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April 03, 2020

More alike than different

Andover’s Identity class centers on empathy and peer-to-peer learning
by Allyson Irish

What started out as a handful of students curious about combining personal narratives on equity and inclusion with a theatre component, has blossomed into an interdisciplinary class with more than a dozen students each year. Identity is centered around peer-to-peer learning and provides a level of depth unique for a high school.

The intimate setting of the Black Box Theatre is the perfect location for this year’s Identity performance. The 14-member cast uses the stark background and lighting to its advantage, letting their powerful monologues take center stage.

“I just don’t know if I myself am enough,” a student wonders. Another asks, “Is it even home if I have to remember it? Romanticizing is better than forgetting.”

Andover’s interdisciplinary Identity class, started in 2016, navigates such heavy topics as race, gender expression, mental health, and sexuality. Identity has far exceeded the expectations of students and faculty participants as well as the hundreds of audience members who have experienced the performances.
“Andover has been doing ‘youth from every quarter’ since its inception, we’re just doing it differently now,” says Linda Carter Griffith, shown here with coteacher Allen Grimm

“We are deliberately educating kids about identity and how identity impacts our lives,” says English instructor Linda Carter Griffith. Also the associate head of school for equity, inclusion, and wellness, Griffith coteaches the class with Allen Grimm, theatre and dance instructor.

This year’s production, "Beneath the Surface: Things You Don’t Learn in Class," was performed as part of Andover’s MLK Day celebration. Students explored the intersection of class and privilege, societal expectations of manhood, and the “racial purgatory” of a mixed-race background.

Grimm and Griffith acknowledge that the personal information divulged in the class requires specific ground rules, such as the expectation of kindness and respect and the idea that while participants may disagree with one another, they do not devolve into personal attacks. The class also provides growth opportunities for both the instructors and students.

“The students have given me windows into worlds I would never have understood,” says Grimm. Griffith adds, “I’ve been able to grow and develop right alongside my students. I often tell them they push me to the next level.”

Abigail Ndikum ’20 took part in the 2017 class and says it was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

“Before coming to Andover, I did not think much about my identity, but the class broke down all of these ideas into terms that I could quickly grasp and allowed me to make connections between these concepts and my own identity. I am not just Abi; my name is Abigail Ngwe Ndikum and I am the black daughter of Anglophone-Cameroonian immigrants who hopes to achieve the American dream.”

Currently a sophomore at Barnard College studying theatre, Justice Robinson ’18 participated in the first production, "They Said I Should Write About My Identity" and took part in two subsequent plays. Robinson’s experience was so positive and life changing that she often reflects on it.

Theatre is such human-to-human interaction—and having students write and share their truths and be apprised of their truths—all of these things make or create empathy.

Justice Robinson ’18

Aside from personal growth, Grimm and Griffith say they want student participants to come away from the experience with a better understanding of the transformative power of theatre and of the many human traits that unite us.

“This class allows our students to find their voices and to express a bit of their own truth,” Grimm explains. “I want them—and the audience—to find little bits of themselves in the performance and to understand that we have more in common than we realize.”

Categories: Academics, Magazine, Magazine Online

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