National media outlets publish articles critical of school’s DEI initiatives

President+Rick+Commons+sent+an+email+to+the+school+community+Friday+in+response+to+the+media+attention+from+the+past+week.

Hannah Han

President Rick Commons sent an email to the school community Friday in response to the media attention from the past week.

Ethan Lachman and Kyle Reims

Media outlets such as City Journal, Newsweek, Fox News and The Atlantic published articles criticizing the school over the past week, with much of their focus on the community’s anti-racism and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. All referenced @wokeathw, an anonymous Instagram account that posts its critiques of these initiatives.

At the forefront was an article titled “The Miseducation of America’s Elites,” written by former New York Times staff writer and Opinion section editor Bari Weiss and published in City Journal magazine Tuesday. The piece, which focused on multiple “elite” private schools across the country, interviewed anonymous parents, teachers and students who talked about their grievances regarding the DEI and anti-racist curricula across the various institutions.

The article was promoted by prominent conservative figures such as Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Political Commentator Ben Shapiro, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and author and psychology professor Jordan Peterson

The day before, on Monday, Newsweek published its own piece on the school. The headline, “L.A. Prep School Graphic Teaching Students ‘Fat, Short, Unattractive’ People Are Oppressed,” was used to describe the content of a post from @wokeathw. The post featured a graphic displayed in an eighth grade human development course that presented different characteristics and circumstances that contribute to the privilege people may or may not have. Fox News also put out a story covering the same post.

Former Harvard-Westlake Upper School Dean and English Teacher Caitlin Flanagan wrote an article in The Atlantic about the hypocrisy and inequity of the private school system. Flanagan went into depth on academic institutions across the country and used examples from @wokeathw and her own experiences as a faculty member.

In an email to the school community Friday, President Rick Commons directly acknowledged the complaints voiced from @wokeathw, the media outlets and community members in general who are dissatisfied with the anti-racist curriculum. He emphasized the need for what he called “courageous conversations.”

“Listening to concerns is essential to improving our work and to unifying the community around shared values,” Commons said in the email. “We welcome—even depend upon—thoughtful questioning, constructive criticism and different perspectives that are offered appropriately and in good faith. However, anonymous social media posts and nameless condemnations prevent vital dialogue and feed distorted accounts of what’s happening in our classrooms and our community.”

Responding to Commons’s email later that day, @wokeathw posted a screenshot of the message, specifically highlighting part of the letter and calling the claim false. The account has argued as a whole that the school places too much emphasis on the alleged “woke orthodoxy” in its curriculum.

Flanagan responded on Twitter after receiving word of the email. Although she does not explicitly mention the school’s name, she tweeted about what she claimed to be the email’s hypocritical message.

“The head of one of the private schools I wrote about this week has sent a letter to the entire parent body,” she tweeted. “He condemns ‘anonymous social media posts’ that tell painful truths about his school. It is true that the [email protected][HW] campaigns were anonymous. The truth bats last.”

Commons said the school must continue to improve and that the testimonies published on the internet may not tell the full truth.

“As we evolve, we are not changing history, nor are we canceling historical figures,” Commons said in the email. “We are telling more complete stories, with far less judgment than sensationalized articles and social media posts might lead one to believe. There is no underlying political agenda at Harvard-Westlake; there is simply a desire to deliver on our fundamental promises of diversity, inclusion and purpose beyond ourselves.”

Commons’s statement prompted Flanagan to add another message on Twitter.

“Oh, I see the school head has also called my essay ‘sensationalized,’” she tweeted. “Come at me. You know where to find me. I’ll show you what I’ve got.”

Despite facing criticism regarding the school’s anti-racism and DEI initiatives, Commons said the administration remains committed to its work to improve the diversity and inclusivity of the community.

It is fundamental to our mission and urgent in the light of stories courageously shared by students and alumni about the ways in which Harvard-Westlake has fallen short of our vision ‘to enable every member of our community to feel an equal sense of belonging,’” Commons said. “Our efforts to live up to this vision will continue.”