May 08, 2023

Generation green

Andover students lead the charge against an urgent climate crisis
by Katie Fiermonti

Books floating everywhere. That’s what Dominique Williams ’24 remembers seeing in her flooded childhood bedroom after a hurricane moved through her small island nation of Saint Kitts and Nevis.

“Those are my earliest memories,” Williams says. As she got older, the storms grew more frequent and increasingly catastrophic, impacting family members and friends with devastating intensity.

“I’m lucky enough that my house isn’t often directly in the path of big storms,” she adds. “But my grandmother lives smack in the middle of the eyewalls coming through the Caribbean. In the past five summers she’s been hit three or four times. That’s not normal. People’s homes shouldn’t get destroyed year after year.”

Informed by personal experience—and spurred on by global environmental activist peers like 20-year-old Greta Thunberg—the world’s youth are recognizing the rapidly accelerating climate crisis as the proverbial wolf at the door. Indeed, according to Deloitte’s 2021 Global Millennial and Gen Z survey, climate change and environmental issues rank high atop the list of concerns facing those born after 1996. The existential anxiety has reached Andover Hill, where half of all student respondents in the 2022 Phillipian State of the Academy survey acknowledged that global warming and water and air pollution are directly affecting their lives right now.

Rather than waiting for someone else to solve the problems facing our planet, students are meeting the challenge head-on, with support from alumni, faculty, and administrators.

“I feel very scared about climate change. So if I’m not working to help fix it, what am I doing with my life?” says Alice Fan ’23. “Obviously there are a lot of different issues in the world. But there’s nothing more important than having a world to live in.”
Alice Fan ’23 (left) and Dominique Williams ’24 are co-coordinators of the Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition (PASC), an alliance organizing 500 students to amplify the scope, energy, and impact of climate action. Photo by Tory Wesnofske.

Students Take Action

Fan and Williams are co-coordinators of the Phillips Academy Sustainability Coalition (PASC), an alliance that organizes approximately 500 students striving to amplify the scope, energy, and impact of climate action in myriad ways on campus and beyond.

The inclusive coalition—known for planning PA’s popular Earth Week events each year—comprises multiple subgroups, including Ambassadors for Climate Curriculum, Andover Climate Lobby, Climate Café (with podcast), Direct Climate Action Initiative, Divest Andover, EcoAction and its burgeoning EcoLeaders program, Gardening, Student Advocates for Climate Awareness, @agreenerblue on Instagram, and at least 13 other groups focused on formulating and implementing tangible climate and sustainability measures.

On any given day, students are engaging with faculty and administrators about the Academy’s sustainability progress, educating peers about waste reduction, designing student and faculty research, or growing their own produce in the Abbot Learning Garden, located near the Gelb Science Center. Just this February, the Andover Climate Lobby made national news during a trip to the Massachusetts State House to rally for climate justice and meet with policymakers.

“The beauty of the PASC is that you can always find your place in the sustainability conversation, no matter what your reason or drive or desires for sustainability may be,” Williams says. “It’s a home for everyone.”

“Students really want to be involved, and they are showing up and doing the work,” says Allison Guerette, PA’s campus sustainability coordinator. “We recently had a farm-to-table cooking event and had to close sign-ups because there were more than 100 students wanting to participate.”

Alumni Engagement and Support

Students are hoping to spur broader institutional change as well.

One hot-button issue is the Academy’s investment portfolio. In November 2021, the PASC group Divest Andover drafted a letter to the Board of Trustees, urging them to systematically divest from its fossil fuel holdings upon expiration. And last spring, approximately 250 students rallied in front of Sam Phil during the Board of Trustees meeting to raise awareness about the Academy’s investment portfolio.

The students’ passion for climate action was heard, loud and clear, says Ferd Alonso, assistant head of school for operations and finance and PA’s chief financial officer. Alonso met with students to hear their concerns and to offer additional ways for them to learn about the Academy’s fiduciary responsibilities. Since then, students have met with trustees as well as with members of the Investment Committee and senior administrators (see sidebar).

“I think the students understand that some of our investments are ones that would be difficult to get out of without the Academy potentially experiencing a loss,” Alonso shared.

