In order to reckon with the racism of the past as the Anti-Racism Task Force (AATF) examines that of the present, Andover has formed The Committee on Challenging Histories, according to an announcement sent to the community by Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington. Additionally, Kington announced that Andover would become the first secondary school to become a member of the consortium of Universities Studying Slaveries (USS), created and led by the University of Virginia.
“Educational institutions like Andover, that date back centuries, are themselves living organisms of history. They have evolved through national revolutions, world wars, political divisions, and human rights and civil rights milestones. As Andover approaches the 250th anniversary of its founding, I believe the time is right to reexamine our school’s past, particularly as it relates to the legacy of the physical campus and historical connections to slavery,” wrote Kington in his announcement.
The committee will be chaired by Christopher Jones, Instructor in History and Social Sciences. According to Kington, Jones and fellow faculty and students will set forth a plan on how to make decisions concerning topics such as “building names, historical recognition, and other honors bestowed upon individuals whose pasts do not consistently align with a school’s values,” according to the announcement. Kington also noted that Andover may work together with Phillips Exeter Academy, which has launched similar initiatives to combat problematic histories.
According to Jones, the Committee on Challenging Histories’ research process will take approximately two years, sharing their findings in the 2022-2023 school year. Jones released the four goals of the committee in his email to the Andover community on Thursday: investigating historically significant aspects of Andover, building a plan and principles for change at Andover, connecting policies with the Head and Board of Trustees, and releasing projects for the school to enact about Andover’s complicated history.
“This charge asks our Committee to produce guidelines that will inform how questions of naming, iconography, or other changes to campus will be resolved. The goal is to establish a set of principles that inform how PA commemorates its history; we are not tasked with making specific or immediate decisions about a particular element of campus,” wrote Jones in an email to the Andover community.
Andover plans to further address its systems of racism through the USS, where universities connect and study their schools’ ties to the slave trade and resulting racism on campus. Schools within the consortium may work together to address systemic inequalities.
Initially, Andover planned to release an Anti-Racism Task Force (AATF) report during the spring of 2021. However, Kington explained that after working on the report, the AATF found that the report would be more challenging than expected. In response to the newfound difficulties, Andover decided to work with the USS as a component of their progress towards anti-racism at Andover.
Kington wrote, “This work is an essential component of Andover’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and it was part of the original charge to the Anti-Racism Task Force. I am grateful for the task force’s initial efforts and for recognizing that this topic required a stand-alone initiative.”
Caleb Blackburn-Johnson ’22 expressed ambivalence for the creation of the committee. As necessary as it is to evaluate and examine history at institutions such as Andover, Blackburn-Johnson hopes to see tangible actions executed from the committee.
“Going through the college process reading about the histories of some of the schools, I found that a lot of them were founded with racism and white supremacy as the foundation of the institutions. Andover also is a racist institution, so I am hoping that whatever this committee ends up doing is beneficial in examining and reckoning with history, but I also feel like as we saw with the Anti Racism Task Force, how the actions are yet to be delivered… I’m not sure how optimistic I am,” said Blackburn-Johnson.
Amber Ting ’23 shared a similar sentiment as Blackburn-Johnson and hopes that the Committee on Complicated Histories will create substantial change after planning.
“I’m glad the committee exists. The USS does wonderful work. I think it is important to not only learn about complicated histories but recognize how they affect our present and future. I’m glad the committee is considering action items after research,” said Ting.