We have been st…

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We have been struggling of late, as a community, with how to talk about diversity. We are struggling in our classes, in the pages of The Phillipian and, particularly, in social media. I want to share with you this morning a few thoughts on this matter. There are two main things I offer this morning: one is simple, one is complex.

First, the simple point. We, as a faculty, share a commitment to educate ‘Youth from Every Quarter.’ This concept is not new. It is enshrined in the Academy’s constitution. It dates back 236 years, and it is restated in our school’s Statement of Purpose, which I encourage you all to read with care.

We, as a faculty, also know that you all chose to come to Andover. Over and over again, in survey after survey, you told us you have chosen Andover because of its diversity, not despite its diversity. The same is true, by the way, of our nation’s colleges and universities. In survey after survey on this topic, students tell researchers that they have chosen college X because, in no small part, of its diversity.

Turn to your left, for a moment, and acknowledge who is sitting there. Now turn to your right, and acknowledge who that person is. Think now, for a moment, of yourself — yes, I am encouraging you not to be Non Sibi, but to be Pro Sibi for a moment.

The simple point is: every single person in this chapel deserves to be here. You were chosen — for reasons that have nothing to do with your background and also for reasons that have everything to do with your background. We believe, as teachers, that each one of you has the potential to take full advantage of this school — and to become graduates of whom we can be exceedingly proud. Our admissions office does not make “mistakes.” Everyone who chooses to come to Phillips Academy belongs at Phillips Academy, and everyone we admit can find success here.

Admissions decisions, or decisions about hiring faculty members even, do not evolve from a single calculation. Sometimes I fear that we get it wrong: we talk in terms of absolutes, each of which is equally untrue. A Post-Graduate is here to play a sport. A Lower is here because her father went here. A Junior is here because he plays the oboe. An Upper is here because he had a perfect score on the SSAT and never received a grade below A. A Senior is here because she is Latina. This is nonsense. No Admissions Officer, no Dean of Faculty thinks in such reductive and simplistic means — not here and not at any college I know of.

Let me use myself as an example. When I applied to college, did it help that many people with my last name (and my same first name and middle name, for that matter, dating back centuries) went to a certain college? Did it help my cause that I was the great-great-grandson of a president of the United States, who went to that same college? Did it help that there is a building with my family’s name on it on that same campus? Of course it did. Did it help that I was an athlete, who played a sport that is a competitive one at that same college? I certainly wasn’t at the top of the coach’s list, but I’m equally sure it didn’t hurt my chances. So, you could look now at me and say: you did not deserve your spot at that college. John Palfrey, you took “my” spot at that college. You might say that, but I think that would be both dangerous and wrong. Do you know what my recommendations said? Do you know what my test scores and grades were? Do you know how my interview went? Do you know what the Admissions Officer thought about my essay, about who am I, what my potential is? Do you know whether the faculty thought I would be a person of great integrity and leadership? Of course you don’t. Even I don’t. There’s no one reason why any of us is admitted to any school we get into. There are many factors. Legacy, athletics, race — these are all factors considered by colleges, yes. And there are many more.

I don’t kid myself about the privileges I have enjoyed. At the same time, I am proud of the family I come from, and I love my family; I am proud to be an athlete and proud of all the sweat and tears and learning that had to go into that; and I am proud of the hard work I have put in to my studies and music and everything else I have struggled at, just as you do. Every single person here should be encouraged to take pride in where they came from, what they have done, who they are and what their potential is.

Frankly, I think this is the easy part. I know I speak for the faculty when I affirm that everyone who is here with us deserves to be here with us at Andover. We believe in the value of having an intentionally diverse community where we choose to admit you based on our view of your potential, based on very many factors, all of which speak to your potential in the future and the kind of community we seek to create here. These ideas are central to our purpose as a school.

Now, for the harder part. How can we get better at being an intentionally diverse community? How can we get better, here and now, at Andover? This is much trickier because we need a way to talk to one another that does not divide us, but rather brings us together.

Think of this school community at a crossroads. There’s a flare up of discussion about race and about difference. We can let it go in one of two directions. We can let it get the better of us and divide us. We can each go back to our camps. We can point our way back toward a community that is segregated and that feeds on mistrust and anger.

Or we can choose a different path. We can choose a path that is grounded in a belief in inclusivity and respect. We can listen to one another. We can learn about one another’s backgrounds. We can find common ground across differences.

