Dn@ndover Presents Projects Fusing DNA and Identity

Erin Vasquez ’19 discovered that she is 51% Native and 39% European.
C.Waggoner/The Phillipian

Erin Vasquez ’19 discovered that she is 51% Native and 39% European.

Over the past several months, 18 Andover students have been studying their DNA, contemplating its importance, and creating presentations on their conclusions. The culmination of their research was Dn@ndover, a talk about their findings presented on May 18.

Students analyzed their DNA using kits from 23andMe, a genetic testing and analysis company. The tests were funded by an Abbot Grant. Students each spit into tubes and then sent the tubes to 23andMe for evaluation.

A few weeks later, students received their results. Following this, students met with Head of School John Palfrey to discuss DNA and identity and worked with Emily Trespas, Instructor in Art, to create found poems.

“I thought it would be an interesting opportunity to find out more about my identity because I’m second generation Mexican-American. I’ve always been proud of my Mexican heritage, but it’s always been something that’s kind of foreign for me,” said Erin Vasquez ’19.

Vasquez appreciated the opportunity to learn more about her Mexican heritage. Through the testing, Vasquez discovered that she is 51% Native and 39% European.

“That was really interesting because I thought I would be more European than Native. Through this, I was able to initiate conversations with my family,” said Vasquez.

Vasquez’s presentation explored the toxicity of assumptions and generalizations about identity through the lens of her own experiences as a Mexican-American woman.

Vazquez said, “You shouldn’t let assumptions and generalizations about you and your identity affect how you perceive your identity. For me, I took a lot of that for granted, being told I was white because I didn’t speak Spanish, and that distanced me from my culture.”

Jerry Shu ’21 was first interested in the test because he, like Vazquez, wanted to explore his ancestry. Before the test, Shu assumed he was 100 percent Chinese. The test revealed, however, that Shu is Chinese with Korean ancestry. Although Shu’s results were not completely surprising to him, he stressed the importance of personal identity over genetics in his presentation.

“Especially [because] Andover always stresses diversity, I think it’s just another opportunity for people to be more open about their identity. The DNA part wasn’t the most important, I think it was just learning more about yourself because there are a lot of people, me included, who saw the DNA results and weren’t particularly surprised,” Shu said.

Miley Kaufman ’19 was also not heavily impacted by her DNA results. Kaufman’s presentation explored the nuances of family, ancestry, and DNA. She discussed the significance, or lack thereof, of her findings, being someone who is not biologically related to her parents.

Kaufman said, “My results weren’t all that significant to me just because my parents don’t necessarily share my DNA with me. Neither do a lot of my family. With that, it just seemed really insignificant just because it might be my DNA but it’s not connected to me in any way. That connection’s really been severed.”

Kaufman continued, “The way I see my family is very different from the traditional sense where it’s your parents are the ones who gave birth to you and all that, because I live with my two dads. Our family is not the same in that way which makes my relationship to my DNA different because DNA and family don’t go hand in hand for me… I think for other people they do so I think it has more significance to a lot of people who see that connection. Those two things are just different,” continued Kaufman.