Student Activism in Social Media

Out of the Blue Mae Zhao

Within minutes, a public congratulatory post on social media escalated with tension as insensitive comments on wealth and privilege were exchanged amongst users, leading to heated quarrels.

Andover’s social justice group, Out of the Blue (OOTB) caught this misuse of social media and responded by holding an open forum on Friday, December 11 to discuss the appropriate usage of social media in conducting discussions.

“We thought it was pretty important for everyone to come together in person to discuss how we should conduct ourselves online [and] whether social media was the right platform for people to discuss these issues,” said Avery Jonas ’16, a board member of OOTB.

During the forum, Head of School John Palfrey, students and faculty explored different issues on social media usage, including how our rights for freedom of speech can be appropriately applied on social media.

“Mr. Palfrey [concluded the event by summing] up what a lot of us were thinking, basically saying that social media isn’t the right place to have [some of] these conversations, and if you decide to talk about topics of identity, [there are occasional] limitations to free speech,” said Jonas.

For Jonas, the forum was not only a way to discuss how students should conduct themselves on social media, but also a way to get students unfamiliar with social justice issues to join the conversation.

“I think [the forums are] a way to get people who… don’t usually engage in discussing topics of identity to come out and see that it is not just a bunch of people out to get them… We can all learn from each other,” said Jonas.

Members of the group hope to break the stigma around political correctness and strong liberal political views. “I feel like the problem in our forums in the past is that we only get one voice. We are only getting the liberal-minded people who generally agree with what the Out of the Blue board would agree with. I feel like we are not getting the discourse there… when, in reality, we are trying to create this discourse. I feel like it can be polarizing at times,” said Bennett Sherr ’17, a board member of OOTB.

“[Many students] feel like they want to learn more but they feel as though their biases or beliefs keep them from being able to come to these spaces…because they believe that the majority of people at the forums have this opinion and their opinions may not agree with that,” said Jonas.

Claudia Meng ’18, a board member of OOTB, believed that the stigma against voicing unpopular opinions could cause their forums to be often misunderstood. “[The forums] are supposed to raise relevant questions about race, class ability, gender; all aspects of identity, and [OOTB’s social media usage forum] in particular raises questions about… how can we be respectful of each other while maintaining our own personal right to express ourselves,” said Meng.

OOTB hopes to continue holding forums addressing social justice issues relevant to the Andover community, and to encourage on-campus discussion.

More than Just a Number Cecelia Vieira

Early 2014 was a turning point for conversation regarding race at Andover. Students banded together to write a series of Commentary articles about their experiences regarding their race, and a group of then-Uppers and Seniors especially felt inspired to take the dialogue further.

The “I, Too, Am Andover” campaign began when a group of students, calling themselves “More Than Just A Number,” released their mission statement and began advocating for the importance of discussion about race on campus.

A main focus of the group was to raise awareness of harmful microaggressions towards students of color.

“I was approached by [Jaleel Williams ‘15] and [Alex Thomas ‘15]… The two of them approached me and asked about being an advisor for the group, and I wasn’t quite sure, at first, how they were seeing the formation of this group… Part of [me questioned] how this group [was] going to be any different than the other groups that we have on campus,” said LaShawn Springer, Director of Community & Multicultural Development.

The “More Than Just A Number” movement decided to bring the conversation online, and the “I, Too, Am, Andover” group began a photo campaign, emulating the efforts of the “I, Too, Am Harvard” movement founded by black students at Harvard College in 2014.

The photo campaign featured portraits of black students holding boards with microaggressions and racist comments they have heard on campus. Though the photos were originally shared on the group’s Tumblr and Instagram accounts, the movement began to spread onto other social media sites as well, with students changing their profile pictures to these photos.

“It was really widespread on social media… I think that it was helpful for students to see other students who they knew and were friends with say these things through this medium that they might not have said otherwise. [The movement] gave them the confidence to do that,” said committee member Julia Zell ’15. Committee member Alba Disla ’15 believed that taking the movement to social media helped broadcast the group’s message to a wider audience.

“Using social media helped get our message out to a broad audience in a visual way. We were putting faces to the stories that we often heard about by ear or in other Phillipian articles. We got support from a lot students in helping form the committees and carry out the photo project,” said Disla in an email to The Phillipian.

The group’s work to expose the power of microaggressions in everyday interactions using social media helped to further open the conversation about race on campus. James Taylor ’16, who was a Lower when the movement first began to gain traction, appreciated that the group took the lead in confronting the unease black students at Andover experienced. “I think it was important that the ‘I, Too, Am Andover’ campaign came to Andover because it really gave voice to a lot of the issues that students of color, specifically black students on campus, face that people [didn’t] necessarily [know] about… It was really just a good way to express openly some of the issues and discomfort that black students at Andover sometimes feel around being in this space,” said Taylor.

Feminism = Equality Sarah Rigazio

With the aid of their Facebook page, over 1,000 members connected to Andover have carried on the social movement “Feminism Is Equality” since 2013.

The movement “Feminism Is Equality,” or most commonly referred to as F=E, was jumpstarted on campus by several members in the class of 2013. Sparked by the recent school president election in which the winners were the only pair with two males, and not the other pairs consisting of one male and one female, MJ Engel ’13, Maia Hirschler ‘13, Sam Green ‘13, Henry Kennelly ‘13, and Gabbi Fisher ‘13 wrote a Letter to the Editor in The Phillipian in the hopes of initiating dialogue.

“[We] wrote a Letter to the Editor in The Phillipian about how voters should keep gender in mind when voting because at that point our school had only had four female school presidents in the 40 years of co-education,” said Engel in an interview with The Phillipian.

The Facebook group “Feminism at Andover,” started by Engel and her peers in the class of 2013, is still an active group in which Andover students can post and discuss issues regarding feminism. The online tool provides constant thought-provoking debates regarding feminism both within and outside the Andover community.

“Anyone affiliated with Andover from students to faculty could join [the Facebook group] in order to further discuss gender, race, class, and other intersectional issues. During my time on campus a lot of the debates were held in the Facebook group. These debates were about campus-related issues as well as more general discussions,” said Engel. Anyone in the group is encouraged to comment and share their opinion on whatever matter the post concerns.

“I think this social media group allowed people who maybe didn’t want to speak in public forums [with] an opportunity to read, participate in discussions online, and become better informed about what the movement was trying to do,” continued Engel.

“[In the Facebook group], people posted everything from observations to articles and sparked dialogue within the broader Andover community of faculty, students, and alums,” said Emma Staffaroni, Instructor in English.

Though Liz Irvin ’17 was not here for the start of the movement at Andover, she believed that the social media movement was the creator of the thriving feminism that exists here today.

Irvin said in an interview with The Phillipian, “[F=E] laid the groundwork for the feminist community at Andover now. I know that it was centered around the idea of making feminism something that people could understand, by simplifying it in terms of equality. So, now there are ways that we can use that, use what they started.” An active participant of Women’s Forum (WoFo), Irvin attributed the current message and purpose of the club to the F=E movement.

Irvin said, “[F=E] is important because it’s the backbone of any other kind of feminism-related movement. In WoFo, we’re trying to focus on being intersectional – so including systems of oppression and looking for equality in different ways. It all boils down to F=E, feminism equals equality; it means all kinds of equality, which is something that we’re constantly trying to focus on.”