We can and must take the time to learn about the pressures that many Asian students here face to perform in certain ways. We can and must take the time to understand the deep and enduring cultural hurt associated with blackface and why a cartoon in a newspaper would be sure to upset many members of a community here in the United States in 2014. We can and must take the time to learn about what it is like to be here, no matter our background.

In fact, this ability to talk to one another, to live with one another, despite our differences is one of the most important skills you ought to learn at Andover. It is a form of excellence that I aspire for each and every one of our graduates to master. This is one of the very many reasons why, with total conviction, I can say to you that there is no tension between excellence in academics, athletics and the arts and having the diverse community that we have here. These ideas are completely in synch with one another. In fact, I would put it in a stronger form: we cannot pursue excellence if we do not have an intentionally diverse community in which we are educating one another. This competency is central to what we are trying to accomplish as a community, and I believe that this competency in diversity is essential to our succeeding, as humankind, in an increasingly global, interconnected world.

Before I close and urge you all out into the sunshine of this finally-spring day, I want to respond to a few direct questions I’ve been asked in recent days. I share my views not because I know them to be right or to ask you to agree with me, but out of respect for the conversation and out of respect for all of you as students.

One is whether I support affirmative action. The answer is yes, I do. I believe that affirmative action is essential to the creation of a world that can grapple with the problems that we face, now and into the future. I believe that the long-running support for affirmative action in admissions, upheld consistently by the Supreme Court, though much under fire all that time, is right and good.

Another question is whether I support the right to free expression and open, honest dialogue on campus. The answer is yes, I do. I believe in the First Amendment to our Constitution in this country. It provides an important framework for the protection of free expression, of dissent and of progress in a democracy. We need diversity of thought at Andover; we need freedom of expression at Andover.

At the same time, it is important to note what the First Amendment does and does not do. The First Amendment does provide some of the broadest and deepest protections for speech in the world. But it does not afford anyone the right to say anything at any time. The First Amendment is much more complex than that. Even in this free country, there are what are called “time, place and manner” restrictions on what you can say and do. You may dissent, but you cannot shout fire in this chapel right now if there is no fire. Here at Andover, you cannot practice hate in ways that harm others; you cannot lie about others and do them harm; you cannot publish or look at certain obscene things. I believe in a form of free expression that has sharp and appropriate limits. Our job here, on this community, is to define those limits in a way that enables us to be a respectful, inclusive, welcoming place for every single person who is here.

A final note: I’ve been challenged about the email that Paul Murphy, Linda Carter Griffith and I sent over the weekend, asking you to refrain from taking up these issues further in social media. ‘How,’ I’ve been asked, ‘can you square that message with your message here that we need to talk about these things and to work them out? How, Mr. Palfrey, can you say that, when you love social media and you, yourself, Tweet all the time?’ There are two reasons. The first is because I don’t think that social media is a great forum for the discussion of something as sensitive, personal and nuanced as this; we need classrooms, dorm rooms, dining halls and art spaces to do it; we need teachers and students working together, with a common sense of purpose.

The second reason is that I want to protect you from yourselves. Some of you have written things online that you may come to regret. When it comes to social media, all of us — whether or not we are teenagers — tend to post first and think second. It’s a proven fact. The problem with this approach is that you may hurt others and hurt yourselves. I worry that you will be putting on digital tattoos — in the form of your words or images — that someday you will wish to rub off, but will not be able to do. If you find yourself in an interview for graduate school or for a job, and you are asked about a posting about other people you typed one day in haste and in anger, how will you feel then? You will almost certainly regret it.

I have a simple rule: before you post something online, think about whether you’d be O.K. with that statement appearing on the front page of the ‘New York Times’ tomorrow or any day into eternity. If not, then don’t post it. I am urging you to keep this particular conversation out of social media for our collective good and your own good.

We all came to Andover to live, learn and work together as an intentionally diverse community. We are not perfect; no one of us is perfect. We are all a work in progress, individually and collectively. I am so glad that each and every one of you is here, with us, right now, and I am so glad that we have the great privilege, together, to sort these matters out. I believe in our ability to do this, Andover.

— John G. Palfrey

A wonderful address made by Mr. Palfrey this Wednesday at All-School Meeting after two inspiring Means Essays. Have a read!

