Citizenship and Gratitude. Those are just a handful of themes the Andover faculty has chosen in the past to set the tone for the new year. These themes are selected to reinforce a specific message that will guide classes, All-School Meeting, and other pursuits, in hopes of cultivating school spirit and guiding year-specific objectives. The theme chosen for the 2019-20 academic year is justice.
Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, said, “Justice is important. I hope we spend time thinking about how and where justice is served, how and where do we have just aspects of our society, how and where is there injustice– and what is our obligation and our responsibility as members of a global society to address injustices and figure out ways of bringing about more just communities?”
Under the leadership of Former Head of School John Palfrey, Andover inaugurated the practice of selecting yearly themes to encourage unity and renewed engagement with timely values that reconnect the school with the world. To choose the theme, faculty members are surveyed yearly, asking for their opinion about possible theme options. The topics, which tend to be relatively general, invite people to use whatever resources they see fit to find meaning that is personally relevant to their situation, according to Elliott.
Elliott said, “I think we see it as an opportunity to dig-in in classes and invite faculty members in their own courses to be thinking about how justice is a theme that might touch upon the content that they are covering. I think that in terms of our All-School meeting gatherings, I can imagine justice being something that we emphasize particularly… I think we try to be as comprehensive and creative as we can in terms of how we can touch upon that theme.”
According to Elliott, by emphasizing the importance of justice, the faculty hopes that students will recognize how to work towards building and maintaining a fair community. This could be in a dorm space, classroom, affinity group, sports team, performance group, community engagement program, or club.
Izzy Torio ’21 said, “I think that justice is an interesting topic to choose because I feel like everyone has their own definition of justice, so justice is something that we are seeking to define. I believe that it is something that we continue to question and change our opinions and minds about. I think that in exploring justice this year, we are committing ourselves to an ongoing search for our own identity and values.”
The Office of the Head of School often works in conjunction with faculty from the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library to plan campus programming concerning how best to organize events that further develop the discussions about the theme. The OWHL strives to supplement the academic-based initiatives of the theme with social events that invigorate student participation.
“We’ve started a little Climate Cafe which is focused on environmental justice. So we will bring in speakers who try to illuminate the impacts of climate change on people all over the world in different ways, and how that creates injustices across the spectrum,” said Michael J. Barker, Director of the OWHL.
Barker continued, “I’m also very interested to see if we can bring any speakers who can talk about justice from a technological angle. The algorithms that control our lives or at least decrease the autonomy we have when we interact with technology and phones. I find that to be a symptom of injustice and [I would] love to see us bring some speakers to campus that can talk a little about that. I think the Tang Institute might be doing something like that.”
Eliza Dow ’22 remarked on the timeliness of the theme and how it is important to have a school-led campaign to remember certain traditional values that are contributing to international affairs and the dynamics of the world outside of Andover.
“I think justice is important for the school, especially for this year because Andover needs to cultivate an environment where justice is a priority, especially with the growing problems going on in the world today, [such as] the election [that’s] coming up and all the environmental issues and all of the gun violence issues. Justice is becoming a very relevant topic in the world,” said Dow.
While Elliott supports the school theme as a sort of guidance, she emphasized how its main function was to be just that–interpretable. The broadness of the annual theme is intentional, meant to inspire students to think about their classes and general Andover experiences in a different light.
“I think it’s something that, as the school focuses on the theme, we will invite kids more and more often to think about how this connects to the reading they’re doing, the writing they’re doing, the conversations they’re having, perhaps the club work they’re doing in terms of driving initiatives there. I think this is an opportunity as a community to think about how and where,” said Elliott.
Elliott continued, “I think the school theme was always an invitation. It’s never a mandate. It’s never meant to put bounds or to cap or to limit in any way. We are moving in lots of different directions and exploring various tangents. It could be a potential way to draw connections. I think that’s the point of it. It’s not meant to be a limiting factor in any way but perhaps a galvanizing one.”