Fellow Phillipians – in this article, I hope to provide something of a “State of the Academy,” and to give you an understanding of where David Gutierrez ’15 and I, your Student-Body Co-Presidents, are now, since you elected us last spring. As elections for the 2015-2016 Co-Presidents come upon us, I hope that, whether you are considering to run or choosing your future leaders, you will take my personal reflections into consideration.
David and I started the school year getting to know the job and the adults associated with it, creating lists upon lists of our goals, figuring out how to run meetings and learning to delegate tasks. There was no handbook on how to be Co-Presidents. Without the help of close faculty mentors, we would still be completely lost.
The start of the year threw some curveballs at us that immediately led us astray from our stated goals, which included mental health initiatives, restructuring orientation and improving the club system. We spent the majority of Fall Term discussing parietal policies (after last spring’s decision) and the cancellation of the Gelb Dance, rather than putting all our energy into the goals of our original platform. This is the tricky part of our role as Co-Presidents: we learned that we must represent the views of our student body and fight for them in response to administrative changes, in addition to working on programs that we hope will improve the quality of life for students.
The job of a Co-President is invisible, behind-the-scenes; though you may not see it, David and I are constantly fighting for the student body. We spend hours in meetings with members of the faculty and administration, discussing almost every campus topic imaginable, as well as with our Strategic Planning Committees. Nothing is simple at an institution as big and powerful as ours, and seemingly basic ideas will incur questions and details that most students would not even think about. I believe one of our greatest achievements thus far has been to help push an alternative room-visiting policy. Much of our Fall Term was spent planning and organizing the student and faculty forum on parietal rules, which I believe brought the issue’s importance and the depth of student concern to those who mattered most: Head of School John Palfrey and Paul Murphy, Dean of Students and Residential Life. With Murphy’s support and the guidance our Student Council Advisor, Fernando Alonso, we continued the conversation at Dean’s Tables and pushed it with great concern to our faculty audience.
Throughout the process, David and I have learned much about ourselves as leaders. David now exudes personable confidence at meetings and speeches in front of the whole student body. He is a leader that I am honored and proud to work with, and I am humbled every day by his dedication.
Personally, one of the greatest lessons I have learned about myself is how my gender affects how people perceive my behavior. In the fall, I was told I was “bossy” and “aggressive,” while David has never faced such criticism when he takes charge. I began to hesitate before delegating tasks for fear of such perceptions. David and I often discuss the sad reality of gender expectations, and I’ve begun to notice how in meetings, I subconsciously close myself up physically while David dominates as much space as possible with his body.
These open conversations between David and me have been particularly beneficial for me and have made me much more aware of gender roles at Andover. I consciously make an effort to assert myself, and I have found that the best way to empower myself is to empower others. I always try to remind other girls when they are not displaying the confidence they can and should.
I am still learning how to be a leader. I have an abundance of ideas for improving the school, yet I need the help of determined, linear thinkers to fully execute a project. Over the course of the year, I will admit I have put increasingly less time into the job because I have increasingly struggled with my own mental health – I find this my greatest challenge as a Co-President. There is nothing I would want more than to spend my days improving the lives of my peers, but you can’t help others without being sure of yourself first. In all honesty, I have not been taking as good care of myself while I’ve been here at Andover as I know I should. I am nowhere near a perfect Co-President, but I will continue to try my best.
So, whether you are running or whether you are deciding the future leadership at Andover, I hope that you will take my experiences to heart. The job of a Co-President can be frustrating, time-consuming and thankless at times, but I believe it is the most rewarding one on campus. I have been able to truly connect with so many more adults and students at Andover, as well as get to know myself better, and I hope that others can learn from my shortcomings and weaknesses. With hard work, dedication and passion, it is possible to create lasting change at Andover, and I look forward to seeing the rise of new leaders in all grades in my last few months here.
Rebecca Somer is a four-year Senior from Falls Church, VA., and Student Body Co-President.