Andover Responds to Anti-Black Violence

After the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, the U.S. has witnessed a surge in protest movements against police brutality and anti-black racism. Members of the Andover community have taken part in this national movement through virtual platforms, organizations, donations, and more. In addition, current and former students have spoken out against a perceived lack of action from the administration as they seek concrete steps to address racism at Andover.

Andover students and adults received an email on May 30 from Interim Head of School Jim Ventre ’79,  Associate Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness Linda Carter Griffith, Director of Human Resources Leeann Bennett, Dean of Faculty Jeffrey Domina, and Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students Jennifer Elliott ’94. The email acknowledged the state of unrest and its effects on members of the Andover community. 

“While students and faculty are wrapping up one of the most challenging terms in recent Andover history, we write to acknowledge the horrific acts of violent racism that plague this country. The recent death of George Floyd in Minnesota and numerous acts of violence against Black people in America have sparked outrage and national protests in many major cities. As we witness the news of the protests and unrest occurring across the country, many of us are experiencing fear, anxiety, grief, and stress. We know that Andover is not immune to this national crisis,” the statement read.

The message concluded with a list of resources for education and action. Subsequent communications followed, including a letter from Ventre on June 1 and an announcement from Carter Griffith and Elliott about a virtual vigil for black lives to take place on June 5. 

As protests spread across the nation, local activism soon occurred in the town of Andover. On June 1, Andover Area Solidarity Group and Merrimack Valley Shows Up for Social and Racial Justice hosted a protest called “Not One More” at Shawsheen Square. The protest took place for approximately one hour. Organizers shared the event via Facebook and reminded participants to adhere to public health precautions by social distancing and wearing masks. According to Patch, police estimated around 750 attendees.

In addition to public demonstrations, virtual platforms became a space for discourse, activism, and criticism with the use of hashtags, comments, and educational resources. 

On June 2, the @phillipsacademy Instagram account received backlash for participating in Blackout Tuesday, a social media trend in which users post a black square to express solidarity with Black Lives Matter (BLM). Many commenters, including current students and alumni, deemed the post inadequate and performative. As of June 24, the post received 178 comments—a significantly higher number than the account’s other posts—many of which called for more definitive action and financial support to BLM.

Also on Instagram, @blackatandover has emerged as an “anonymous space for current and former black students of Andover to share their negative experiences at the Academy,” according to the account’s biography. The account first posted on June 12 and has a total of 189 posts as of June 24. Many @blackatandover posts had tagged @phillipsacademy, but those tags were removed. Former and current black students at other academic institutions across the country have created similar accounts, such as @blackatexeter, which have entered national headlines and been featured in “The New York Times” and “The Boston Globe.” 

According to the account’s first post, @blackatandover aims to “give a voice to black students (current and former) who have been silenced by the academy. It will also be used as a tool to show non black students what it is like to live in an underrepresented skin at a PWI [predominantly white institution].”

Andover students have also teamed with peers from other schools to respond to what they see as inadequate action by administrators and trustees to address issues of systemic racism on the national and school-wide levels.

On June 4, Avivit Ashman ’22,  Sophie Glaser ’22, Adaeze Izuegbunam ’20, Lorelei McCampbell ’22, Senai Robinson PEA ’21, and Katya Shkolnik ’23 created a petition, “Calling on Phillips Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy To Take Tangible Action.” The petition was addressed to the Andover and Exeter Boards of Trustees, as well as several administrators at each school. As of June 24, the petition has received 2,383 signatures from current and former Andover and Exeter students.

“Each school has committed to the value of non sibi—we ask them to act on that value, and use their positions as powerful administrations to help change society for the better, through both financial contributions and changes in the institutions themselves,” the petition said.

The petition outlines four specific calls to action: acknowledging the effects of anti-blackness, increasing education on topics of race and better supporting students of color, donating money to social justice and civil rights organizations, and hosting a competitive Giving Day between the two schools.  

“We, students and community members of Phillips Academy and Phillips Exeter Academy, are coming together to ask that our schools begin to truly invest in the work of dismantling racism in our communities, without demanding more emotional labor from marginalized people. We are calling on our schools to use their positions of power and influence as elite educational institutions to, simply put, do more,” the petition concluded.

A June 16 letter by Falls, Ventre, and Gary Lee ’74, Chair of the Trustee Committee on Equity and Inclusion, recognized the recent instances of anti-black violence and referenced the 2014 Strategic Plan’s positions on equity and inclusion.

On June 19, one week after the first @blackatandover post, Elliott shared a message regarding the account on behalf of the Senior Administrator Council. Elliott’s message said that “@phillipsacademy has no desire to silence or censor your voices, and it is important for us as a community to converse in thoughtful and meaningful ways. We will continue to listen and look to create constructive spaces for more conversation.”