Committing to Community

Every student currently at Andover knows the heart-pounding panic of seeing the Non Sibi Day sign-up email land in their inbox. Fingers fumbling, we frantically click the link and scan through the list of engagement opportunities, searching for the event that we set our hearts on a week before. Click. It’s already full. And so is our second choice. And our third. Finally, we land on one of the last two activities available, all within ten minutes of the email having been sent out. The charge to sign up for Community Engagement programs isn’t just limited to Non Sibi Day. Regular term programming inspires the same mad rush for sign-ups.

Sometimes only select programs are available to students due to scheduling conflicts, and it just seems easier to pass on Community Engagement for the term rather than deal with the headache. With such a difficult process, student frustration with the system is often justified. A solution to this problem is expanding existing programs to accommodate more students, as well as simplifying the process of getting new Community Engagement programs off the ground. But this, of course, is not as simple as it may sound.

Andover’s Community Engagement Department boasts volunteer and program numbers well above all of our peer schools’, explained Monique Cueto-Potts, Director of Community Engagement. Our 2.5 person office and 65,000 dollar budget per year is well above the average for Community Engagement departments at other schools, and, according to CuetoPotts, our budget for Non Sibi Day is equivalent to some schools’ budgets for an entire year.

The department’s main expense is transportation to and from program sites, such as the cost of school buses and the fee associated with renting Andover’s rally wagons. But according to Cueto-Potts, their greatest need is for adult drivers and volunteers to drive and monitor students at programs. Although the department consistently has community partners in need of volunteers and students who languish on waiting lists, it is simply unable to chaperone extra programs without a larger adult volunteer force.

Faculty members are required to participate in two terms worth of athletic commitments, but there is no requirement for faculty or staff to participate in Community Engagement programming as part of their workload. Additionally, there is no system in place for ensuring programs have the adult participants they need to operate. In the past, programs that had already been arranged with community partners were cancelled after no faculty or staff signed up to chaperone or drive, explained Cueto-Potts.

Instead, adults are recruited individually on a volunteer basis, either directly by the Community Engagement Department, or the Dean of Faculty Office. According to Cueto-Potts, during the academic year 2016-2017, only eight out of 218 faculty members participated in Community Engagement programs, along with 2 staff members, which severely limited the amount of programs that could be expanded or introduced.

Campus adults can’t be expected or forced to add Community Engagement commitments to their schedules on their own time. The solution is to allow faculty and staff to participate in Community Engagement programs as part of their workload, similar to the way the Athletic Department finds coaches and other staff. According to Cueto-Potts, Human Resources already allows staff members in certain departments to take paid time out of their work day to participate in Community Engagement, but the program is not yet widely utilized.

Without faculty participation, no Community Engagement budget hike will increase the number or size of programs offered. In order to open the department up to more student-founded programs and boost participation, Andover’s administration must introduce a system to simplify the Community Engagement chaperone recruitment process. If Andover truly values the principles of Non Sibi, then we must work to help our Community Engagement Department spread the ethos of our motto as efficiently and effectively as we possibly can.

This editorial represents the views of The Phillipian, vol. CXL.