Andover: Not a Meritocracy

In recent weeks, Out of the Blue, More Than Just a Number, a group of Asian and Asian-American students and the Coed@40 Committee have pushed our community to examine our identities, our privileges and the meaning of diversity. We have seen students find the confidence to share their stories with a compassionate audience through panels, letters and articles. Our community has tried to both confront the system of oppression we live in and create the potential for lasting change.

But while we have taken our first steps towards positive growth, there are still those who deny the existence of racism, sexism and other oppressive systems, who doubt the power of a shared story and who reject an emphasis on intentional diversity, condemning it as racial discrimination in our supposed “meritocracy.”

We cannot operate under the false pretense that Andover is a meritocracy, or that a true meritocracy is somehow desirable or possible. History has shown how empowered groups have used the concept of merit to systematically disenfranchise other groups. Andover is a community of 1,100 students from different backgrounds, identities and experiences, students who have received different opportunities and primary school educations. Our varied experiences cannot be evaluated or encapsulated by any construction of merit, especially at a place like Andover where privileged students inherently have an advantage.

As a community, we have a responsibility to take steps towards a system that judges people individually, in relation to their context, and not on some notion of merit or “fit” that systematically excludes already marginalized groups.

Affirmative action is a step forward because it addresses the privileges that make academic and vocational success more accessible to some individuals and groups than to others. For an exclusive institution that employs the principles of affirmative action in its admittance practices, the result is a community that is diverse in race, class, ethnicity, gender and other characteristics.

In a society of prejudice and discrimination, intentional diversity is educationally enriching in that it brings oftenly-suppressed voices to the table. It is each of our individual challenges that shapes our readings of Shakespeare in English 300, our views on immigration at a PA Republicans meeting or our interpretation of a Drama Lab. Those who claim they cannot even “name one way” in which race or gender shapes people’s viewpoints overlook the degree to which these categories are intertwined with their own identities and experiences.

As a result of the above, we, the authors, are disturbed that some individuals in this community, mainly those in a position of privilege with regards to race, class and gender, claim that forums and discussions do not bring about any “real” progress, reducing shared experience to “commiseration.” We beg to differ. It is not the place for privileged individuals to define what progress looks like in social justice movements.

Furthermore, the joy of meeting others who share your passion, your sorrow, your rage, your experience and the opportunity to touch someone in the heart and mind and for them to empathize with your experiences — that certainly is progress. We share our stories because we see the potential to effect change in a joint effort with both the marginalized and the privileged.

No person is unwelcome in a discussion of diversity, but actively discrediting the experiences of disenfranchised students invokes a legacy of oppression that continues to stifle their voices.

In order to work in solidarity with marginalized groups, the privileged need to often sit down and listen silently to a conversation that they have monopolized for a very, very long time. Listening, trusting and taking cues from the marginalized are among the most powerful acts a privileged person can do to support those who need their voices heard.

Janine Ko is a four-year Senior from North Andover, Mass.
Kai Kornegay is a three-year Senior from Goodyear, AZ.
Daniel Wang is a two-year Senior from West Windsor, NJ.
Alex Tamkin is a two-year senior from Glencoe, IL.
Isabella Oliva is a two-year Lower from Brooklyn, NY.
Jonathan Arone is a four-year Senior from Boxford, Mass.