‘Something’s Not Right’: Brooklyn Raney on ‘Woah Friends’ and Bystander Intervention

During Friday’s Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion (EBI) block, all Uppers gathered in Tang Theatre for a speech given by Brooklyn Raney, an educator and professional speaker. Raney’s address to the Uppers emphasized self-expression and personal leadership.

During her speech, Raney emphasized the importance of bystander intervention and the effect an adolescent’s peers have on their choices and behavior. She urged the audience to act as a ‘Woah Friend,’ which is, Raney says, “a friend willing to say ‘something’s not right.’”

“Typically, bystander intervention is taught at the postsecondary level surrounding alcohol, substance abuse, and sexual assault. Those are the scenarios we’re talking about when we talk about bystander intervention. What I want to talk about today, though, actually starts before then. Before there’s a need for bystander intervention, I think there’s a need for a ‘Woah Friend,’” said Raney in her speech.

Speaking from both her own experience at boarding school during adolescence and her career in education, Raney said she understands the particular set of challenges that students who live away from home at an early age face. According to Raney, having ‘Woah Friends’ and also acting as a ‘Woah Friend’ for others is important at Andover.

Omar Khan ’20 said, “Raney’s talk reminded all of us of our obligation to watch out for our friends. Since we go to a boarding school, where we spend the abundance of our time with our peers, we get really close to our small groups of friends, and, sure, most of the time it’s all fun, games, and jokes, but in circumstances where someone needs to put their foot down and be that ‘Woah Friend,’ all of us need to be ready to rise to the occasion.”

Raney’s speech was the second meeting of the Connections program, which began this year as a continuation of the EBI curriculum following Foundations and Endeavors. The EBI curriculum began in the fall of 2016 as an approach to teaching students about their wellbeing.

Uppers in the Connections program typically meet three times a term in small classes, with one additional meeting reserved for a larger group such as this one. For this fall’s group meeting, the students attended Raney’s speech regarding the importance of creating connections with those around you, particularly creating close friendships.

I think the point [Raney] made in her talk was an valuable one. It actually reminded me of the people in my life who are good influences and made me feel thankful to have them there for me. Instead of being annoyed when they call me out, maybe I should look at it from a different perspective. It’s important to make good choices, and its easier to make those decisions when you have people looking out for what’s best for you,” said Faith Monahan ’20.

Raney also explained the concept of the ‘Supposed-To Syndrome’ to the students, which is, according to Raney, something that adolescents often experience when their still-developing brains interact with conflicting messages targeted toward adolescents by the media and surrounding society. Raney explained that this provokes troubling questions about identity, which may affect personal decisions.

Raney said, “Because of the flexibility and growth of the brain, adolescents have a window of opportunity with an increased capacity for remarkable accomplishments, but flexibility, growth, and exuberance are a double-edged sword because an open and excitable brain also can be adversely affected by stress, drugs, chemical substance, and any other number of changes in the environment. And because of an adolescent’s [brain is] often overactive, those influences can result in problems dramatically more serious than they are for adults.”

Raney was invited by Jamison Hagerman Phinney, Admissions Counselor and Course Head of Connections.

“Connections [is about] trying to dive deeper into this place. You’re halfway through Andover; for some of you, you’ve just begun Andover; for some of you, you’re a year into Andover. And you just had a college talk, and there is that anticipation of what is to come after Andover,” said Phinney.

Phinney continued, “Yes, there’s exciting things to come, but when you leave here, when you are an Andover graduate, we want you to be brought back here because of your connections to this place. And connections to this place only happen when you dive deeper into the people.”