Arriving at Andover for the first time before my Lower fall, I was determined to make race “not a thing.” Coming from a small, predominantly white, private middle school where race had always been a taboo topic, I was terrified of the separation it might bring between me and my high school peers. Andover was a fresh start, and I took all precautions to make sure that I would not stand out because of my race. It did not take long for me to realize that ignoring my race would cause more problems than it solved.
As the only black student in my dorm, I often found myself misunderstood by my peers: I had anticipated that my experiences would differ from those of my dorm mates, but I had not expected to be the only one with different experiences. From the vacations we took to the food we ate and even the kinds of music our parents listened to, my peers and I could find almost nothing in common. As a result, I found myself isolated in a place that was meant to be my home. Things did not improve much in the classroom, where I found no one else who looked like me. I felt, as the only black student in many of my classes, that it was my duty to represent what it meant to be black on campus.
Terrified of becoming “just another black kid” in Andover’s competitive culture, I avoided resources meant to help black and Latino students transition into the community, like African and Latino American Association (Af-Lat-Am). Had I been more aware of and willing to use these resources, it is possible that I would have felt more a part of campus from the beginning. Nevertheless, it is nothing short of alarming that there are so few spaces on campus where I, as a black student, can feel completely comfortable and included.
Considering that we are “Youth From Every Quarter,” it is no surprise that Andover students live vastly different lives. Because the majority of the student body is white, however, the campus culture is often influenced by an overwhelmingly white perspective. While we may not always be consciously aware that it exists, the presence of this “white default” means that students of color often must either assimilate to the dominant white culture or risk facing exclusion.
With only 8 percent of the students on campus identifying as Black or African-American and only 6.5 percent identifying as Hispanic, it is easy for black and Latino students to feel detached from the general Andover community. As black and Latino students, we are expected either to adapt to the existing campus culture or to form our own micro-communities.
While these groups can be an important space for black and Latino students, they often perpetuate the feeling of being disconnected from the larger community. We must challenge the fact that the campus culture is one in which black and Latino students feel they do not belong and stop the cycle that is created by having a “white default.”
As a student body, we must all recognize that race is still a problem on this campus. Black and Latino students can no longer tolerate a culture that does not actively accommodate their lives and experiences and on which they have little to no influence. Our community must listen to students whose voices have been drowned out by the majority. We can only make Andover an inclusive, unified school if we understand the desires and needs of black and Latino students who feel silenced and misunderstood.
Our ultimate goal should be to nurture a community that not only boasts diversity, but also is truly impacted by it. Our differences should define the school’s culture, not restrict students’ participation in it. If we do not prioritize such a shift, nothing will change.
As a member of this community, I should not have felt that there was so little voice for me when I first arrived on campus. Af-Lat-Am should not and cannot be the only place on campus where I feel at home discussing my experience as a black student. It is up to us, as a community, to make this entire campus as much as a home as possible for each and every student.