Public Forum Hosted by Andover Committee on Challenging Histories

Andover’s Committee on Challenging Histories hosted a student-led forum, featuring the histories of Morse Hall’s and Bartlet House’s namesakes — Samuel Morse and William Bartlet – and their complicated connections to the slave trade. The forum, held on December 7, explored the connection between Andover’s building names and the school’s past in regards to slavery.

The Committee on Challenging Histories was announced by Raynard Kington, Head of School, on November 9, 2021, in an email to the Andover community. Andover was the first secondary school to join the consortium on Universities Studying Slavery (USS), founded by the University of Virginia.

Facilitated by Nigel Savage ’23, Andover’s 2022-2023 Student Body Co-President, and Shreya Bajaj ’23, the forum concluded with an open discussion at the end of the presentation, where students asked questions and were welcomed to provide feedback. Bajaj voiced the importance of involving the community in the work and findings of the committee. 

“The main role of the discussion was to involve as many people as we could in thinking about our campus history and the concept of renaming. We heard a wide variety of opinions and questions, and… all the perspectives brought up good points, which just goes to show how complex this issue is,” said Bajaj in an email to The Phillipian

Christopher Jones, Instructor in History and Social Sciences and the Chair of the Committee on Challenging Histories, explained the significance of the forum in educating Andover community members on the spaces which they inhabit.

Jones said, “You might have students who have no idea who Samuel Morse is and they walk in and out of Morse Hall and don’t think much of the name specifically; it’s just a building where they take math classes. But you might have other people, students, and faculty, who know a lot about Morse, or enough to know about his views on non-white peoples, his views about non-Christians and [non-]Catholics were really impotent too. That name might have very different meanings for that person, so it can be quite variable.”

Jones continued, “We can’t escape the fact that names on buildings are usually doing two things that are inseparable. The first is that they are offering some window into our past or history, and the second thing is they are discounting certain kinds of honor on someone, more or less like every other name building on campus is honoring someone of a past time”

Nahila Hutchinson ’24, an attendee of the forum, appreciated the forum for educating community members on the history of Andover buildings’ namesakes. However, she added that there are further actions that the Andover community should take to maintain long-term recognition of its past. 

“If you rename a building, it’ll stay relevant for the next couple years, but in ten years, twenty years, people are going to forget the previous name, why we renamed it, and all of those things. A lot of us were thinking that this is something that we’d have to keep talking about, whether we talk about it during orientation, [or] we have a day-on [as] we do for [Martin Luther King Jr.] Day, if it comes up in history classes, or just as something that it’s still present on people’s minds,” said Hutchinson. 

In a reflection on the presentation, Bajaj encouraged students and faculty to consider the histories of Andover and our buildings’ namesakes with our school values in mind.  

Bajaj wrote, “The present is built on the past, and no matter how much we may try to cover it up, our history has implications for the present. Even just walking around campus, you’ll see that most of our buildings are named after white men, many of whom were complicit in activities and institutions that don’t align with our school values. What does it mean that we continue to honor them, and shouldn’t we acknowledge the history behind the school’s naming choices?”

The Committee on Challenging Histories, intending to compile its work over a two-year period, will come to an end during the Spring Term. However, Bajaj noted that progress made through the committee should mark the start of future work done at Andover to recognize its history.

“If a place like Andover begins to acknowledge its past, it sets the standard for honesty and genuine desire to be better, both at the institutional and the individual level…. The committee will end at the close of this academic year, but it simply represents the beginning of this work, since we’ve barely uncovered the tip of the iceberg,” said Bajaj.