Every day, 11 students walk towards Old Abbot Campus and stop at a regal brick building supported by four white pillars. For these students, this building serves as both a living space and a community of closely knit peers.
Alumni House in Abbot Cluster has served as Andover’s first all-gender dorm since last fall. The dorm currently hosts 11 students and one House Counselor. For many of its inhabitants, Alumni serves as a safe, open space in which students can live together and be themselves.
After its inaugural year, Emma Staffaroni, House Counselor in Alumni and Instructor in English, reflected on her experience of moving into and living in an all-gender dorm.
“Having previously lived for four years in a ‘girls’ dorm (I use quotes because we only assume the students were girls but you can’t see someone’s gender identity), I see that some of the toxic aspects of single-gender spaces do not exist in Alumni. It could be because we are mostly Seniors and therefore a rather mature group, but I also think it’s because gender stereotypes and roles are actively not reinforced in our living space,” wrote Staffaroni in an email to The Phillipian.
Staffaroni wrote that Andover plans to continue supporting all-gender dorms in the school’s residential system.
Staffaroni wrote, “Our plan is to offer the option of at least one all-gender residential space from here on out. That is to say that there may be years where students do not need or desire this space, but even if we don’t have an [all-gender dorm] one year,we will still offer it for the following year, and so on.”
Emma Slibeck ’20, a current resident of Alumni, hopes that the all-gender dorm will become a norm for students and the general Andover community in the future.
Slibeck said, “I think spreading awareness about the all-gender [dorm] and having an all-gender dorm is certainly taking great strides in the right direction, but one thing that I would like to see is for the all-gender dorm to be less of this foreign or unique thing and more of like it’s just another dorm.”
Slibeck continued, “I mean, yes, it’s a very special thing, but it’s also just a dorm, and I think that’s something that people miss a lot.”
Like Slibeck, fellow Alumni resident Grace Hitchcock ’20 also said that the implementation of an all-gender dorm has been a recent step in advocating for a gender-inclusive environment at Andover.
“I can’t imagine any other high school campus that’s as accepting of gender inclusivity as Andover is. In the two years now that I’ve been here, I’ve seen so many different ways that students and teachers alike advocate for gender inclusivity, and gender equality,” said Hitchcock.
Despite Andover’s efforts to create more gender-inclusive environments, many people believe that gender inclusivity at Andover still needs improvement. Max Rigby-Hall ’18, Proctor in Alumni, expressed his concern that students fall short in asking individuals their preferred gender pronouns (PGPs). PGPs allow an individual to be referred to by the pronouns they use to identify themselves.
“I still am not asked my PGPs when I first introduce myself in a class, which is such an easy step for gender inclusivity,” said Rigby-Hall.
Rigby-Hall continued, “Clubs, teams, music, theatre, still struggle with the basic question of asking someone how they want to be referred to as. And I think that at least my dorm has addressed it really well, using people’s preferred pronouns, having conversations about gender, but I think that Andover is still in a place where we fail to acknowledge those who we don’t see as normal or conventional within gender.”
Alumni resident Forrest Eimold ’18 added that Andover’s current housing process enforces the gender binary.
Eimold said, “I think the gender binary that we see at Andover definitely has historical precedent, but I think Andover can do the most work in accommodating students who either don’t fit in with the gender binary themselves or don’t like what it entails.”
According to Rigby-Hall, the goal of Alumni is to practice inclusion and to provide a safe space for students who do not necessarily want to live in a single-gender dorm. Slibeck believes that the environment in Alumni is very supportive.
Rigby-Hall said, “I personally identify within the gender binary. However, I feel like, for me, living in an all-male dorm wasn’t a super conductive place for me to feel comfortable being myself, especially as a queer student. So I feel like this space has become like a place for everyone who just needs a space to feel like they can be themselves in the dorm.”
Slibeck said, “Most of us didn’t know who the other people were until we were in the dorm. But within weeks, it felt like we had been living with each other for months. We have quite a few dorm chats and some of them are for weird, out of context quotes and some of them are for funny photos, and I think that’s just something that’s representative of our dorm. At the one hand, we’re very serious and there for each other, very supportive, but we’re also extremely goofy and fun.”
According to Staffaroni, the residents of Alumni House represent a diverse group of people who come together like a family. Staffaroni gains knowledge and perspective from each of them, and she sees a positive impact of gender heterogeneity on the dorm. Staffaroni and House Compliments Lisa Joel, Director of Enrollment Management, Margaret Harrigan, Instructor in Art, and LaShawn Springer, Director of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD), make up the faculty team supporting the dorm.
“Often times, I don’t really remember that it’s an all-gender space, it feels very natural and because everyone is there because they want to be, I think the space is transfigured into something really beautiful and something very wonderful to be in,” said Eimold.