Defining Identity: ?“Out of the Blue” Addresses Discrimination on Campus

“For the most part, coming out at Andover gave me a new freedom,” reads the beginning of an anonymous story in “Out of the Blue.” “The freedom to forget. To forget that I am not normal. To forget that, because of something I can’t change, others might hate me.”

A collection of personal stories, poems and artwork, “Out of the Blue” (“OOTB”) is a Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) student project tackling discrimination against self-identity at Andover.

Today, over two years after the beginning of the project, every student and member of the faculty, administration and staff will receive a free copy of the 223-paged book. Alumni will have access to the book in a PDF format online.

“As students at Andover, we can gain a better understanding of ourselves through the stories that are in the book. As we’ve been working on it, we’ve learnt things about ourselves, just through reading the stories and gaining an idea of what it means to connect to an identity,” said Devontae Freeland ’15, one of the “OOTB” coordinators.

Covering all types of discrimination at Andover, the book is split into seven sections: gender, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, religion, geographic origin and ability.

“As some of these stories attest, we are currently not an all-accepting community,” said Thea Rossman ’15, an “OOTB” coordinator. “We don’t live in a post-race, post-gender, post-class society. These things still matter, and these are things that we carry with us forever. These shape our everyday interactions, and we really hope that this can be one step in the process of getting everyone to think about what it means to live with certain identities.”

None of the book’s approximately 100 writing and art pieces are directly attributed. Instead, names of the nearly 70 students and 21 faculty members who contributed to the project are listed at the end of the book. Everyone with a connection to the Andover community was invited to submit.

“I hope that it will open people’s eyes to the issues in a more personal, genuine way, and it’ll be available for everyone to understand,” said Carrie Ingerman ’15, an “OOTB” coordinator. “I know that a lot of kids never step foot in CAMD during their four years here. I really hope that people take the time to read it and get to know their fellow students, and that we’ll grow as a community to become more accepting of others and their differences.”

The project was launched in fall 2011 when Susanne Torabi, International Student Coordinator and faculty advisor to “OOTB,” went to a summer workshop where another program showcased their own “OOTB”-type project. Inspired by the project, Torabi introduced the idea to the Andover community that fall.

Four thousand copies of the book were ordered and delivered to campus on Wednesday afternoon. The project was primarily funded by the Abbot Academy Association through two Abbot Academy Grants. There have also been generous donations from parents and alumni to the CAMD office specifically earmarked for “OOTB.”

“OOTB” is planning a two-weekend celebration of the publication. This Friday night, “OOTB” will host a screening of “The Breakfast Club.”

This coming Sunday morning in Paresky Commons, “OOTB” will host a coffee house event where students and faculty will read selections from the book. Ingerman said there will also be musical performances.

The group will also host a dance on the first Saturday after school begins in January.

“It’s a dress-how-you-want masquerade ball. It’s about hiding in your identity and being who you want to be. We will have masks, and people can write how they identify on their masks, and we’ll have dancing and photo booths and blow-ups of the quotes [from the book],” said Ingerman.

Freeland said that “OOTB” will not end with the publication of the book. This Wednesday, the organization launched the “OOTB” blog which will contain stories and highlights from the book.

“The ‘Out of the Blue’ blog is a continuation of the book so that the movement never dies and doesn’t stop with the publication. We will also be holding events throughout the school year and will continue to invite speakers, host forums and pair up with other CAMD clubs,” said Freeland.

As a prefect, Freeland said that he plans to use the stories featured in the book at dorm meetings. Several PACE seniors also expressed interest in using the stories as part of their PACE curriculum.

Linda C. Griffith, Dean of CAMD and one of the lead faculty advisors of the project, hopes that the school will use the book during new faculty and student orientation as well as a supplement to the Martin Luther King Jr. day workshops for Juniors and Lowers.

“With [the “OOTB” book,] you could not only talk about what gender is, but read a story, a tangible and concrete example of what students here on campus are actually experiencing. There is a certain power that stories have that statistics and facts do not possess,” Griffith said.

“We see [the “OOTB” book] as the beginning of an in-depth conversation on this campus about identity. What it means to be different, as well as what it means to have things in common,” she continued.