Fighting the Good Fight

I published an offensive cartoon last spring, two months into my tenure as Editor in Chief of The Phillipian, vol. CXXXVII.

Just weeks before printing the cartoon, The Phillipian published articles and commentary about race and diversity that were giving voice to beliefs that had far too long been unspoken. Brave, provocative and challenging conversations about diversity took hold of our campus, and significant changes in the way we operated as a community seemed to loom on the horizon. Yet in the process of presenting the variety of opinions in this discussion in our community newspaper, I failed to recognize the historical images of discrimination in a cartoon that accompanied a particularly sensitive article.

I failed in my greatest responsibility as Editor in Chief: I had failed to protect my newspaper and my community. Externally, we took immediate action, redacting the cartoon online and issuing an apology that afternoon. Internally, however, I struggled to understand what had happened. How could I have missed the cartoon when we spent hours carefully working with writers to be as equitable, fair and responsible as possible in their articles? As an Asian woman, thus part of two often marginalized groups, how could I have gone through life so apathetic and so ignorant to the experiences of others around me? Was I qualified to uphold my responsibility at the helm of this 137-year-old, uncensored student newspaper?

Over a year has passed since Friday, May 2, 2014. People often ask members of our Upper Management how we remember the date so clearly, but how could we not? I forced myself down the Morse Hall stairs to the newsroom every day for the rest of Spring Term, determined to redeem the newspaper to our community and to myself. Yet I often felt utterly at a loss as an individual and as Editor in Chief, the fear that I would fail again looming over me, nipping at my heels, sticking in the back of my throat. I found myself still afraid to speak out, to confront my privileges and to articulate my feelings about everything that had happened. If I could not come to terms with myself as an individual, how could I possibly move our newspaper forward?

It took the summer, distance and time for me to sort through my feelings and grapple my ignorance. “Ignorance” is a strong word, often taken with a negative connotation; it took me time to understand that while we published the cartoon in innocence and well-intentioned unawareness, we were, and had lived, in ignorance. It took help from Linda Carter Griffith, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development, lengthy conversations, diversity training and an eye-opening list of books I read. It took the wisdom, patience and understanding of the Andover community for me to learn not how to be “politically correct,” but to see a whole new world of structural, historical disadvantage of which I had been privileged to live in ignorance.

I have felt a tangible change in my life since last spring. I have been learning every day through reading, through my classes, through my interactions with others and through the new awareness and sensitivity I have begun to feel. Something even as small and straightforward as consciously avoiding gendered terms like “man up” in my conversations with my younger brother reminds me of how much Andover has taught me. Perhaps the most important lesson I will ever learn happened not in the classroom, a textbook or the Community Conduct Council meetings last spring, but through the characteristics that make Andover so special. It is the trust that the school places in us – by urging us to be independent at a young age, by having an uncensored school newspaper, by encouraging us to tackle difficult conversations – to make mistakes, and more importantly, to grow from them together. I reflect now on my past mistakes not to excuse them or justify them in any way. I want to believe that just as I have changed for the better since I first stepped foot into Nathan Hale as a naïve 14 year-old in 2011, Andover has changed as well. During my four years here, Andover has taken on difficult discussions about gender equality, about sexual education, about race and about mental health this winter. I like to believe that our community has become more accepting, more open and more knowledgeable. There is still a long way to go, but I trust that Andover students will continue to fight the good fight.

Editor’s Note: Jamie Chen ’15 was the Editor in Chief of The Phillipian, vol. CXXXVII.