Carrying on the tradition of “Abbotween” where Andover students trick-or-treat through Abbot campus, the Brace Center has been hosting spooky feminist activities since 2019. This year, Brace student board members took over Abbot Hall with haunted décor, music, crafts, treats, and feminist community.
Pictured below: Brace superfans complete the Feminist Scavenger Hunt created by Brace board student Sakina Cotton ’24; Brace student board member Max Berkenblit ’24 shows off his destroyed “Gender Norms” piñata, which students ceremoniously smashed. Donoma Fredericson ’23 and Pema Sherpa ’23 helped to make the Brace Center especially festive with a fog machine, pumpkin painting, cookie decorating, and more.
By engaging with feminist media and observing the role of gender at Andover, Brace Student Advisory Board member, Donoma Fredericson ’23, acknowledges societal gender inequities as well as gendered tensions on on our own campus. Even before becoming a board member last year, Fredericson took an interest in activism related to gender studies and was enthusiastic to join the board because of the Brace Center’s uniqueness as the only center for gender studies at a high school level.
“It’s not common to have gender studies or centers that are designated spaces for addressing gender-related issues. I consider myself a feminist, and I’ve been engaging in that sort of media and discussion for a little while, so hearing that Brace was an official thing going on here was really cool,” said Fredericson.
In her approach to the work of Brace, Fredericson finds inspiration from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC).
“I tend to not think of having an idol or one significant role model, but I definitely admire some performers that I follow and then definitely, in particular, AOC. She’s really amazing in my opinion. She inspires me a lot with what she stands for, how she treats other people, and what she advocates for in her politics,” she said.
Following AOC’s work, Fredericson described her vision of an equitable world. She emphasized that the most basic requirement of an equitable world is human rights being afforded to all people. She also noted some of the inequities of the current times by highlighting the intersection between gender and poverty.
She said, “I’d definitely say the baseline and the main thing is just unconditional human rights being afforded to everybody. […] There are certainly a lot of women or non-male identifying people, in particular, who are affected by, and I’m not just saying that male-identifying people aren’t, but there are definitely intersectional effects of poverty, misogyny, and sexism in general. For example, there are women and girls, who will have, or have had to miss school or miss out on a lot of things because of lack of access to health care or menstrual products.”
In addition to these larger societal inequities, Fredericson pointed out the role of gender on Andover’s campus. In her involvement in Les Mis and her observations of the Fitness Centre last year, she found spaces on campus to be heavily gendered, fostering stereotypes of masculinity and femininity and limiting certain opportunities and resources.
She said, “Performing arts don’t need to be gendered spaces. There doesn’t need to be unwritten rules, like, performing arts are kind of deemed feminine when they don’t need to be because that’s a thing that everybody should be able to engage in. [In the Fitness Center,] there’s a lot of testosterone in there. And there’s a lot of upperclassmen guys that are there. You don’t see a lot of people outside of that demographic, so it can be, and I know it is, to some people, intimidating to try to go in there.”
Fredericson accounted for the importance of the Brace Center’s work for Andover students’ futures. She believes that the conversations that the Brace center initiates will help students influence their communities, small or large, to be more equitable.
She said, “Having these discussions and acknowledging issues when we’re in high school […]in a guided space is really important because if you have the time to learn about it for a while, then you can be more prepared to help aid in eliminating those issues wherever you continue on in life. Even if that’s just like your particular niche. If you go on to one job, even if you’re not necessarily making policy or even starting a movement or a nonprofit, et cetera, you can influence your personal environment and that’s a good thing.”
Palmer Simpson ’23 reckons with his own identity as a cis-het-white male in his approach to starting more discussions surrounding race and gender. Simpson became a Student Advisory Board Member for Brace last year, and was first introduced to the Brace Center by his physics teacher following a candid conversation about feminism.
Simpson said, “My physics teacher Ms. Artacho recommended that I look into [Brace] because we had a little discussion about feminism, and I was really interested. I wasn’t too afraid to speak up. I like sharing my opinions and that kind of stuff. And so she was like, ‘Hey, Palmer, I think you might be really interested in this. Do you want me to recommend you for getting involved?’ And I’m like that sounds awesome.”
After becoming a board member, Simpson’s initial curiosity for gender studies evolved into a habit for seeking more information. He also tries to share what he learns with his peers to encourage discussion on campus.
“Now that I am part of Brace, I think it’s changed my drive to find information… [Now] I’m seeking it out because not only do I want to learn more, I want to be knowledgeable enough to teach people about it and to answer people’s questions and start discussions about it with my friends. I want to get a deeper understanding so that I can not just talk about it, but also teach about it,” he said.
