Phillipian Commentary: “Diversity” and “Inclusion”?

In the midterm reflection, Andover students were asked, “How have you worked to build inclusive and respectful spaces…? How have you felt included or excluded?”

I wrote: “I am an underrepresented person of color on this campus, and that has burdened my Andover experience far more than it has enhanced it. MLK Day once a year is not enough—it has been 30 years, you all can stop patting yourself on the back for that. I’m jaded. Even with all its resources, Andover still falls short of making the institutional and administrative changes that would represent a true commitment to equity and inclusion.”

I am a queer brown femme and a Senior at this school—and I’m tired. I have experienced four years of privileged people complaining about the hours of sleep they have to give up to attend workshops on MLK Day, four years of ineffectual school-wide emails, and four years of highly educated students still believing the myth of reverse racism with no one actually doing the work to combat that. According to the 2019 State of the Academy, 41.3 percent of students believed in the existence of reverse racism when defined as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism on the basis of race directed against a member of a dominant or privileged racial group” (Oxford Dictionaries). I know many students probably believe that Andover does nothing but shove progressive identity politics down our throats, but in reality, Andover allows the majority of its privileged student body to remain complacent in the face of systemic oppression and injustice. Privileged students, who are often rich and white, still rule this 200-year-old campus, from The Phillipian to the classrooms to Lower Right in Paresky Commons. In my own math class this year, as the only underrepresented person of color, I know I cannot be as loud, boisterous, and disruptive as my white male classmates and still maintain the respect of my teacher. No one has taught these privileged students how to recognize their advantages and do their part to level the playing field in the classroom. I have heard countless stories over the years of the battles underprivileged students face in the spaces on this campus: a white dorm-mate gossiping that a black girl’s hair in the shower “looked like animal hair,” a teacher using the n-word in the classroom, a white male student telling a brown female student to “calm down.” Implementing purposeful, comprehensive social justice and identity education could break such patterns of inequity and ignorance, but for some reason, Andover has not done so. The school makes no effective attempt to progress the legacy and foundation of Andover beyond the privileged community members it has historically served. The school does not adequately inform them on their privilege. Instead, the administration overlooks their cultural and social ignorance and continues the domination of privileged people in every campus space. By doing so, Andover enables the negative experiences of the very populations it claims to include, empower, and protect.

The school’s E.B.I. curriculum, which eats up valuable time that could be properly utilized, is poorly organized and structured. Social and cultural identities are topics that requires more unpacking than just a worksheet or a list of definitions, and one class out of the entire program is not a strong enough start. The information I received in my E.B.I. classes about identity did not highlight the connection between identity and social justice to me or other students, nor did the E.B.I. facilitators emphasize the responsibility everyone has to create a safe, equitable community. There were no follow-up lessons or even a clear continuation of these topics in the rest of the E.B.I. curriculum. Student groups like Out of the Blue are forced to take on the burden of thoroughly educating the community through dorm and day student talks, stealing energy and emotional labor out of already over-taxed students. When speakers are invited to campus, the school does not adequately inform them on the audience they will be addressing and the community we are supposedly trying to build. Any attention that could be directed towards their message gets focused on the blunders they made during their speech. Somebody should have told Megan Phelps-Roper that no matter how many passes she gets from her gay male friends, we do not use the F slur on this campus. Funnily enough, I heard no one reflecting on how the school should have informed the speaker on our community norms before she arrived. Many people on campus spent their time villainizing the one person who was brave enough to stand up to her.

People like me should not be the only ones “work[ing] to build inclusive and respectful space.” The school should use its considerable financial resources to hire diversity consultants and cultural educators to create tangible change in both the adult and the student communities, and not just for annual day-long workshops. These professional educators would get paid to do the emotional labor that Andover asks students like me to do for free, and chances are, the school might actually act upon their suggestions. I have plenty of thoughts but based on the administration’s response to students’ input on the schedule change, sign-in times, and prom and parietal policies, they do not take students’ opinions into account, so I’m done trying. Like I said, I’m tired.

Not only does the school need to provide more intentional cultural and social justice education for their students, but they must also educate their faculty and staff. Teachers often play crucial roles in managing classroom atmosphere and power dynamics. If teachers are not culturally and socially informed, they will continue to uphold the power of privileged students and the silencing of underprivileged students. For example, none of the English teachers I have had at this school have ever done anything to keep white boys from dominating class discussion and speaking over the female students of color in the class. Instead of continuing to advantage privileged students, campus adults should use their authority to enforce the norms of well-informed, intentionally equitable academic and social spaces. My English teachers should have told the other students to “let someone else speak,” just the same way they told me.

The year is 2020. Andover needs to step up and revamp its cultural competency and social justice education so the school can actually be a supportive educational place for “youth from every quarter.” Whatever they think they’re doing isn’t creating effective change. The administration must do the hard work of pushing true equity and inclusion to teach their privileged and unaware students, rather than foisting it on those already oppressed. Otherwise, this “intentionally diverse learning community” is just another wealthy white old boys’ club using underprivileged students to sell a false message of inclusion and social justice. Do better.