The Mask You Live In

Hope you all are enjoying the vacation and holiday season!

If you get a moment, check out this trailer for the upcoming documentary The Mask You Live In. 

This work is produced by the same team that brought us MissRepresentation. Many of you may recognize this as the required film from the fall or for all juniors and proctors/prefects.

This new documentary seeks to shed light on the ideas of masculinity that our broader community enforces on its young boys and young men. What are the implications of telling a young man to “suck it up” or “grow a pair”? Do we end up encouraging them to hide their emotions behind a mask? Just some food for thought.

We wear the mask that grins and lies,

It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—

This debt we pay to human guile;

With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,

In counting all our tears and sighs?

Nay, let them only see us, while

We wear the mask.

— an excerpt of “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, an acclaimed Black American poet from the turn of the 20th century.

See you all in January!

Perspectives

Connor Reid

At Andover,
No one sees ethnicity.
We don’t judge by Race, Color, or Creed, so
Everything is okay.

I feel so cosmopolitan,
Being with such diverse people,
United, despite racial barriers.

Not aware to some, but
I think about it all the time.
I feel so proud!
We see you for what you are,
A person.

It’s important to have diversity.
They say, “40% students of color.”
That’s why I like being here.
I like that they make an effort,
An effort to expose us to new,
Different kinds of people.

See, at Andover,
No one sees ethnicity.
We don’t judge by Race, Color, or Creed, so
Everything is okay.

Darius Brown

At Andover,
No one sees ethnicity.
We don’t judge by Race, color, or creed, yet
Everything is not okay.

I feel so isolated,
Separated, always being seen
as different, despite “equality.”

Not aware to some, but
I think about it all the time.
I feel so angry!
They see me for what I am,
A statistic.

It’s important to have diversity.
“40% students of color.”
Is that why I’m here?
For diversity?
To help some rich kids cross
“Racial barriers” they created?

See, at Andover,
No one sees ethnicity.
We don’t judge by Race, color, or creed, yet
Everything is not okay.

This piece was taken directly from the Out of the Blue book. To read more like this, be sure to check your mailbox or online on December 13. 

You Oh God

Andover brought me closer to God
{i was losing him before i came}
During years of famine, revolution, and economic collapse
{where were you when they needed you}
And I was caught up in classes, colleges, and friends
{you were always there to keep me safe}
I didn’t think religion mattered
{don’t ever let me go never never}
Until I sat in the chapel on a muggy rain-soaked day
{your doors were open}
And I told you everything that was wrong and right and okay {you listened listened listened}
There was an overwhelming sense of serenity, ease
{i feel you in my heart spreading love and salvation}
And I realized this is what I had been missing every Sunday
{praying to you oh God oh God my Lord and Savior}
Through strife and joy, I know where I can find you at Andover
{waiting for me in that stately glorious place}
Amidst the chaos of life, I can find my inner peace.

This piece was taken directly from the Out of the Blue book. To read more like this, be sure to check your mailbox or online on December 13.

Being a Woman

To you, being a woman is being the little girl in the t-shirt and cargo shorts, playing soccer and basketball with boys at recess. It’s dodging alien creatures in flower dresses and bows who sit on the swings braiding hair. It’s knowing your soft features and long ponytail make you different from the other firefighters, astronauts, and athletes that populate the playground, but it’s not caring, because you’re all kids and your primary question is “will you play with me?”

It’s suddenly realizing that it’s weird to hang out with boys, that it’s ugly for a girl to wear baggy shirts and sneakers. It’s when all of your friends stop asking you to play, when you always get picked last for teams by the team captains who are always male. It’s hurting, wishing you didn’t understand why they don’t want you anymore, but deep inside feeling it too: the unconscious fear of social misstep in a culture that dictates that girls and boys are fundamental opposites of a binary that cannot mix. Being a woman is acquiescing when the teacher tells you to sit still while boys squirm in their seats. It is, for the first time since you began to clothe yourself, putting on a new flower dress and sitting on the swings at recess.

To you, being a woman is being ugly and late to develop, stuck in the lanky body of a child while caught in the awkward intermediate of almost-adolescent. It’s subtle gazes that evolve into fluorescent signs, harsh on your sheltered eyes, too bright for the tiny blossoms on your dress. It’s a quiet childhood that could not prepare you for sudden contact with a culture in which being a woman matters.

