth—Asian Society has seen a steep decline in attendance over the past decade. This decline comes in the face of an increase in the number of students that identify as Asian, Asian-American or mixed-heritage of Asian descent, which has nearly doubled from 14 percent in 1992 to 27 percent in 2013, according to Aya Murata, Advisor to Asian Society and Asian and Asian American students.

When there were a fewer number of Asian students, students of Asian heritage felt that Asian Society was the next best thing to clubs of specific Asian sub-groups that they might better identify with, according to Murata. However, as the sub-demographics within the Asian student population has grown, their needs have varied.

“When you are talking about 27 percent of students identifying as Asian, Asian American and mixed heritage Asian, there is a huge range in what the needs and interests of these students are going to be,” said Murata.

Asian Society’s inability to identify the “needs and interests” of the growing Asian and Asian American demographic reflects a growing problem that the  [Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) office]( faces as a whole.

The multicultural community that Andover encompasses has grown to represent 39 countries from 29 in 1997 and 41.5 percent students of color from 25 percent in 1995, according to the Andover website and the 1995 and 1997 Phillips Academy Catalogs. In addition, more than 13 percent of the school now identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ), according to The Phillipian’s 2013 State of the Academy survey. In the face of a more diverse student body, Griffith still believes CAMD plays an important role in creating a community where “students coming from such different backgrounds be able to, one, learn from each other, and on a very basic level, tolerate each other, and ultimately, to be able to respect each other and begin to understand what you have in common as much to understand and accept your differences.” The question CAMD now faces is how foster this multicultural dialogue. 


CAMD has struggled to accommodate a more diverse student body through traditional organizations such as Af-Lat-Am and Asian Society, which were, at one time, able to accommodate the majority of Andover students, said Linda Griffith, Dean of CAMD.

With the increasing number of students from unique cultural, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, students’ identities are no longer as clearly defined. Thus, students sometimes have trouble fitting into these broad organizations.

“[Biracial or mixed heritage] students would talk to Ms. Murata or me about that, [saying,] ‘Well I feel that if I go to this organization, I’m only supporting one side of my family. If I go to another affinity group, I feel that I’m supporting the other half of my family, but forgetting the other half. So I choose not to go,’” said Griffith.

In order to cater to these different identities, CAMD has had to become more attentive to student needs, creating new affinity groups and offshoots from other larger, more general groups. Mosaic, the mixed heritage or biracial group, stands as a prime example.

Murata, who also serves as the advisor to Mosaic, traced the group’s origins back to the 1990s, when four or five students decided to start the Interracial Student Association. “The constituency was much smaller than it is today, but there were enough students of mixed heritage who felt that ‘Gosh, my experience is not recognized here, I don’t really have a voice,’” said Murata.

In the past ten years, however, the number of students who identify as biracial at Andover has reached eight percent, according to Murata. Around 2005, the number of students identifying as mixed heritage increased dramatically, generating need for the group that has become Mosaic.


Andover has seen diversification within groups that were once considered “homogenous,” which has presented a new challenge for CAMD to adapt to.

“When I grew up, every Asian person was Chinese. I never even thought about a Korean. Japanese were something about the war when I was studying, you know, history,” said Griffith.

Diversification within larger demographics, like the Asian student population, led to the formation of IndoPak seven years ago to raise awareness on Indian and Pakistani issues. The formation of IndoPak “speaks to the idea that not all Asians are homogenous,” said Raj Mundra, Faculty Advisor to IndoPak.

“When I was a teaching fellow in 1991, there were about ten students of South Asian heritage at Andover; now I think there are about 80. I was the first person of South Asian heritage to teach at Andover ever, so I was interested, and the kids were interested in having discussions around our culture and celebrating and bringing awareness to our perspective, our backgrounds to the Andover community,” said Mundra.

IndoPak is not the only club which has been created as an offshoot of Asian Society. Last year, SEA, Andover’s club for students of Southeast Asian Heritage was created to address the needs of students of Filipino, Thai and Indonesian descent.

CAMD has recently created more clubs to represent the increasing number of identities, such as Global Nomads, Andover’s club for students who have spent a significant amount of their life in a culture aside from their own, and Women’s Forum, which discusses gender issues.

CAMD’s creation of new organizations has not been limited to multicultural sphere; to address an increase in spiritual identities, CAMD has developed the Hindu Student Association and Muslim Student Association in the past ten years.


CAMD has also struggled to reassert itself as a legitimate extracurricular option in the increasingly busy daily lives of students. Murata noted that many students, pressed for time and energy, feel that CAMD programs—which lack the academic prestige of Math Club or Philomathean Society, for example—are not a good use of their time.

“Also, over time, I think the demands on students and maybe the pressure in relation to college that kids feel that they have to be involved in different clubs and activities that are more demands on their time. That’s something I have seen over the years, this increasing feeling that I must do this and I must do that and all my extracurriculars need to be somehow academic. Whether that is academic or community service, it has to fulfill some end goal toward the college application, as opposed to just fulfilling one’s particular interests and needs,” said Murata, who also works as a College Counselor.

To counter this perception and incorporate multicultural discussion into students’ lives, CAMD has tried to integrate aspects of its programs into classroom and academic settings through the CAMD Scholar program in 2006 and the recently-founded Global Scholar Program, said Griffith.

“What CAMD wants to see happen is a focus on getting social justice – race, class, and justice – into the academic realm, into the classroom. [Selecting] CAMD scholars is one way of doing it, but we’re still outside [the classroom],” said Griffith.

These programs allow driven students to pursue independent research through an application process. This year’s program saw a 19 percent acceptance rate, with six scholars chosen out of 31 applications.


Besides classroom integration, CAMD is also looking at social media as another possible avenue through which people with their own unique identity can connect with other people who identify in the same way, said Griffith.

CAMD created a Facebook page titled “CAMD Club Communications” on October 10. The page had 109 likes on Thursday afternoon and contains posts highlighting different club events. The Af-Lat-Am Mentoring Program (AMP) also has a Facebook group for mentors and mentees to connect.

“[The] other piece about social media is two-fold. That’s one of the challenges that [Frank Wu] spoke about. But I think many of you can get what you want through social media. You can get into a group, you’re part of whatever [group of people you may identify with],” said Griffith.

Two weeks ago, Frank Wu, Chancellor and Dean of University of California, Hastings College of Law, also spoke about the role of social media in an ever-diversifying world to the Andover community.

While CAMD has only begun its efforts to create a social media presence, it is optimistic about its future possibilities. With greater accessibility and the ability to connect easily with almost anyone, CAMD believes that social media will play a larger role in the office’s ongoing strategy.

_Note: All graphs are from _The Phillipian_’s [2013 Report on the State of the Academy](