From the Archives: Terry Ray Robinson On Andover Transition and Af-Lat-Am

As the U.S. celebrates the accomplishments of Black-Americans during Black History Month, The Phillipian aims to revisit Andover’s history with Black scholars and public figures, as well as Black Andover students, by publishing select works from our archives. However, The Phillipian recognizes that this is just the start of recounting the Black student experience in its totality, from celebrating Black accomplishments to acknowledging the deep-rooted presence of anti-Black racism on campus.

Ten years after the founding of the Afro-Latino-American Society (Af-Lat-Am), Terry Ray Robinson, President of Af-Lat-Am, published a Commentary article in The Phillipian on April 28, 1978. In the article, Robinson explores the effects of living in a predominantly white community on Black and Latinx students, the lack of adequate preparation for students who come to Andover from under-resourced schools, and Black students’ involvement in campus life. Since the 1978 publication, programs, such as the Af-Lat-Am Mentoring Program (AMP) and the Accelerate, Challenge, and Enrich Scholars Program (ACE), have been developed to facilitate the transition to Andover for students through academic support and by establishing a sense of community. While Robinson called for the increase of Black-centered classes at Andover in 1978, the Course of Study offered approximately seven courses that specifically focus on Black narratives in the 2020-2021 school year. However, all of these courses are electives and are, therefore, not required. Lastly, although Robinson believes that microaggressions against Black students are the result of cultural ignorance rather than prejudice, the hundreds of first-hand accounts of Black students shared on @BlackAtAndover exemplify that anti-Black racism is alive and well at Andover 43 years later.

As my term as President of the Afro-Latino-American Society of Phillips Academy slowly comes to an end, I feel the need to pause and to evaluate [Black] life at the Academy. The school has done a fine job of selecting [Black] students from different types of backgrounds. Among the students we find members representing the upper, middle, or lower classes of society. This blend of [Black] students enriches the group of [Black] minority pupils in that ideas generated within the group vary.

The Af-Lat-Am serves to help [Black] and [Latinx] students retain their identity while studying at Phillips. Black life at the Academy is tough. While the Af-Lat-Am meets once a week, the students still have to face a predominantly white population the other six days. This type of situation often means the minority student is forced to live by customs that may be foreign to him. But, this is not detrimental because at that one meeting every week, the [Black] student most often incorporates his newly introduced experience into his old ones. Thus, the entire minority community is enriched.

It must be admitted that the academic fact of the Academy is nothing to be laughed at. The group of students who feel this way more so than any other group is the [Black] minority group. The majority of [Black] pupils here are taken from public high schools in predominantly [Black] sections of their hometown. The curriculum at my old school is immensely lower than the curriculum at Phillips. Because of this drastic change from, “All right [let’s] do our math now” school to the, “Assignments one through 15 due tomorrow” school, the [Black] students suffer. The program offered in the summer for “A Better Chance” students is good, but once a student leaves on August 6 or whatever, he goes back to the same environment, and nine out of ten times, he doesn’t get to employ what he has learned the previous six weeks. So where does that leave him? In September, he has to start all over again. My first few terms at Andover were rough, but after a few flops, I was able to adjust. Not that everything runs smoothly now, but my head’s above water.

Sports at the Academy doesn’t present a great problem. Although most of the students’ selection of a sport is decreased because of previous background experiences, the cluster level sports are helpful in that they create the opportunity to learn something new.

Extracurricular activities are numerous and most [Black] students are able to join clubs and special activities. I’d like to mention the Gospel Choir has proven to be an activity from which the [Black] students and the school benefit.

The condition of [Black] life at Phillips Academy, generally speaking is sturdy. Because of the problems mentioned previously, however, the students and the school suffer. As a solution to these problems, I feel more [Black] oriented courses should be offered at the Academy. I am grateful for the History 20 course, the Black literature course, and the other courses that touch on the [Black] mode of living and [Black] heritage. However, I feel courses of this type should be incorporated into the curriculum possibly as requirements. Just from responses I have received from other [Black] students here, there is a feel of prejudice on the campus. I reply that it’s not prejudice, but simply ignorance of [Black] culture. By no means do I wish to convey that there are malicious acts towards [Black] Students, but more of uncertainty in how to respond to them. I don’t expect that this problem will be resolved immediately, but perhaps a closer look at it will lead to some change.