Commentary

Andover’s Response to Racism

Ben Fu/The Phillipian

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minn. His death sparked protests throughout multiple countries as the need to address racism became more evident. Just over two weeks later, countless Instagram accounts like @blackatandover were created, where Black Andover alumni and current students could anonymously submit posts detailing racist experiences at their schools, workplaces, and other spaces. In Andover’s case, those who submitted found an outlet to share their experiences instead of being forced to stay silent. In an attempt to address the racism experienced by their students, Andover has changed the way they organize their curriculums and orientation. Even as a new student, I could tell that many of their attempts to make the school a safer space for Black students, or make the space “anti-racist” were new to the 2020-2021 school year. For Andover, it has meant calling out those racist actions and finding what we can do to prevent them. The mass uproar of people demanding justice has challenged institutions like Andover to reconsider how they tackle racism and anti-blackness in all its forms on campus.

As I continue into the school year, I wonder how successful these attempts at becoming an anti-racist institution will be. I have always been aware of the racism that exists at Andover and other predominantly white institutions, because a large portion of the student population and staff members are financially privileged and white. But after coming across the @blackatandover page, I was shocked, scared, and wondering what it would be like even for me, being Hispanic with lighter skin. The Phillips Academy Instagram page reacting to the account with “@blackatandover we hear your voices” led me to be even more unsure of how they would handle this problem, since hearing the voices of those who have been mistreated is the bare minimum one can do to begin to fix a problem. To further a response, the school should broaden classroom education across the board to highlight the accomplishments of those marginalized, but not in a way that victimizes the entire race. Like Dr. Bettina Love said at this week’s all school meeting: Black people are more than just the oppression they faced. Their accomplishments should be included in our education just as naturally as the accomplishments of those in any other race.

By organizing orientation to discuss community, justice, and joy, I think Andover has begun handling student concerns about racism well. While not perfect, talking about some of the racist events in our country’s recent history has proven that they are trying to face this. However, my biggest concern is whether the administration will keep up this level of effort in the future. As time goes on and fewer people include Black Lives Matter (BLM) in their posts and conversations, many will dismiss fighting for justice as a social trend, which it is not. Did the privileged white influencers on TikTok change their profile picture to get some more followers and to be considered inclusive, only to change it back towards the end of the summer? For those who experience racial aggression and violence on a daily basis, BLM is not just a social trend or performative hashtag. This is only more concerning, because if it took this much to have Andover look at racism in their school this deeply, then what is stopping them from removing these conversations after the pressure of handling racism declines?

In my English-100 class, we are currently reading “This Book is Anti-Racist” by Tiffany Jewell. This is a great book to learn about identity, implicit bias, privilege, and other important topics that aren’t frequently discussed, but how likely is it that English teachers will teach this book for years to come? It is necessary that conversations about anti-racism do not end. Books like “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James W. Loewen, or “The World Between You and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates must be included in the curriculum for the history department.

In the years of my life I can remember, 2020 has been the most active with regard to racial justice. The changes that have happened because of this movement are incredible, but the work isn’t close to complete. It’s important to recognize that we are still far from where we should be, and that it took months of all-out protests during a pandemic and far too many Black deaths by police brutality for any changes to be sought. Support for the Black Lives Matter movement is already declining. While I am concerned for the entire country in this moment, I am also personally concerned for Andover. If Andover stops making real progress in becoming more inclusive and just, they will become more racist: there is no middle ground. This summer has taught us that decisions can be made if people speak up about what they care about. Andover can’t be a functioning school without students and parents. No matter who you are—alumni, parents, students, faculty members—you can help by making sure Andover never relents in the fight against racism. We must continue asking difficult questions, and we must continue holding ourselves and our community accountable.