September 2, 2020
Dear Watkinson community,
This week, students returned to campus after six months of being away. It was good to see them, even if we were unable to shake hands or see each others’ smiling faces. It is the beginning of a school year in which we have had to reconstruct nearly all aspects of coming to campus, being in class, and working together. Amidst these changes related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to remain focused on the necessary changes for our school that relate to the centuries-old problem of systemic racism, as we reckon with Watkinson’s shortcomings in aligning our hopes and ideals for equity and inclusion with their lived practices.
As we shared in our letter in July, we are holding ourselves to the following commitments for the 2020-2021 academic year:
- Re-examine our disciplinary procedures and policies.
- Develop, communicate, and implement school policies and practices that affirm and protect underrepresented identities.
- Continue educational programming and professional development for Board members and school leadership so they can better integrate diverse, equitable, inclusive and antiracist principles into decision making and governance.
- Create a strategic plan for racial equity, in order to combat anti-Blackness and white supremacy, change power dynamics, minimize microaggressions, and eliminate macroaggressions.
- Adopt an antiracism statement in addition to a nondiscrimination and diversity statement as part of the larger racial equity strategic plan.
- Promote empathy and understanding by developing programs, practices and systems to help community members understand the complex interdependence of racism, privilege, and economic systems of oppression in the ongoing history of our institutions.
- Hold all community stakeholders accountable for diversity, equity, and inclusion growth and performance within employee and program evaluation systems.
- Collaborate closely among and between school leadership and the Equity and Social Justice Committee in order to identify inequities across campus and determine a pathway for our work going forward.
To those ends, we have been spending time this summer readying ourselves for the work ahead. Amidst the challenging task of envisioning how we might be able to reopen our campus this fall and all that process entailed, we did not lose sight of these promises.
In order to analyze where we currently are and move toward where we hope to go, we have taken several important steps since July:
- Over 30 members of Watkinson’s faculty and staff took part in a Whiteness at Work training, led by Desiree Adaway. Beyond that, 10 members of our faculty and senior leadership were able to enroll in the entire Whiteness at Work Summer Series. If you would like to learn more about this work, you can find more information here.
- Two members of the school’s Senior Leadership completed an intensive set of coursework to earn a Graduate Certificate in Diversity & Inclusion through Cornell University.
- A group of faculty members read, worked through, and collectively processed Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad, and that book, as well as the work it entails, will be required reading for all members of the Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) Committee and ESJ Liaisons moving forward.
- Two academic leaders created a new curriculum for the History department and Global Studies Program that focuses on the intersection of voting and human rights, focusing on events that expanded voting rights for some while disenfranchising others, most notably Black Americans. Additionally, two middle school teachers created an interdisciplinary humanities unit that will connect the history of the Civil Rights Era with the issues and movements of today.
- Through our relationship with the SPHERE schools, several white students participated in a series of workshops called “Whiteness, Privilege, & Allyship” with other white students from the greater Hartford area.
- We entered into important work with NEPSAC coaches in order to establish an Anti-Racism Statement and create a Student-Athlete Council that will begin its work in September.
- Board leadership has initiated a conversation with a local training organization regarding educational programming and professional development for Board members so they can better integrate diverse, equitable, inclusive, and antiracist principles into decision making, board cultivation, and governance.
There are several other things that we will take up immediately upon our return to school. In the coming weeks, we will welcome new members to the ESJ Committee and ESJ Liaisons who will serve as important leaders in holding this work alongside the rest of our faculty and student body. We will also engage in Community Conversations, not just in times of emergency, but more regularly and consistently, and we will begin by opening up dialog regarding aspects of our school’s curricula.
As we are now, we will continue to be in communication with all of you as this necessary and pressing work progresses. With students returning to a campus that will feel somewhat unfamiliar and new due to the needed adjustments to safely be together amidst this global pandemic, we hope that what can be familiar are the ways in which we take up issues together and work toward improvement. This year promises to be unlike any other for all students returning to schools across the country, and we hope that it can be new in our ability to foster a sense of and feelings of inclusion for all members of our Watkinson community.
On behalf of all of us at Watkinson,
Head of School
President, Board of Trustees
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