For as long as any of us can remember, markers of seniority and hierarchy have dominated the Andover landscape. From club boards to the separation of lower and upperclassmen in Commons, Andover students are routinely “put in their place” by socially constructed norms.
Most recently, we’ve seen how these kinds of traditions can be disrupted and even erased by circumstance. A basement-versus-upstairs debate marked the opening of the new library, raising the question of where upperclassmen should sit apart from underclassmen, or if they even should at all. Some Seniors believed that the basement, with an expanded Makerspace and cozy group study rooms, should be the domain of upperclassmen, while others couldn’t help but feel nostalgic about the days when Juniors were relegated to the basement. But both Class of ’23 and Class of ’22 have not been on campus long enough to remember those old ways, and filling half the student population in on arbitrary boundaries is no easy task, prompting us to think about the physical manifestation of social hierarchies at Andover.
It’s strange to think that because there are technically no rules with the new library, we can now reflect on the impact that such established traditions have had. Do they contribute to our culture or take away from it? Why do we feel so uneasy when hierarchies are essentially erased? Was the basement of the library a valuable bonding experience for the Junior class? Was it archaic and borderline hazing? A mix of everything?
In some ways, the hierarchy of the old library was entrenched in the physical space of the building itself. Remember, if you can, the poorly-lit basement with its multitude of cramped cubicles, which made it almost impossible to actually get any work done. Remember it fondly, maybe, as a hallmark of the Junior year experience, where tightly packed cubicles and separation from the rest of the library meant that the basement was particularly conducive to class socializing.
Just last year, while the library was undergoing renovation, Juniors no longer had a basement to flock to, nor upperclassmen a second floor. Instead, all grade levels were crammed into Lower Left, forcing Seniors to sit next to Juniors, an experience which many of us weren’t inclined to grow accustomed to. Though the foot traffic in and out of Lower Left impeded upperclassmen from claiming parts of the space as their own, the incoming Junior class had no exposure to such long-standing hierarchies. The new library offers a new open space, or a clean slate so to speak. As it follows, we now have the opportunity to define the future dynamics of our renovated library, a new structure that might be able to better serve as a neutral ground for all students.
When a person walks down the stairs, the basement is actually a space that any grade can appreciate. The cubicles are gone, and the lighting is much better. It no longer feels like a punishment or a rite of passage. Upperclassmen have the choice to either re-establish the hierarchy of the library, or create change in our community’s culture. We should think critically about what it means to uphold tradition, but also recognize that in this transition year, we have the opportunity to make Andover a better and more inclusive place. And if anything, remember that whether or not you’re a Junior or Senior, you should at least be silent in Silent.