A Message from the Head of School

 

Dear Loomis Chaffee Community,

On May 30, I wrote to students, faculty, and staff in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the unfolding protests against racism across the nation. In the days that followed, I shared that email with parents and alumni, met with PRISM students, and met with faculty and staff. Thank you to those of you who responded to my letter and engaged in the ensuing conversations. Many of you asked questions, while others provided further context regarding their experiences at the school. As I write this note, 16 days have passed since George Floyd was killed. Sixteen days of protest. Sixteen days of anger, outrage, and grief from people across the United States and around the world. In reality, of course, it hasn’t been just 16 days—it’s been 10 weeks since Breonna Taylor was killed, four months since Ahmaud Arbery was killed, five years since Ferguson. And we could go on. In reality it’s been centuries of systemic racism and violence against black people.

Black Lives Matter. Until our individual, school, and societal actions demonstrate this to be true, we need to recommit ourselves to this pledge every day. As a school, we have not always lived up to our mission or our commitment to our black students, faculty, staff, and alumni and to the larger issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. We have not done enough to create an environment where all of our students not only feel welcome and respected but also can thrive. I tell students that this is their school—but it is clear that not all students have felt or feel that there is truth in this statement.

We are a historically white institution. While our Founders had a progressive vision, it did not, in the beginning, include a commitment to racial diversity, equity, and inclusion. As an academic institution, we often take too long to make changes that seem obvious in hindsight. The decision to change the name of Mason Hall comes to mind. Knowing what we know of John Mason’s actions, why did it take so many years for us to decide that we did not want his name on one of our buildings? Why have we not made more progress in hiring and retaining faculty and staff of color? Why are our curriculum and required readings still so white? Why do hurtful incidents of hate speech and racism continue to happen?

Some of you have rightly asked what we have done to help the school be more inclusive.

Here are some of the steps we have taken recently. Last year, I promoted Elizabeth Parada to the senior team as dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion and gave her a broad mandate to promote a more inclusive and equitable community. I charged academic departments to look at the content of their curricula, readings, required assessments, awards, and gatekeeping around access to advanced courses with an eye toward reflecting our commitment to inclusion and equity. We have made diversity training part of ongoing professional development for all faculty and staff. We have reviewed our disciplinary system to ensure that it does not treat students of color unfairly. We have introduced new courses on race. We have engaged a series of excellent speakers on a variety of topics related to systemic racism, and we have incorporated difficult conversations about race into our first-year and sophomore seminars. We have increased our financial aid budget and have increased the number of students of color on our campus. We have made the hiring and retention of faculty and staff of color a top priority. We have made clear our zero tolerance for hate speech. Earlier this year, we added diversity, equity, and inclusion as one indicator for every standard that is part of our New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) reaccreditation self-study.

These initiatives are good—but we need to do better, and we need to do more. As head of school, I commit Loomis Chaffee to undertake the following initiatives:


Academic/Co-Curricular Programs

  • All academic departments will continue to revise their curricula to ensure that coursework and department policies and actions reflect the school’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. We will measure progress toward this goal with an audit of each discipline’s content and diversity of voices at the end of the 2020–21 school year.
     
  • A committee of faculty and administrators will review graduation requirements and propose the changes necessary to ensure that all students graduate with an appropriate level of cultural competency and critical understanding of social justice. The faculty will vote on any changes to graduation requirements during the 2020–21 school year with the hope that any new requirements may be implemented for the 2021–22 school year.


Students/Student Life

  • The school will conduct an inclusivity climate assessment. This summer, the dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion will propose a process for this assessment that will involve a third-party facilitator. The assessment will take place in either 2020–21 or 2021–22 depending on the availability of the desired facilitator and school operations in 2020–21 given the lingering effects of the pandemic.
     
  • We will review our diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training for faculty and students in the dormitories and review how students are encouraged to pursue and are chosen for leadership positions at the school.


Faculty and Staff

  • We will implement a required SEED training protocol for all administrative and teaching faculty. SEED (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) participants “explore their own education in relation to race, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual identity, abilities, and age, and how these factors currently impact their school, classrooms, community, or workplace. They consider how they can use their classrooms, communities, or workplaces to create a more equitable environment for all.” The school will develop a plan to rotate all faculty through SEED training over the course of four years and will begin the first rotation in 2020–21.
     
  • The Head’s Administrative Team will undertake further training around DEI issues this summer.
     
  • We will improve our process for the recruitment and retention of administrators, faculty, and staff of color. The Dean of Faculty Office and Human Resources will develop new recruitment and hiring strategies as well as DEI training programs for new faculty and staff and will establish a set of metrics to measure progress toward these goals.
     

Administrative

  • The school will develop a protocol for students and employees to report incidents of racism and/or bias. This protocol will be shared with all community members and will include ways for the school to evaluate and respond to all incidents reported. The protocol will be put in place beginning in the 2020–21 school year. Data collected through this protocol will help us monitor the school and workplace climates.
     
  • The Office of Admission will review the school’s admission process and address barriers to application and access to a Loomis Chaffee education. This work includes consideration of implementing a test-optional policy in the application process.
     
  • The school will continue to commit the resources needed to offer a robust financial aid program, one that allows us to enroll students from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds and to provide those students with a complete student experience. Financial aid will remain a top fundraising priority for the school.
     
  • We will develop a protocol to ensure that with all of our construction projects, we seek and receive bids from minority contractors and that we award contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses.
     
  • Reporting race and ethnicity data is voluntary. A committee was formed in 2019–20 to examine data collection methods and the categories of race and ethnicity to be tracked. This committee will complete its work in 2020–21 and make any changes to the school’s data collection protocols for the 2021–22 school year.
     
  • All administrative offices will conduct an audit of DEI efforts in their respective work during the summer of 2020 and will set goals for DEI work in the 2020–21 school year. Those goals will be part of the school’s annual report of DEI and social justice work. (See next bullet.)
     
  • The school will publish an annual report on diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice at Loomis Chaffee. That report will include facts and figures related to DEI work, a summary of current DEI initiatives, progress toward previously established goals, and goals for the future. The report will be published before the beginning of each school year and shared with the entire Loomis Chaffee community.

 

Both as individuals and as a school, we must do more to be actively anti-racist. We owe it to our students to do everything we can to teach the complexity of the issues before us and to give all our students the tools they need to thrive and lead in this world. To do so, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable to get the necessary training and to understand the issues. The problem of systemic racism is ours to solve. We have made mistakes—we need to do a better job of learning from them. We must do more, and we will. The steps outlined in this message are the first of those next steps in this necessary journey.

I especially want to thank those of you who have written to me or who have posted comments on social media. Your voice and your experience matter. Please do not hesitate to send me your comments and further suggestions; you can reach me at sculbert@loomis.org. Thank you for working to make us a better school and for caring enough about your school to want to make us better.

Sheila