Dear Thacher Community,
This past weekend, it was impossible to ignore the juxtaposition of our commencement celebration of the members of CdeP 2020 and the swelling outrage in our nation taking shape in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others. On the one hand, we are sending off into the world a beloved class of students who have been remarkable leaders for good in our community. Meanwhile, we are seeing through our news and social media feeds, and for some, firsthand, violent evidence of how unjust and fraught that world is, how challenging it is to prepare our children to face it, and how significant the work is that we as a nation and as a school have to do to fulfill the promise of our ideals. The first part of that work is clear: We must condemn the racism and anti-black violence that is all too common and stand in solidarity with those who challenge it. We must look to ourselves for the ways we have failed to prevent these realities so that we can recommit to the work of ensuring that our students live free from racial bias at Thacher, and that as an institution we are advancing anti-racism and equipping our students with the knowledge and skills to bring equity and justice to the world.
Statements of commitment may be a starting point, but they do not create change. Recently I have shared with our students and faculty some of my thoughts about the important work in front of us, what we at Thacher need to do, as community members and citizens, to transform the current reality. I also posted a statement of Thacher’s resolve on social media, but I want to expand here on my comments by outlining the actions we as a School community have taken and will take, and to open what I hope will be an ongoing and constructive exchange with our entire community.
Over the past two years in particular, much of the work of the School community has been driven by a collective commitment to fostering equity and inclusion at Thacher and the world beyond our gates. Our mission and values create a calling to combat injustices and break the cycles that have haunted our nation for centuries. We take on this work in recognition that though Thacher is much more racially diverse than it was even a decade ago, it has not been a place of belonging for all in our community. We take on this work in recognition that we have not adequately ensured that students of color and other marginalized members of our community can live and learn unencumbered by racism, bias, or intolerance. We take on this work in recognition that we have often been slow to see what must be changed and to change it. As I said in my Instagram post earlier this week, there will be no real progress for our community or for our country until we all share the burden, until we all take responsibility, until we are all accountable.
In recent days that accountability has meant responding to our students’ immediate needs. Faculty affinity group leaders have been in close contact with our students of color, creating spaces of support for them as they wrestle with their experiences, seek to lend their own voices to the cause, participate in protests, and struggle to understand why so many of their white counterparts seem silent. As always, our school counselors continue to be available to all students regardless of their ability to pay. These resources are important at all times but especially when so many of our students are working through the stress and anxiety arising from current events. This week, Thacher’s AWARE—Alliance of White Anti-Racist Educators—group invited white students to a seminar on developing the skills and understanding to be an ally, and has outlined an ongoing anti-racist curriculum for faculty. Students attending the AWARE session were inspired, ready to commit to standing with and for the marginalized, and many have already reached out to the adult leaders, ready to examine their privilege and create a group committed to racial justice. Our faculty of color affinity group has also gathered and addressed the faculty as a whole as we seek together to define the critical next steps to support our students in the near and long terms.
As we amend the elements already in place in our strategic plan for equity and inclusion, we have created summer grants for faculty groups to build classroom and residential life curricula to put in place this fall that further address the issues of inequity, racism, injustice, civic responsibility, and ethical leadership development. We will expand our counselor options to include more counselors of color and more hours of availability. We are grateful to have secured plans to have Gaye Theresa Johnson, associate professor of African American Studies and Chicana and Chicano Studies at UCLA, on campus this fall as an Anacapa Scholar. An expert in the field of racial justice, Professor Johnson will offer courses to students, provide professional development to our faculty, and partner with teachers in developing ethnic studies curriculum for all students that will build on the foundation of the ethnic studies course offered to seniors this past year by Matt Balano.
When he joined the administration three years ago as Thacher’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion, Matt Balano was unequivocal in his intention to support every educator at Thacher in becoming a leader for equity and inclusion in their respective spaces. This is not the burden of one individual, but an essential element in an education based on deep and meaningful relationships between faculty and students. Under Matt’s leadership, Thacher has brought to campus as speakers, Anacapa Scholars, and guest teachers an august group of equity practitioners and social justice activists and scholars from Dr. Cornel West to Yusef Salaam. Those experts have not only been central to the education of our students but also to the implementation of Matt’s comprehensive and ongoing professional development plan for faculty put in place last fall. The faculty has in recent days reaffirmed the necessity of their ongoing education and has committed individually and as a group to an anti-racist and equity practitioner curriculum. In tandem with this work, I will expand our efforts to recruit and retain a more racially diverse faculty, staff, and administration. This is one of the most significant areas where the progress we’ve made is simply not sufficient.
I have had many conversations over the past week with alumni who are eager to take action to support the School in making meaningful change. This weekend I will meet with members of the Alumni Council so that we can create spaces for dialogue that will inform our community work and hold us accountable to one another. I hope those of you who can will take part in those forums.
And if you are interested in learning more about the work we have been doing on campus in recent years, I invite you to take a look at the most recent issue of Thacher magazine, especially the article called Beloved Community: Celebrating Gains and Pursuing Growth Together, which spotlights some of our student leaders and how they experience the challenges and successes of creating an inclusive community at Thacher.
As I’ve written elsewhere, this moment and the insights of so many with whom I’ve spoken over the last week highlight how often the fight for equity and justice becomes the disproportionate burden of the marginalized in society and in our community. Those of us for whom these inequities and injustices are not a daily reality have the privilege of seeing them as issues separate from ourselves. But they are not. Inequity and injustice are, by definition, the responsibility of those who do not suffer from them. As author and Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison declared, “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”
Yesterday, in our final Zoom meeting of the year, the faculty engaged in a frank conversation about the importance and the extent of the work in front of us. I pledged to them as I pledge to you now that as a white faculty member, as the head of school, as an alum, as someone who believes deeply in this School and its capacity to transform the lives of its students, I will do this work.
I welcome you to join me.