Community service coordinators, leaders of mentoring programs, prefects, Co-Heads of dance and music groups: these are what I see when I look at my black and Latino friends. This is why I am sometimes confused by discussions among some circles at Andover about students of color being underrepresented in leadership positions on campus. My own personal experiences and those of my friends prove otherwise. But there is, however, a notable lack of black and Latino students holding politically influential positions at this school.
The positions that I listed are all arts and community clubs, and all of them are headquartered in Graves Hall, the Chapel or the Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) Office. Where are the students of color among the boards of our campus’s larger and politically active clubs? What about the Philomathean Society, “Frontline,” Model United Nations (MUN), Mock Trial and even The Phillipian? Why is black and Hispanic political leadership virtually nonexistent, despite the fact that black and Hispanic students comprise 15 percent of the student body?
There are, in fact, several reasons. This gross disparity is caused by an unfortunate cycle that unintentionally discourages minority students from becoming and staying involved. Any student might have difficulty in the competitive environment fostered by political clubs, but minority students face additional obstacles.
One such obstacle is the “microaggression.” An increasingly common term, a microaggression is an action not intended to be racist or offensive, but that nevertheless has that effect. For example, to a black or Hispanic student, the statement, “You speak so well,” while of benign intention, is one of the most common and annoying. Is it actually surprising or noteworthy in any way that an Andover student, though he or she happens to identify as black or Latino, is eloquent? Microaggressions like these are everywhere at Andover and are just one reason that minorities feel certain clubs do not provide them with an encouraging environment.
As members of political and debate clubs, black and Latino students also often face issues that result from the intersection of their race and class. With these clubs in particular, many students of higher socioeconomic class arrive with prior experience; they come from middle schools that offered debate teams or school publications or attended speech camps over the summer. We must remember, however, that not all students have had such opportunities.
In reality, an overwhelming number of black and Latino students come from less privileged socioeconomic backgrounds. As seen in club environments that rely heavily on competition, students’ prior educational experiences and access to resources at a younger age can have an enormous impact on their performance later on. This fact serves only to invalidate the myth that Andover is the “great equalizer.”
Regardless of socioeconomic class, self-doubt invariably affects black or Latino students more than others. Why should we put up with the competition, the microaggressions and the feelings of inferiority that stem from not being able to match other students’ privilege? Why put ourselves through that extra grief at an already stressful school?
The worst part is that this is a cycle. There are practically no students of color among the leaders of politically active clubs who can serve as examples to younger students and prove that such obstacles are possible to overcome and that such unwelcoming environments are possible to thrive in.
Unfortunately, I do not have the answers to this problem. Only through discussion, an ad hoc caucus specifically for this issue and a commitment to change can we get rid of these unfair obstacles for blacks and Latinos. I urge leaders and other students in positions of influence to be conscious of these issues and to be willing to recognize the faults and deficiencies of their own organizations.
Following that example, I applaud The Phillipian and their self-reflective editorial on January 17, 2014. By acknowledging that there is indeed a problem, they have taken the first step in rectifying the underrepresentation of black and Latino students. Nevertheless, the hardest work has yet to be done.