Blue Book Revisions Target Microaggressions

The Deans revised the 2020-2021 Blue Book to address microaggressions and macroaggressions, according to Tyren Bynum, Dean of the Class of 2022 and Instructor in English. This year’s Blue Book contains a sentence encouraging students to act as an “upstander” rather than a bystander, and to reach out to a trusted adult for support when encountering behavior or language that may be insensitive, hurtful, or offensive. The changes were inspired in part by an instance of anti-Asian racism that Bynum witnessed in one of his classes last year. 

“When I was teaching last February, two students made jokes about a student from Hong Kong who coughed. I witnessed other students’ behavior and heard one remark, ‘Ew, you have the Coronavirus,’ as they moved their desks. So, I decided we needed to have a conversation about why their reaction to a cough was problematic, and that incident is what inspired me, what led to my thinking that our students must be cognizant of their behaviors and their impact,” said Bynum.

The administration’s goal in changing the Blue Book’s language was to create a more respectful and empathetic community at Andover. According to Bynum, while the Blue Book does not touch upon specific language, such as “xenophobia” or “anti-Asian racism,” the term “microaggression” serves to describe a broader array of situations. 

“When I use the term microaggression, I use it as an umbrella term for us to be thoughtful and intentional about all language and all behaviors, as it pertains to engaging with community members, so we didn’t want to specify xenophobia and/or racism. Using the term “microaggression” is broader, allowing us to have follow-up conversations with students when harm is committed,” said Bynum. 

Martha Fenton ’83, Dean of the Class of 2024, worked alongside Bynum to revise the Blue Book. Fenton emphasized that by acting as upstanders and preventing harmful behavior, students create the type of community they want to be a part of. 

“We felt that it was important to include this language about our expectation that students will act as upstanders because we feel that it is the responsibility of the whole community, not just the adults, to create a safe and inclusive environment on campus,” wrote Fenton in an email to The Phillipian

As a student of East Asian descent, Frank Zhou ’22 is personally heartened by the recent edits to the Blue Book. He believes the Deans’ addressing of microaggressions and cultural competency are an intuitive step. 

“To me, the acknowledgment of and recommendations for combating microaggressions seems a decisive step in the right direction towards fostering an inclusive campus community, virtual or otherwise. While I, quite fortunately, haven’t had very negative experiences in the past, I do think that the newly instated guard rails should only help, not hurt,” said Zhou. 

Chloe Kindangen ’23 shares a similar sentiment with Zhou and appreciates the school’s changes to the Blue Book, especially due to the prevalence of anti-Asian racism associated with Covid-19. 

“I think it is hard to realize when microaggression is happening, especially because it is often subtle and seen through one perspective. However, I believe we as a community are the ones who are responsible for being more aware of microaggressions by looking out for one another and educating ourselves,” said Kindangen. 

Deans review and supplement the Blue Book each year to make sure its language captures the community’s inclusive values, according to Bynum. Due to the completely different context of community at Andover because of Covid-19, the Deans changed the language in the Blue Book to reflect this new climate. 

“Every summer, we spend a good deal of time reflecting on what went well, how we could have provided a little bit more structure or clarity for students to understand boundaries, and also understand the importance of being respectful of all of our community members,” said Bynum.

No incidents of microaggressions have been brought to Bynum’s attention since the addition of the sentence to the Blue Book. However, he emphasized that he doubts that Andover students do not currently experience these forms of xenophobia and racism. He believes that the lack of reporting in this regard could be a result of students not being on campus. 

“A lot of the harm reported to me occurs in person. It happens in social groups, it happens at the table during meals, it happens in the dorm, and it most likely happens on social media. So, not having students on campus, there might not be as many opportunities for students to share harmful experiences with a trusted adult in the community,” said Bynum.