Posters urging the Andover community to reflect on questions such as “Are there enough spaces for Black students on campus? Is your support performative? When will you trust our mistrust?” along with posts from the Black@Andover Instagram page were put up across campus on December 10. When Linda Carter Griffith, Associate Head of School for Equity, Inclusion, and Wellness, initially saw the Black@Andover posters, she reacted with surprise and concern.
“I think when I first saw the posters, I went out and I said, ‘Did something happen?’ I thought something had happened. And then students later told me, ‘No, we want to pick this conversation up. We don’t think there’s been enough change.’ So my suggestion was, ‘Hey, do we need to have a forum tonight to respond to these concerns? I know teachers will show up because we all care about this community and the experience of our students,’” said Griffith.
That evening, Community and Multicultural Development (CaMD) student leaders invited all students, faculty, and staff members to engage in an open “Community Conversation” with each other, in response to the Black@Andover posters. The conversation, which was student-led and organized, was attended by 250 people who engaged in a variety of robust discussions, according to Griffith. More than a month later, a student coalition building meeting will be held on Saturday morning in the CaMD office at 10:30 a.m.
Victoria Ortiz ’23, one of the student organizers of the Community Conversation, reflected back to the day the posters appeared across campus. Ortiz shared why the creation of the space was significant.
“Because it’s an Instagram account, [the common notion was that] it’ll die down in like a few months. And it did as Instagram accounts do, but it didn’t necessarily fade in our minds, and in the students’ minds, [the account and its messages] faded in the eyes of the institution, which is also really upsetting and which is why I feel like the posters were put up, to begin with, to help that resurface. And then, having faculty hear student voices and requests during the forum was nice because sometimes they don’t hear, they listen but they’re not necessarily taking it in all the time, averting and like not really going for the issue. But [in the forum], by being present, they were forced to,” said Ortiz.
Jim Ventre ’79, Assistant Head of School for Admission and Financial Aid and the 2019-2020 Interim Head of School, also attended the open discussion. Ventre viewed the discussion as a success and believed it emphasized Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington’s value of human connection in decision making. Specifically, the student discussion made Ventre think about the importance of having both large and small-scale discussions where students and faculty can empathize with each other on a more intimate level.
“I actually felt it was very successful and part of it was that it felt like the space and the fact that it was crowded [made it] feel grounded in intimacy. And it kind of was touched on [in Monday, January 16th’s All-School Meeting], but you know, I’ve always personally felt like we do a lot of this stuff in admissions where we take on difficult topics in small groups. And that allows us to see what Dr. Kington talks about, like our humanity more closely in one another. So for me, I always think about how [we could] make these conversations more useful on campus in the future,” said Ventre.
Moving forward, Ventre has thought about how to incorporate important race-related discussions into the busy schedules of Andover students. While Ventre admits that everyone acknowledges these discussions as important, it can be challenging to find the time to read and educate ourselves on what we should be learning regarding race relations.
“To bake it into the time from eight-thirty to three o’clock is the other part of this. I know we have a lot of meetings at night, but we could do this in classes and not just once in a while. So, that’s some of what I’ve thought about as a potential way forward,” said Ventre.
Jennifer Elliott ’94, Dean of Students and Residential Life, was another member of the administration who attended the forum. Elliott elaborated on the roles of faculty and adults during the event while considering what the space created by students meant to her.
Elliott said, “It certainly was not an opportunity where adults were addressing student concerns [at] that moment, or clarifying or even in some cases, correcting misinformation that did not happen that night. There were a number of adults in the room who felt it was our responsibility to really listen and support but not to respond. So I think there’s certainly [an] opportunity, and I think it’s one of the reasons why listening forums [are being organized]; they want to increase transparency by creating spaces where kids can ask adults questions and adults will respond.”
Griffith believes that the Andover community has lost many of the “natural, organic ways” for communication and connection due to the Covid-19 pandemic. To increase opportunities to hear from students, Griffith plans to start open office hours, in which she will invite students to come into her office, share their thoughts, suggestions, and ask questions.
“The most important thing is that we rebuild trust, and transparency between students, with faculty and admin, and the entire community. I truly do feel Covid-19 has been a really big factor in this mistrust that has developed. So my door’s always open—I would want students to know that—who want to come by and talk about any issues at all,” said Griffith.
There are a number of other Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and anti-racist initiatives that have been in the works since the Community Conversation, according to Griffith:
For Nigel Savage ’23, who attended the forum, the lack of communication between faculty, students, and administration as well as the need for a Black student affinity space particularly stuck out to him. A forum with Black students and faculty regarding the formation of the Black Student Union and extension of the issues discussed during the Community Conversation will take place on Sunday, according to Savage.
“I think a key takeaway was the necessity for a Black Student Union and just for more dialogue between faculty and students because I think especially Black students need to be better supported. I don’t think faculty knew how much, and I think all that can be solved if they’re just talking to each other, so I think I hope that they have more forums like this,” said Savage.
Editor’s Note: Victoria Ortiz ’23 is an Associate Copy Editor for The Phillipian.