Athena Stenor

Year of Graduation: 
Athena Stenor

“Harkness makes you unafraid to go deep and ask the hard questions.”


Sitting at an oak table in the periodicals room of the Academy Library, Athena Stenor ’18 wears a bright dandelion-colored sweatshirt with the word “Transitions” emblazoned across the front and the silhouette of a woman underneath, her Afro-style hair pulled upward into a bun. “Transitions,” explains Athena, is an Exeter affinity group for Black and Latina women who wish to talk about issues specific to their cultures and to foster a sense of community. “It was a really important support network for me,” she says, “especially in my first year or so at Exeter.”

Tall, with an abundance of braided hair and glasses that she occasionally pushes to the bridge of her nose, Stenor is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Haiti to Pompano Beach, Florida. After her mother finished a nursing degree in the Sunshine State, she decided to move the family to Brooklyn’s Mill Basin neighborhood. Stenor, 12 at the time, entered 7th grade. “I was intellectually curious,” she says of her younger self, “and not particularly challenged, so my mom began looking for options. One day, she was in my school’s office, and another mother heard her talking about me. The other mother suggested she look into Prep-for-Prep.”


Prep-for-Prep is an educational leadership organization that identifies New York City’s most promising students of color and then seeks to prepare them for and enroll them in independent day or boarding schools. Soon after Stenor’s mother began researching Prep-for-Prep, she realized Athena, the eldest of her four children, had aged out of the local day school option. Intrigued, however, mother and daughter attended an information session sponsored by the organization and featuring Prep-for-Prep alumna and St. Andrew’s School graduate Tarmla Small. “That session swayed my mom to finish the application process for the boarding option,” explains Stenor. Athena was accepted into Prep-for-Prep’s “PREP 9” division in the spring of 7th grade, commencing an intensive, 14-month program that would culminate in her applying to a selection of Northeast schools. For Stenor, Exeter was the standout.

“I was so excited about the Academy,” she recalls, gleefully. “I had never lived in a rural place before. I loved the rolling hills and the quaint town, and the air was so clean. It smelled great. As with many prospective students, though, it was Harkness that sealed the deal. “I knew about Harkness from my two weeks [with Prep-for-Prep] at Lawrenceville, but Exeter was the only school I visited that did it for all classes. When I went for my visit, I was amazed that the kids taught each other, especially in math. I thought that was such a good model.”

Part and parcel

Over the past three and a half years, it’s a model that has prepared and propelled Stenor in life-altering ways … a case of a girl contributing to a community and a community contributing to a girl. This has happened both through Stenor’s deep immersion in her academics — her advanced German studies will continue this winter during a term abroad in Göttingen — and in the many extracurricular activities that clearly mean the world to her.

Stenor is currently the president of Exeter’s Afro Latinx Exonian Society (ALES), a club, she emphasizes, that is open to everyone and whose weekly meetings generally consist of discussions of topics relevant to the African-American and Latinx communities. Recent subjects have included medical racism and how to define patriotism. She has also just completed her term as The Exonian’s “Life” section editor, a role in which she managed writers and layout and edited submissions. Additionally, together with two other Exonian women of color, Stenor co-hosts a WPEA radio program called “Djanm,” a Haitian Creole word that means “strong woman.”


Stenor is equally passionate about her dormitory community — she is a proctor in Hoyt Hall — and about the wider Exeter community, to which she contributes her copious talents as a member of the Academy’s Discipline Committee. “I really enjoy being a proctor,” she enthuses. “I like to greet new families and students; I love that I get to plan fun events for my dorm; I like doing homework with the girls in Hoyt; I even like the required proctor workshops.” And while she confesses that the work and deliberations of the Discipline Committee can be a bit dark at times, she enjoys bridging the gap between adults and students in the Exeter community and, in so doing, coming to “know the truth” of a particular case.

For Stenor, though, the best lessons at the Academy have been those of the self and soul. “Something that I’ve learned at Exeter is that people always have more things in common than they think they do, and I think that is really facilitated by Harkness. I’m specifically thinking of our trip to Cuba last spring [with Dean of Faculty and English Instructor Ellen Wolff and English Instructor William Perdomo]. When I saw the list of other students who’d be going, I was initially anxious, because I didn’t know any of them well. But on our first night together in Cuba, it was like we had all grown up in the same neighborhood and been together our entire lives. That’s what Harkness does. It makes you unafraid to go deep and ask the hard questions. I find that people are really receptive to that; once you give them a platform, they have so much to say.”

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