Open Student Forum with Co-Presidents and Deans Receives Mixed Reactions

Student Body Co-Presidents Mary Muromcew ’22 and Sean Meng ’22 opened the doors to Andover’s student forum to facilitate a conversation with the Dean of Students, Jennifer Elliott ’94 and the Dean of Studies, Rajesh Mundra, this past Friday. During the meeting, the deans answered pre-submitted student questions and addressed follow-up questions from the open discussion portion of the forum. This discussion was an effort on behalf of the co-presidents to increase transparency between the student body and the administration.

One of the first questions concerned the decision to get rid of ‘personal time.’ Lasting until the 2018-2019 school year, ‘personal time’ allowed students to miss classes for specific, personal reasons. In response, the deans stated that faculty members did not think students were not truly utilizing personal time for intentional rest.

“There were a lot of instances where [personal time] was not working well. Students would request personal time 15 minutes before class.., that didn’t go so well. If you had personal time during a term, kids would often calculate, ‘When’s the last day I can take personal time?’ And then, ‘That’s the day I’m going to take it.’ And then students would often use this time like a free [period], or a cut,” said Mundra.

In addition to questions surrounding school and academic policy, students also posed questions around Andover’s efforts, and more specifically the administration’s practices, against anti-racism. Both Elliott and Mundra mentioned the reinforcement of previous actions in addition to new anti-racism initiatives.

“It’s not singular…I’ve thought about how important it is to have adults of color in spaces where kids feel like they can see themselves. I’ve thought a lot about the training of my staff, the EBI staff, and student leaders, ” said Elliot.

Mundra continued, explaining how teaching faculty generated specific goals were set for each academic department.

“Last year, each academic department had some short and long term goals that they had around anti-racism, and I think that the anti-racism things that people were committing to were an extension of the type of teaching and the type of pedagogy Andover has in place, there’s a huge room for growth, but it wasn’t like we were starting from zero. I am trying to hold the departments accountable to their goals,” said Mundra.

In an interview with The Phillipian, Muromcew explained the importance of Friday’s forum, as the first open discussion between students and deans in the four years that she has been at Andover.

“It was definitely an organic idea that came from myself, Sean, Dean Elliot, and LCG. We wanted to choose a diverse array of questions, so not just asking the same thing over and over again. I also feel that the questions we chose targeted issues that were really pertinent to the student body,” said Muromcew.

Some students who attended the discussion expressed mixed reactions. Ariana Zhao ’25 felt there were many topics left undiscussed.

“Personally, I don’t think the deans used the limited time we had well, as there were many other topics and questions that were important to address that we didn’t get to. I do think that the deans were very patient with the students and they listened to everyone’s questions and answered the best they could,” said Zhao.

Attendee Lily Williamson ’25 also felt that some questions were avoided through vague or indirect answers from the deans. Williamson did, however, appreciate their more in-depth responses which seemed to express their genuine care for the student body’s well being.

“My initial reaction was a mix between hope and disappointment. It felt productive to see faculty interacting with the students and meaningful conversations being had. What I enjoyed more than hearing the pre-prepared questions was hearing students in the audience address their concerns directly with the faculty members… However I still feel like this topic, along with many other topics in the same realm, are being avoided by administration and instead are responsibilities placed on students to educate other students,” said Williamson.