Andover Prepares to Support Students During Presidential Election

On November 9, 2016, the day after the presidential election, Andover called an impromptu All-School Meeting (ASM) to address President Donald Trump’s victory, according to a Phillipian Staff Report from November 11 of that year. Following the ASM, Andover canceled classes and called for Sykes counselors to be on standby for anyone troubled by the results of the election.

In a recent interview with The Phillipian, Jennifer Elliott ’94, Assistant Head of School for Residential Life and Dean of Students, acknowledged criticism that the administration would not have taken the same measures if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had won. Although she believes this is a valid concern, Elliott is unsure what course Andover would have taken had the result been reversed.

“There were kids who were Trump supporters who I think felt quite frustrated with the school’s decision around calling an All-School Meeting. They asked openly in a Phillipian article and were quoted asking whether or not we would have done the same had Clinton been elected, and that’s a valid question. I’m not sure. I don’t know. Hard to rewrite,” said Elliott.

Election day returns on November 3, 2020, amidst a pandemic that has taken more than 220,000 American lives, an economic recession, and increased national attention to the issue of anti-Black racism following the murders of George Floyd and other unarmed Black people at the hands of police. Republican nominee and current President Donald Trump will face Democratic nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden.

According to Elliott, the Andover community is planning to offer support for students and faculty both on and off campus. Elliott hopes that students will uphold Andover’s values of respect in the days leading up to and following the election.

“We are a learning institution and we want our students to be able to take time and space to evaluate their own values and make their own decisions about their political views, and we also expect that the behaviors will be the expectations for the ways that they engage with each other,” said Elliott.

Elliott continued, “We have an All-School Meeting leading up to the election that we’ll highlight just a central value in this country, democracy and engaging in a democracy and protecting democratic access to the vote, and wanting Americans to be able to protect that fundamental right. Then we’re planning to try to create spaces for conversation, to create spaces for support, no matter the outcome. [We want] to make sure that students and adults can have a place where they can engage in community.”

In addition to the ASM, Andover has been hosting the 2020 Presidential Election Speaker Series. From October 9 to November 2, the series features a new commentator each week to discuss a topic relating to American democracy.

According to Natalie Zervas, Interim Director of Psychological Services, the Rebecca M. Sykes Wellness Center will offer several drop-in Zoom sessions for students who wish to process the results of the election in small groups. The exact times of these Zoom sessions will be shared with students on November 3. Sykes counselors will remain on call for students who would like to meet individually.

Reverend Gina Finocchiaro, Interim Protestant Chaplain, described the chaplaincy’s plan to offer a virtual drop-in time of prayer on election night. The chaplaincy will offer another opportunity for virtual prayer after the election.

“The hope is that we will all be there. We’ll have some time of interfaith prayer. We’ll just be together, to just try to be still and prayerful on what I suspect will be a long night, and then we’re going to kind of hold our options open for Wednesday and sort of see where people are the day after the election,” said Finocchiaro.

The Empathy, Balance, and Inclusion (EBI) program will also provide support for students during the week of the election. The EBI team will prepare a series of guided reflections and discussion prompts as optional resources for advisors.

“We encourage students to connect with their advisor in the days leading up to and after the election to gather and receive adult support,” wrote Nicole Jeter, Director of Wellness and Prevention Education, in an email to The Phillipian.

Elliott advised students to be thoughtful and deliberate about what they post on social media, sharing only what reflects their personal values and aligns with Andover’s community expectations.

“We just want to continue to message to our kids, really consistently, that [social media platforms] are spaces where we expect kids to uphold our community values of respect, respect for others, respect for others’ views and opinions,” said Elliott.