Several current and former students joined a variety of campus adults to discuss anti-Black racism at Andover during an all-school forum on Monday, June 29. The conversation, organized by Shahinda Bahnasy ’20, Abi Ndikum ’20, Aren Egwuekwe ’22, and Henrique Chamon ’21, was the second of two forums, the first of which included a similar combination of cluster deans, department chairs, and members of the Senior Administrative Council to listen to underrepresented students and faculty of color.
In an email to the Andover community on June 26, the student organizers and Linda Carter Griffith, Associate Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness, outlined the goals of the second forum.
“[In the first forum,] we wanted to emphasize the importance of Black student voices by creating an additional space centered around their ideas and solution proposals – @BlackatAndover is one such space that students created. The goal of this second forum is for those respective adults to share what they have learned from the initial forum, any updates on implementation of action plans, and respond to questions posed by you all,” the email read.
Ahead of the forum, the organizers encouraged attendees to peruse a list of materials: a letter from the board of trustees outlining steps to address racism at Andover, an article from “The New York Times” entitled “High School Students and Alumni Are Using Social Media to Expose Racism,” and the @blackatandover Instagram page, where both current and former Black students have shared their experiences with racism at Andover. According to Bahnasy, former Student Body Co-President, the forum marked a starting point for future action.
“This [forum] is just an opportunity to listen and also commit to action. What’s said here is an opportunity to learn as always, and this discussion will obviously move forward throughout the summer and years to come,” said Bahnasy at the start of the forum.
Former Interim Head of School Jim Ventre ’79 followed Bahnasy’s introduction by discussing @blackatandover, the necessity of change, and the school’s system for handling reports of wrongdoings at www.andover.ethicspoint.com.
“As I wrote to our adult community last week, the last few weeks have revealed how much work our community requires to identify and confront white supremacy and anti-Black racism on campus and in the world. I invite us all to elevate Black voices, ask challenging questions about what whiteness means, and consider how we are working to take responsibility for dismantling systemic and institutionalized racism,” said Ventre.
In the invitation to the forum, the organizers included a link for attendees to submit questions and offer suggestions to the administration. While Egwuekwe appreciates the faculty and administrators who attended, he believes the forum did little to advance the conversation of racism at Andover.
“I don’t think [anything] that was said really jumped out at me too much. [The panelists] answered the questions. I don’t think we really got anywhere from answering the questions… I do appreciate them coming and answering the questions, but I don’t feel that we really got too much from it,” said Egwuekwe in an interview with The Phillipian.
The forum covered topics including the reformation of the school curriculum and that of Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion, potential steps by the Community and Multicultural Development Office, discrepancies in dismissal rates among Black students, greater support for underrepresented students of color both in and out of the classroom, and the proposed renaming of buildings such as George Washington Hall and Stimson House. Egwuekwe looks forward to transforming these discussions into action alongside Chamon as co-presidents of the African-Latinx-American Society (Af-Lat-Am).
“We definitely have so much more to do, but I know that me and Henrique, moving on as Af-Lat-Am co-presidents, we definitely do plan to continue to keep having discussions like this on campus. I appreciate everyone who came out to the last forum to speak, to share their voices, to the panelists here, to the people who are listening, and I hope that we are able to have more constructive discussions like this and that we are able to effect actual and substantial change,” said Egwuekwe.
Ndikum, former Af-Lat-Am co-president, encouraged Egwuekwe and Chamon to continue working for change so that incoming students have an even better Andover experience than she did.
“I thank the school a lot for my journey, but also there’s a lot of things that I would have liked to avoid and that I know a lot of other students would have liked to avoid. For the upcoming generation, class of 2024, I want their four years to be better than my own. Not saying my own were bad, but I want theirs to be even better… [Henrique] and Aren, the upcoming Af-Lat-Am co-presidents, I just hope that you guys continue pouring your time and energy into this and continuing the conversation, because people might think this is all going to pass, but we can’t let this pass. We need to gain momentum and keep it now,” said Ndikum.
According to Egwuekwe, the two forums were just the beginning of Af-Lat-Am’s initiatives. In the coming year, Chamon and Egwuekwe are looking to host more forums and speakers depending on feedback from their peers.
“One thing that I especially want to do is invite a lot more speakers on campus. Last year, we had Angela Davis, and in the past we [had] Patrice Cullors, people like that. We’d like to invite more speakers like [those] who do types of social work in the world. I think they have a lot that we can learn from, so that’s one thing we can hopefully get for next year, but we still have a lot of planning to do,” said Egwuekwe.
Editor’s Note: Henrique Chamon is the Chief Financial Officer of The Phillipian.