For 32 and 24 years respectively, the Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD) office and the Brace Center for Gender Studies have existed on campus with the goal of establishing, educating, and supporting the Andover community. While the COVID-19 pandemic keeps students separated, CaMD and the Brace Center have found ways to continue their programming virtually.
Yomara Cruz, Administrative Assistant in CaMD, hopes that students can feel heard and supported even while apart. She believes that initiatives such as the weekly newsletter and CamTea Dialogues, weekly Zoom conferences discussing topics such as college counseling and mental health education, can help keep the community together.
Cruz wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “Community is part of the CaMD office name and mission. It was important for our team to find ways that could keep our community connected when we all needed it most. This can look different now that we are not in a physical space… We know that students are feeling like there is a ton of information coming from a ton of different platforms. It can be overwhelming.”
“Our team can guarantee our support and safety as CaMD and as individuals. I don’t want to overwhelm you all with information, but I want to be available. That is the most important part of all our programming, in my opinion. I want you to know I am available and WANT to hear about you and your day and your feelings—if you need someone to listen,” continued Cruz.
Like CaMD, the Brace Center has been able to continue programming and initiatives, albeit virtually, according to Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English and Director of the Brace Center. Programs like Take Back the Night, YES+ conversations about sex and sexuality, and study break hours in the virtual Brace Center are continuing, while new ones like the EmBrace It podcast hosted by Ben Carbeau ’21 are beginning.
Despite the challenges of organizing events virtually, Vidal is excited to continue to fulfill the Brace Center’s mandate in supporting and educating the community on gender identity, equity, and inclusion, and she is grateful for everyone’s hard work.
Vidal wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “With all of us scattered around the globe and dealing with the effects of COVID-19 in our local communities, families, and sometimes even in our homes, focusing on this work has been challenging, to say the least. Add to the challenges the logistics of planning our meetings and getting projects done virtually, sometimes it feels like we live in a Zoom/Google/Doodle parallel universe. I am so incredibly grateful to everyone for their indomitable spirit, energy, and passion for the work.”
Emma Slibeck ’20, a member of the Brace board, is proud to be able to continue old events while starting new ones. Though the planning process feels very different for her, she’s happy to see community members get more involved.
Slibeck wrote in an email to The Phillipian, “In the same ways it has been very frustrating, it has also created a whole new level of creativity and thought process for planning. I have found coordinating with different groups and organizations has been more challenging when we’re not together, because it’s stressful and we don’t know what people are doing at home, so not wanting to ask too much or add any stress to someone’s life is a top priority… I have also found that a lot more people are ready to volunteer and get involved given the opportunity than in the past.”
Take Back the Night, an annual march and vigil that raises awareness for gender-based violence and sexual harassment and assault, will continue for its fifth year in the form of a collaborative schoolwide video, according to an email sent by Vidal to the Andover community. Slibeck shared that the video will focus on survivors and their voices.
“Take Back the Night has taken a lot of dedicated thought on how to make sure we honor the moment properly and create space for solidarity, but also being aware that we are not on campus and don’t necessarily have the same access to the same support and resources. So, we decided to focus on healing and uplifting survivors and their voices. It also is going to be a super collaborative event with the entire school so I’m really excited to see this become much more of a community creation,” wrote Slibeck.
CamTea Dialogues continues with its third episode this Wednesday with special guest Heidi Jamieson, Director of Financial Aid, hosted by Cruz and José Peralta, Fellow in Biology. For Cruz, CamTea Dialogues provide the opportunity for faculty and students to be a community.
“We have students and adults show up to learn more from our guests and the conversations afterwards [which reminds] me of sitting on the blue and yellow couches in the CaMD Office! Students have come to listen and come to express themselves and that’s all we could ask for. Our goal is to keep that community together despite the distance and I think Mr. Peralta and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the response,” wrote Cruz.