Student climate efforts have also attracted the attention of the PA/Abbot Climate Working Group, with alumni members primarily from the classes of 1967. Their campus environmental interest began at a 2017 Reunion seminar, and they now meet monthly to discuss how best to support students and the Academy in its climate change endeavors. While divestment is a primary focus, they also discuss campus food service improvements, travel reduction, and more.

“Gen Z has a key role to play, because they’re the ones who have the energy, the buy-in. They’re the ones who will be living this out,” says Frank Zhou ’22, a founding member of the PASC and former ambassador for climate curriculum at PA.

Zhou also says alumni are a valuable resource for students. “Older generations can help by pressing for campus climate change reforms, donating time and money, and engaging with current students. In time, Andover and climate work can become truly synonymous.”

“Climate change activism is a long march, not a single year campaign, though I don’t believe we have the kind of time we think we do to deal with this issue,” adds John Nettleton ’67, a member of the PA/Abbot Climate Working Group. “We operate parallel to the students rather than in active collaboration—but we want them to know there’s a deep well of alumni support available to help them keep doing what they’re doing.”

A Campus-Wide Pledge

The Academy’s commitment to sustainability is substantial and dates to the early 2000s when senior administrators drafted an environmental principles statement that explored ways to better protect and conserve campus resources. In 2018, PA adopted its landmark Climate Action Plan, outlining steps to reduce the school’s energy and water use, greenhouse gas emissions, and waste in a financially sustainable way by 2030. Progress updates and news on the latest campus projects and events can be viewed at andover.edu/living/a-greener-blue.

Approximately 30 student activists visited the Massachusetts Statehouse on Tuesday, Feb. 7, where they lobbied elected officials to advance climate change and resiliency bills. Photo by Charlotte Esty.

The plan also aims to fully integrate climate change across the curriculum, a process that so far has been gradual and not as well-coordinated as some students and faculty had hoped.

“Right now, you really have to stumble into a random classroom where a teacher just happens to care about it,” says Fan. “There are environmental classes and science classes, where you can of course find information and resources, but there are many more classes where this can still be incorporated.”

María Martínez is one example of a teacher taking a unique approach in the classroom. A Spanish instructor, Martínez often has her students practice their language skills by discussing PA’s sustainability goals.

“I think it’s an important matter, just paying attention to how the world is changing and how present the climate issue is, particularly as it affects underrepresented communities,” she says. “I sense that students think faculty are not doing much about evolving the curriculum, so I’m inviting them to come talk to me to make change happen,” Martínez says. “Students need to feel that their participation is welcome.”

This winter Martínez embarked on a research project—bolstered by professional training from the Tang Institute—collaborating with students to find ways to better infuse climate topics across all academic disciplines. “I believe students and adults can and should work together designing curriculum.”

Williams was pleasantly surprised to find her math/functions instructor, Deborah Olander, using graphs related to income inequality and landfills. “Even in a math class, we were able to make the connection that this is something we should be thinking about and learning how math can help solve climate issues,” Williams says. “I appreciated my teacher making that extra effort. It made for a better math class and a better class in general.”

Statistics teacher Ellen Greenberg P’16, ’19, ’19, regularly weaves climate issues into her classes. She’s taking part in Tang Institute’s The Workshop this spring to examine climate change and inequality.

“In my statistics course I bring in current data around climate change. If I need a data set for a test, I can find one about greenhouse gas emissions or recycling. In Math 530, I assign regression projects—out of 32 students, probably a third of them choose climate justice topics,” Greenberg says. "Students are hungry for this."

The Future is Blue—and Green

Together, students, alumni, faculty, and administrators have the capacity to create powerful change that extends far beyond Andover Hill. But it’s the youngest, those with perhaps the most at stake, who are leading the charge with grit and determination.

“We have such a phenomenal community and so many resources at Andover, and I’ve learned so much about how I can help with climate change. Whenever I go home to the Caribbean, I’m excited to find the things that can be done there,” says Williams.

Fan agrees. “A lot of people feel intimidated and hopeless. I get that—I’m just a high school student. But honestly, there are so many ways to make a difference, and Andover students are very much at the forefront of this movement,” she says. “We are not going to be youth for long! We’re the next leaders, the next CEOs, businesspeople, traders, and finance people, and we believe in ourselves and our abilities. We absolutely know we’re integral to our planet’s future.”


Categories: Alumni, Magazine, Magazine Online, Featured

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