Empathy, Balance, and Confusion

This past Friday during unscheduled time, students had the opportunity to attend a talk by Nobel Prize Laureate William Nordhaus ’59, meet with African American Museum of History & Culture architect Guy Nordensen ’73, or, for Phillipian board members, have lunch with two other All-School meeting (ASM) speakers— journalists Sarah Chayes ’80 and Samantha Appleton ’93. For Seniors, however, EBI also took place during this unscheduled time, leaving many students to decide between receiving a cut or missing out on one-time opportunities with notable alumni. This double-scheduling has opened up a broader conversation about the effectiveness of and negative sentiments towards EBI.

Uppers have also felt frustrated about the timing and scheduling of this programming. At board meeting on Monday, some Uppers explained that they do not know if they have EBI until their teachers send an email, which in some cases is only thirty minutes before their class begins. Others have had their class location changed right before the period starts, and a few unintentionally cut the second EBI class of the year because of lack of notice. This past Tuesday, too, some Uppers were unaware that they had a mandatory EBI speaker event until the day before, let alone who the speaker was or what the goals of the discussion would be.

While it is partly our responsibility to be aware of EBI scheduling, the irregularity of the classes and lack of communication can make the course feel like an afterthought, especially in comparison to previous years, where EBI classes would either meet during a class on Fridays or during red dot periods. Now, some of us have EBI during our lunch periods, while others have it during unscheduled time. Because these arrangements can often conflict with speaker events or other meaningful opportunities on campus, they face the threat of backlash from individuals engaged in the community exploration that EBI encourages. 

If the administration hopes for EBI to be part of the Andover curriculum and be more broadly accepted in student culture, then EBI needs to be treated more like a regular class. This doesn’t necessarily mean an increase in EBI meetings, but does mean that we should have a better overview sense of the program’s goals and intentions through the duration of each school term. This sort of “syllabus” might also help legitimize EBI within the Andover community, and also help prevent repetitiveness within its curriculum.

We want to be wary of critiquing EBI’s content in too much depth, not only because our range of experiences with the program is widely varying, but also because we recognize the importance of the intentions of EBI. It’s undoubtedly important, especially at a competitive and academic institution like Andover, to set aside time to reflect on our own physical and mental health, the safety of others, and the power dynamics that structure our daily interactions, along with many other themes that fit under the umbrella of “Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion.” We recognize, too, that this is a fairly new program, and that the individuals behind EBI’s curriculum are responsible for a near-impossible and very much commendable task to meet students where they are on issues of identity and health. 

That said, the student body’s collective experience with EBI has not been all too positive—a reality that’s clear both in conversations with students who don’t think EBI is doing enough, and students who disregard EBI’s purpose altogether. Topics of stress management, healthy relationships, substance abuse, and other significant topics lose their so called “oomph” when they are repeated without really being built upon, and as a result, all preceding EBI sessions mesh together in a collective hazy memory, from which we really only remember sharing “happy crappys” and taking time out of our schedules to read articles from “The New York Times.” 

A sense of intentionality is key here, something that’s lost when individual EBI teachers joke about the simplicity of the day’s given material in class, or when we’re told to walk into a session with no real idea of what content we’ll be discussing. We believe that the majority of students at Andover care about empathy, balance, and inclusion—on our own time, after all, we do have vulnerable conversations, we share the stresses of winter term, and we wonder how we can make the most of our time at Andover. Bringing those conversations and thoughts into a classroom setting will take time, energy, and deliberate education—there’s no easy way around it. We can start, though, by addressing specifically the confusion around EBI’s scheduling, in the hopes that a more well-structured curriculum will pave the way for a more positive outlook on EBI in general as future students move forward in their Andover careers.