Simpson’s approach to speaking up and engaging in conversations was initially inspired by his older sister. He admires her for her bravery to bring up topics such as LGBTQ+ rights with his family.
He said, “I think my sister is kind of a trendsetter in my family. She’s older than me, and I feel like she really inspires me because she was the first to speak up about LGBTQ+ rights, and before that I hadn’t really considered it all that much. My family isn’t crazy conservative or crazy liberal, but we hadn’t discussed things like that and she wasn’t afraid to talk about it and bring it up and let us all know her viewpoint.”
In regard to conversations on gender inequities, Simpson acknowledges his privilege in his identity which can create blindspots. He also realizes the importance of Brace to help students like him become more aware. He used the pay gap issue as an example.
“For instance, the pay gap doesn’t really affect male-identifying people as much as it does female-identifying people. And so it’s all these issues that as a CIS white male, I probably wouldn’t have thought about. I can’t speak for everyone, on every CIS white male on campus, but if at least some of them shared the same perspective as me, I think having a place like Brace share information about those issues, it can prompt them to learn more or to consider how other people are struggling,” he said.
Furthermore, Simpson believes that a truly equitable Andover would provide a safe space, campus-wide, for all students. He believes that conversations regarding social issues shouldn’t be limited to EBI.
He said, “I feel like the fact that we need a single space, like EBI, to talk about those issues means that people aren’t comfortable talking about them all around campus and I feel like if we can make the entirety of campus feel like a safe space like EBI is, I think that would be ideal. And that would be very helpful for everyone.”
In 2019, Evalyn Lee ’23 joined the Andover community as one of the first female-identifying people in her family to have access to a private school education. Lee was thrilled to join the Brace Student Advisory Board at the end of her freshman year, after being introduced to Brace’s work through her English 100 class. Lee hopes to make best use of her time on the board by learning about and advocating for gender equity since most women in her family did not have that opportunity.
“My grandma never received a formal education and my mom went to a public school in Chicago. She told me that in the hallways she’d see girls walking around pregnant. It wasn’t a Phillips Academy… I think I have this privilege in attending an institution like Andover and… I feel like I need to do some work in gender equity because of the inequities my mom and grandmother faced which prevented them from going to a place like Andover,” said Lee.
She expressed that before coming to Andover, she had already been interested in social justice work, but was not yet familiar with its vocabulary or major concepts. Lee added that Brace functions as a place of learning for her as she develops her idea of an equitable world and works towards a more equitable environment on campus.
Lee said, “In freshman year at Andover, in our English class, we talked about gender and toxic masculinity. A lot of these topics and definitions and terms, I had never heard of. I didn’t know what intersex was, I didn’t know the difference between gender and sex, and then once I started learning more about these terms and definitions I started getting more interested in gender equity. When I was asked to join Brace I was super excited because I wanted to learn more and I wanted to learn different ways we could implement work for gender equity on campus.”
Lee noted that before coming to Andover, her image of the community was idealized. She imagined that the campus would be perfectly liberal and accepting but found that there is still much work to be done with regard to gender equity. She highlighted the presence of transphobia, homophobia, and toxic masculinity on campus. Lee believes that Brace’s work is necessary to improve the community dynamic.
“I feel like the work we do at Brace is so important because if we can stir up conversations about healthy masculinity and gender equity, then we can make people start thinking about these topics. I think even if they remain ignorant, if they have that seed of an opposing belief, maybe that can make a difference… If we want to make Andover a school with an environment that’s accepting and joyful then we have to start with gender equity,” said Lee.
In an equitable world, according to Lee, everyone would feel comfortable being themselves and sharing their experiences. She argued that victims of sexual violence would not need to be afraid of not being believed, and that society would be less defined by a gender binary.
Lee described, “A world where people aren’t afraid to be themselves would be equitable in my eyes. For example, related to gender, if someone wanted to come out to their parents as nonbinary, I know a lot of nonbinary people have that fear because of the way society is extremely binary and non accepting of people who do not fit in the binary. I think in an equitable world people could be fully comfortable with their identities and not be afraid. Even for female-identifying people, they should not be afraid to go outside at night or walk back to their car in the parking lot. That fear shouldn’t exist. They shouldn’t be afraid to report sexual assault or rapes. I know a lot of women have that fear because they’re afraid of not being believed. I think an equitable world would be where people are not afraid to share their own experiences and their true selves.”