Being a woman is the moment when you are first exposed to your own sexuality, a projected image that hardly belongs to you but that you can still learn to associate with shame. It’s kids protected by an armor of friends and beauty cutting apart your body with taunts like knives that slice through the petals of your flower dresses in one stroke. It’s being nothing in a popular paradigm of hot and sexy. It’s realizing the painful duality, that, in order to be accepted you would not be able to choose what to do with your own body, that even if you do nothing words, and judgments and, god forbid, physical violence will be forced upon it. So being a woman is associated with total lack of control.

Being a woman is being covered, ensnared, by push-up bras and makeup and chemical hair. It’s curves that emerge, a face that grows up, and flower dresses with rising hems. You were once so small and ugly and safe, and it was simple. You thought that the fear and shame would go away, but they didn’t; they just changed. “You’re so pretty, sweetheart; you shouldn’t be so pretty. I’d be scared if you were my daughter. Bad things happen to pretty girls.”

No matter how desperately you scramble to cloak yourself in layers of false maturity and conformity, your petals will never be big enough or the right color. Being a woman will always mean being naked.

You enter a new adolescence still in flower dresses: simple, delicate, graceful clothing that you have grown to see as beautiful. For the first time, you find the world is fascinating and kind. Being a woman is finding friends, passion, talent, and love. Being a woman is being human.

Then, being a woman is the new information that boys have deemed you “hot” and “fuckable.” It’s not knowing what to feel, because, on the one hand, you’re reduced to nothing, but on the other, you’re told you should feel good. So you take it as a compliment because you’re fourteen, insecure, and have no idea how to belong in this big school, in this big world.

It’s when boys you thought were your friends or boys in your classes who you thought Just Wanted to Study try to kiss you, try to take off your flower dress. It’s having never been aware of yourself as a sexual being in anything other than a negative context. It’s being lost, wondering what to do, because you know that once they peel back your petals you’ll be unprotected. It’s sometimes kissing back. It’s sometimes liking it and sometimes hating it. It’s being told what to feel. It’s your worth being again diminished to a timid, quivering sexuality not strong and confident enough to bear the weight of a full person.

Being a woman is possessing a body that is not fully your own, an object that can be taken as public property by innocent words the moment you step outside. It’s men and boys on the street stripping you of humanity, talking about things they want to do to you, things that seem less about sex and more about power. Just words, mostly. Then it’s the condescending voices that overpower your instincts. Just ignore it. Take it as a compliment. Boys will be boys. Take it like a lady. I wish men did that to me. That’s what you get for being hot. If you want it to stop, you shouldn’t wear those flowered dresses. It’s your fault.

But it’s seeing nothing but blurred lines, because if he sees his own desires and violent propositions as a compliment, what could a “no” ever mean? It’s wondering how you could ever do anything meaningful if you’re meaningless, nothing but an ornament, an object meant to decorate a world for men.

Being a woman shrinks to just wanting to hide.

It’s enveloped in the comfort and protection of a thick cloak of privilege and warped by shoddily constructed goggles that shape how you experience the world.

To you, being a woman is when you stop wearing flowered dresses so that people will take you seriously. It’s working twice as hard to be twice as good to justify yourself against the boys in your class. It’s finding that you don’t trust anyone; it’s building up walls and being intentionally cold so that no one can say they got the Wrong Idea. It’s chopping off your hair and throwing away your makeup in rebellion, then, when some of the attention drifts away, when the way you experience the world changes because you don’t fit the only standards of beauty that you know, it’s crippling insecurity when it should be peace; the guilty, nagging feeling that something is wrong with you because you will never look like the girls in magazines. It’s sometimes putting on old flower dresses and glitter around your eyes and twirling around in front of the mirror because you want to look nice just for yourself. Then it’s washing it all off. Every time you find yourself wanting to be pretty, it’s reminding yourself why you don’t. It’s casually brushing off everyday comments and actions while screaming inside to drown out the voices that tell you what and who you should be.

Being a woman is something you haven’t experienced yet, because you’re still a girl.

To you, being a girl is trampled, wilting flowers on a manufactured dress.

Being a woman is learning how to be proud, how to be good, and how to be strong.

This piece was taken directly from the Out of the Blue book. To read more like this, be sure to check your mailbox or online on December 13.