Stacks of colorful notecards called “conversation cards” decorated every table in the Mural Room of Paresky Commons last Friday during the second Andover Together lunch. Sponsored by the Abbot Academy Fund, this initiative seeks to encourage communication between students and adults on campus.
Rajesh Mundra, Associate Dean of Students and Residential Life and organizer of the event, said, “The thought was that there could be more intentional opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to get to know each other. So this is one of a series of different things that we’re doing this year to promote communication and building relationships.”
The first lunch that Andover Together hosted, which occurred in October and was only open to Flagstaff Cluster students, took place in Susie’s. According to Mundra, changing the location of the second lunch to Paresky was meant to encourage more students to attend.
“This time we wanted to make it more central, [and] it’s not by cluster, it’s open to any student in the school. So we’re hoping that more students, more faculty, and more staff will come, during their lunch time. Almost everybody eats lunch at [Paresky], so we’re hoping that this will be an easier way for people to come and stop by,” said Mundra.
Each card contained potential discussion topics about Andover, including “How did you first know about Andover?,” “Which Andover values resonates the most with you and why?,” “What is your favorite Andover event?” and “When is the Andover community at its best?”
Abigail Johnson ’19 wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “My favorite part was hearing everyone share at what moments they thought the Andover community was at its best. Some moments, from Corner Day to the death of a classmate, Dan [Nakajima ’18], last year, were shared by most of us. Other moments, such as the Niswarth [Learning in the World] program, were shared only by a few.”
According to Johnson, the myriad of shared answers inspired her to think about all of the experiences that Andover students have in common, even if they have never met before.
Johnson continued, “It is not uncommon for me to talk with friends about our favorite events or what we think about the atmosphere of our community, but it’s also valuable to have those conversations with people who have very different perspectives and involvements in the community.”
Gayatri Rajan ’22 attended the lunch with her friend because she thought it would be a good idea to meet more people. According to Rajan, she became more comfortable with the people she talked to as the lunch progressed.
“We went through all of the school’s mottos and we were like, ‘which one resonates with you the most,’ because we were all talking about our lives and how that has to do with it. And someone said something really good, like the ‘private school with a public purpose,’ we were talking about how all of us resonate with that and why,” said Rajan.
According to Mundra, the Andover Together events differ from other forums in that it is not topic-based. While other events, such as All-School Congress, allow students to discuss a particular subject with teachers, Andover Together mostly inspires informal conversation that helps build connections.
“This is a forum to get to know other people that you might not know. This is not necessarily the topic-based [conversations], this is just friendly-based, and getting to know people,” said Mundra.
Sophie Liu ’20 said she liked the idea of talking to teachers and students that she usually doesn’t get the chance to converse with. According to Liu, however, she was doing homework during her lunch period on Friday and was unable to attend Andover Together.
“I feel like if [Andover Together] were a more constant thing, like if there was this opportunity every day or more often during conference, just a space for people to go in and out of, talk to people who pass by, I feel like that would be a better opportunity to connect with people,” said Liu.
While Robert Hickman, Instructor in Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science, did not attend the lunch, he says he hopes that these types of events will continue occuring.
“I think it’s very important for the faculty to get to know the students, especially because if we interact with students outside the classroom for some reason on campus, it’s definitely beneficial. If something happens or if there’s some kind of issue, it’s easy to figure out. But then it’s also good just to generate ideas and talk to them. There’s a lot interdisciplinary stuff happening on campus and students could get involved in that conversation,” said Hickman.
In the future, the Andover Together initiative will allow a group of students to ask a faculty member to host a dinner.
“It wouldn’t be like your house counselor, or your advisor, but it could be somebody else that a group of students just want to get to know better… That’s a little more personal, intentional. Maybe the faculty member would host it at their house, or maybe they would go out to dinner somewhere, but there are funds allocated for those small groups,” said Mundra.
Editor’s Note: Estelle Zhu is an Associate Arts Editor for The Phillipian.