As many of you know, Vermont Academy stands at the beginning of a multi-year strategic initiative during which the mission of the school will be honed to meet the ever-evolving needs and demands of the 21st century. Let me assure you that we are deeply committed, during this process, to examining how our curriculum and offerings can help us all become scholars and world leaders dedicated to the struggle against racism. Against hate. Education at its very best is always an invitation to virtue, and we are unwavering in our commitment to a school experience steeped in values of equality and love.
The terrible acts of violence carried out against communities of color and the racism that we see expressed toward black men and women in all corners of our nation are stunning and reminiscent of other haunting national memories. And while I recognize that much positive change has occurred in our country since the founding of Vermont Academy almost 150 years ago, I also know that our nation has so very far to travel in order to reach a place of true racial equality and justice.
I am here to reassure you that Vermont Academy is steadfast in its commitment to making this journey.
Two students wrote to me last Sunday. Haley Walker ‘22 had attended a protest of the killing of George Floyd and walked away moved and energized. Haley reached out to classmate Eliza Asante ‘22, who Haley calls, “one of the strongest black female voices on campus.” (And Haley is so right!) These two students asked if I would support the creation of a Social Justice Union. The union would represent the minorities at Vermont Academy in hope of spreading awareness of the issues that they face everyday, bringing the discussion of racism, stereotypes or other related issues that are problematic at the moment. I immediately wrote back to them with a resounding “Yes!” We will work to expand this union to include parents and families through discussion questions and informational links so we can partner while we are apart. The Social Justice Union held its first meeting this past Wednesday.
This spring Vermont Academy was set to hold our third annual Diversity Conference, which brings together students from schools across New England. We had to cancel the conference because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This diversity conference was the first thing I created as Head of School and it is based on the Dalton Conference model, which is unique in that the conference is attended by schools, not individuals. Each school sends a group or “pod” made up of various constituencies, including faculty, administrators, students, alumni, parents, diversity professionals, and members of the school’s board of trustees. Attendees are given the opportunity to speak about their experiences with oppression and discrimination, as well as with equity, inclusion, and justice. I believe Haley and Eliza would have found many strong, compassionate voices in common at this year’s event, and I am so sad they didn’t have the opportunity to attend.
Of the many aspects of Vermont Academy that characterize this community, I am often most proud, and most touched, by our compassion. I have seen this in action time and time again. I have witnessed members of our community moved to tears as they express the love that we feel for the children under our care and for one another.
Dancer and activist Alvin Ailey wrote, “one of the worst things about racism is what it does to young people.” It is heartbreaking for me to consider just how hurtful, how destructive, the events surrounding the killing of George Floyd are for our students. While I cannot claim that Vermont Academy can undo the harm that the institution of racism inflicts on our students of color each and every day, I can promise you that we are single-mindedly dedicated to creating both a living community and a program of study that addresses these issues head on, that does not shy away from facing the most difficult conversations, and that does so with arms and hearts open wide.
I assure you of the following: Vermont Academy is an institution built upon an inviolable foundation of caring and openness. We are firm in our commitment to undermining the insidious power of racism, and we are willing participants in the struggle to make this world a better place.