To the Editor:
According to The Phillipian’s 2015 “State of the Academy,” 23 percent of students do not consider themselves happy at Andover. In 2014, 48 percent of people said they thought Andover students were unhappy at large. 125 students reportedly engaged in self-harm after coming to Andover. Most students get fewer than eight hours of sleep a night. I do not blame Andover for the stresses of academia or for the inadequacies of the system at large. Students live extremely stressful lives mainly because of external pressures, but the administration, faculty and students have all failed to create an environment wherein we promote wellness over academic achievement. The Wellness Week programming for Seniors on Monday demonstrated a misguided attempt to address these issues.
The Class of 2016, with college applications submitted, walked into mock admissions committees. We were told to read three applications before the workshop (around 50 pages of materials). We spent the session reviewing the applicants.
The intent, I believe, was that we would see how college applications are reviewed, and feel relieved – but the college process is unfair and stressful by nature; students were rightfully angry. The last thing anyone needed for their wellness was to rethink their own already completed college applications and to compare themselves to the fake applicants. It felt like a slap in the face.
At the end of my particular session, the guest admissions officer asked how many of us felt that the exercise was mistimed and unhelpful. Every hand went up. On the Seniors 2016 Facebook page, Peter Hahn ’16 received massive support for his criticism of the event when he voiced that an hour-long discussion about the college admissions process did not improve Seniors’ health.
Apparently, this workshop will be moved to Upper Spring, which is certainly timed better. But while the information about what colleges actually look for in the applicants would be quite useful to Uppers, the fake applications and review process only cause unhealthy comparisons.
If Wellness Week failed to address unhealthy stress, then what can we do? There are three bodies on campus – the faculty, the students and the administration – that can take simple steps to make Andover a healthier place without sacrificing intellectual rigor.
Most teachers would agree that grades are a flawed representation of learning and that they promote unhealthy views of self-worth. They know that grades shift the focus from learning to resume-building. Yet, I have only had one teacher in my Andover career who actively attempts to help out with grades and stress. She asks if the homework is reasonable; she gives helpful opportunities for extra credit which call for intellectual thought; she makes it clear what she expects from us and tells us what we can do to improve our grades. She understands that we all take three to five other courses. I’ve learned more and worked harder in her class than anywhere else.
Other teachers have no shame in giving unmanageable amounts of work. They assign more reading than will be completed by most kids in the name of academic rigor. They assign multiple large assignments in short periods of time. They give busywork. They keep grading unclear, causing undue stress. They do not make us feel like they are on our side – even though they are, or at least should be. They must pay attention to the fact that not every student is here to become an intellectual powerhouse – many students are here for social mobility or lack of an alternate option. Teachers must be equitable to those who are disadvantaged in the classroom because of their socioeconomic standing. They must have their students’ wellness as their number-one priority, they must actively think about any undue stress that they may cause, and they must know, acknowledge and follow the regulations that the administration sets.
The administration recently planned surprise Senior square dancing. I appreciate the genuine effort to help us out, but it really felt like the larger issues were being swept under the rug. The schedule change is a great place to start. But how can we be assured that this will change the campus dynamic? Maintaining the status quo should not be an option unless there is a call for more regulation on work. The administration has to enforce the rules about major assignments and homework. Almost all students have experienced blatant violations of those policies. The administration needs to address the policies and culture at large – Senior square dancing won’t do.
And finally, to the scared, timid students: We are miserable when we have too much to do and get too little sleep, yet we consistently oblige to unreasonable demands, or choose to give up. We cannot sit around idly, letting them cause detriment to our health. We must learn to advocate for healthy, fulfilling lives. Notably, 62 percent of us said ‘no’ to the question: “In general, are Andover students ‘Non Sibi’?” We must learn to empathize with and support our peers. We cannot prioritize our own success over our collective wellbeing.
If we stop pointing fingers at any one group and take individual responsibility for the culture of unhealthy stress, we can make lasting change on campus.
Krishna Canning ’16
Signatories: Darian Bhathena ’16 Maddie Comer ’16 Jules Comte ’16 Anna Dear ’16 Diana Ding ’16 Rohan Dixit ’16 Allison Dumitriu Carcoana ’16 James Flynn ’16 Nathalie Griffiths ’16 Ian Jackson ’16 Payton Jancsy ’16 Ben Kelleher ’16 Max Kim ’16 Miles Harris ’16 Richard Ira ’16 Joe Lee ’16 Kelly McCarthy ’16 Cam Mesinger ’16 Harper North ’16 Veronica Nutting ’16 Alex-Maree Roberts ’16 James Taylor ’16 Claire Tellekson-Flash ’16 Terrence Xiao ’16