Andover is looking to increase student input on All-School Meeting (ASM) speakers, according to Linda Carter Griffith, Associate Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness. Currently, ASM speakers are decided by a speaker committee with representatives from the Chaplaincy, the Alumni Office, the History and English Departments, the Office of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD), and other campus groups, according to Christopher Capano, Director of Student Activities. The advisory group uses faculty and student suggestions to choose speakers, as well as taking into consideration the theme of the year and what message they feel the Andover community would benefit from hearing.
Carter Griffith, who serves on the committee, hopes to encourage student opinions on ASM speakers and is looking for suggestions on the best way to accomplish that. Currently, students may directly contact her to share ideas. According to Carter Griffith, she hopes for a diversity of perspectives to fully represent the Andover community.
“I’m trying to find a mechanism. And I want to hear from students, is that an open house? And if you’re interested in speakers [coming], let’s talk about them. Is it a write-in? Is it a survey? I actually need the input of the students. I know what my goal is, I want to hear what you all want… In an intentionally diverse community, it’s really important to recognize that different speakers are going to speak to different individuals and we want to have a wide representation. In perspective, that is very important. So now the question is, do students want to be involved?” said Carter-Griffith.
According to Capano, although students’ suggestions are encouraged, the schedule for ASM speakers is decided far in advance. Capano believes that a good time to submit recommendations would be during the spring for ASM speakers for the next academic year. However, according to Capano, suggestions are stored for future reference.
“We love when students suggest speakers. I think the hard part is a lot of times students suggest because we’re late in the process, because we don’t we don’t know our calendar until the calendar gets put out by the school. So we know what Fridays are ASMs, and then we start filling them in right away. And so if a student asks in September, we’ve already made the whole calendar for the year so they have to kind of know…a little bit earlier. Often there’s not a lot of time to pull it together,” said Capano.
Student response has recently caused direct changes to ASM procedure, according to Carter Griffith. In response to student feedback after ASM Speaker Megan Phelps-Roper used the f-slur during an ASM in September, Andover has begun to directly call ASM speakers to caution them against the use of language that doesn’t align with the school’s values. Carter Griffith, however, emphasized that the clause forbidding improper language for ASM speakers was already in place for Phelps-Roper.
“After we experienced what we experienced with Phelps-Roper and… the f-word, we decided we were not going to assume they read our clauses because we have clauses about language about various things you can do, etc. And they’re not about disparaging [Andover] at all. It’s really things that are within the school values and norms. So there was a conversation with [Nikki Giovanni, ASM speaker], can we be careful of certain language? Even if you’re using anecdotes. It was a big lesson to learn with Phelps-Roper,” said Carter-Griffith.
According to Rajesh Mundra, Dean of Studies, who serves on the speakers committee, Andover has a unique community that warrants additional preparation for speakers. Mundra believes that there has been improvement in preparing these speakers.
“I know that we’ve been more intentional in prepping speakers. And just because we’re a pretty unique community, and it’s a pretty unique setting… We try to prep them, we have conversation, and then when someone’s on stage, it’s like we’ve tried to do as much as we can, and then some things might just happen that we didn’t expect. So there’s some things that I think we can kind of control and try to inform. And I think we’re getting better at that,” said Mundra.
Due to the schedule change from weekly to biweekly ASMs, the number of ASMs have decreased from 33 last year to 15 this year, according to Capano. Since eight to nine ASMs repeat every year, such as Co-President Debates, Sounds of the Season, the Faculty Talent Show, and Alumni Award of Distinction ASM, approximately five to seven ASMs are left for speakers suggested by the Andover community.
“[The committee] meets a couple times in the winter, a couple times in the spring for the next year. And we just kind of put all the names out there that people have suggested and we talk [about them].The school often has a theme for the year. So last year, the theme was gratitude and this year, the theme is justice. So if they’re speakers that we think fit in those areas, we try to get them in there. We often have faculty members or students who are passionate about a cause or an idea that they bring us to us, they’ve reached out to this speaker, and they that person wants to come here. You know, can we get them here? Can we make that work?” said Capano.
According to Mundra, many of the speakers might have been identified during conferences or by asking for contacts in a specific department. Mundra believes that speakers might also be suggested in response to current events, such as the Presidential Election in November.
“I think one place to start is sometimes we think about a theme for the year. Once there is a theme that’s established, then we think about what kind of speakers are going to give different perspectives on that theme. And so that’s one consideration… If it’s November of this year, and it’s going to be [an] election [then maybe] it would be appropriate to have someone talk about bringing together different viewpoints or how we have conversations about politics or something like that,” said Mundra.
In the future, Mundra would like to see more student presentations be included in ASM. Additionally, one of the continual challenges for the committee is deciding on the diversity of speaker ideology, especially if their ideas do not align with the school’s values.
“I think a really interesting discussion is the idea of speakers who don’t align with our school values and how we feel about that because we have had some discussions where if a speaker came in that didn’t align and would we even invite somebody? And should we invite a wide range of perspectives in an educational institution? Or are we inviting people to continue our echo chambers of the things that we like to hear, we want to hear?” said Mundra.
Mundra continued, “When we invite people who go against that, are we making a statement that we are endorsing them because we’re inviting them and having them speak in front of everybody? Or are we acknowledging that we really want a wide variety of speakers, and this is the world that we live in. And so we will invite part of the world to come and speak. So these are like some larger questions that don’t necessarily have answers, but I think we have been hesitant to invite speakers who in their behaviors, their actions, their words don’t sort of represent what we believe.”