Defining Identity: Out of the Blue Presents New Book in Junior Class Meeting

In an effort to expand from annual dorm discussions, the board members of Out of the Blue (OOTB) led a class-wide meeting with the Class of 2023 to introduce its new collection of literature, “Into the Blue,” on Friday, September 20.

OOTB’s first project, “Out of the Blue,” was a Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) student initiative created in 2015. “Out of the Blue” is a collection of stories, poems and artwork written by students that tackles discrimination against self-identity at Andover.

“Into the Blue,” another anecdotal collection, has been in development for two years and discusses self-identity. This class meeting was one of the first times that Juniors met as a whole group, and Foundations, the Junior Empathy Balance and Inclusion (E.B.I.) course, used it as an opportunity to facilitate conversation early in the year.

According to Susan Esty, Director of Wellness Education, new students may not have been a part of diverse learning communities at their previous schools, and this reality prompted Foundations to utilize “Into the Blue.”

Esty said, “In the beginning [of developing the E.B.I. curriculum], we thought so strongly that it was an adjustment for Juniors to live in a community that is more diverse than what they are used to, regardless of their ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds. A lot of middle school students are segregated, so we had two lessons in Foundations. One of them was using the book ‘Out of the Blue,’ which was a collection of stories on accepting diversity.”

While OOTB originally intended to distribute the renewed collections during the Junior class meeting, the long publication process led them to create a short alternative lesson plan.

“We had hoped to have [“Into the Blue”] before school started, but publishing a book took longer than expected. Our ideal plan was to have the student board members to give out the book as they gave the presentations during the class meeting, to give it some context,” said Esty.

Esty continued, “Though it didn’t happen exactly as planned, we still decided to run the meeting and introduce the new book. We therefore chose a story that we could manage to teach in 40 minutes, which is a pretty short time to read and discuss it in a whole class meeting.”

Niya Harris ’21, a board member of OOTB, noted that in addition to being a successful way for Juniors to adjust to a new environment and think about identity, the discussion also allowed upperclassmen to connect with younger students of the Andover community.

Harris said, “We tried to execute the lesson in a more personal level considering that all of us are upperclassmen who have personally experienced the Andover life. A lot of the board members are already prefects or proctors of dorms, so with the help of some EBI Uppers, we tried to send a message to the class as a whole. It was good for us facilitators as well, as we got the valuable opportunity to connect to younger students.”

Jason Zhang ’23 found that the meeting served as a helpful gateway to receive advice from the facilitators on fostering social justice within the community.

“I thought it was a very good choice to take time out of our class meeting [to talk] about this subject because the main idea of identity is very important to think about. It is great to have older students, who have thought a lot about identity in this community, give advice through this way. More importantly I [had] never heard of the Out of the Blue program before this meeting, so it was a good introduction for our class to get to know about these new opportunities and programs that focus on community respect,” said Zhang.

While sharing similar sentiments about the helpfulness of the discussion, Mac Doucette ’23 expressed concern for shyness and lack of participation from the Junior class.

Doucette said, “Talking about how to prevent language or actions that may potentially offend others unknowingly by assuming their identity was something that I specifically learned from the lesson. But the Juniors did not participate as much, which was a little bad. Since the meeting was held during the first month of school, they probably were not comfortable enough to talk about these topics to one another.”

According to Chi Igbokwe ’21, another board member of Out of the Blue, the group plans on formally introducing the new book during the annual dorm talks, while also hosting forums on social issues.

“After the book arrives, we plan on doing a dorm and day student talk on it. I guess this is a preview of the whole scheme. We are also trying to do more forums this year, such as the socio-economic forum that took place two years ago, which allowed students to step in to the rooms thinking about the perspective of financial aid students and all. Social forums are also a good option for us to consider as well,” said Igbokwe.