Administration meets with affinity groups to discuss diversity, slur controversy

Danielle Spitz

Student members of Black Leadership, Awareness and Culture Club, Gender-Sexuality Awareness Club, La Femme Club and Latin-American Students Organization met with members of the faculty and administration this afternoon to discuss the recent controversy over student use of racial and homophobic slurs and how to better promote diversity on campus.

After alumni shared a Facebook post containing students’ social media posts, which were originally shared on private accounts and included repeated use of the n-word as well as homophobic slurs, President Rick Commons sent an email to the school community calling for the administration to take action.

They focused on how to improve diversity with students offering concrete suggestions such as changing curricula and hiring more diverse faculty. Attendees also brought up addressing the homophobic slurs specifically to ensure that the administration acknowledged all aspects of the issue. Students spoke to the administration about having a faculty whose diversity reflects that of the student body, as, they said, it currently does not.

They also discussed hiring a Director of Diversity, something that BLACC member Courtney Nunley ’17 said the club discussed a lot with Commons last year. Administrators at the meeting today said they hope to name a Director of Diversity by next fall, so that he or she can start the following year.

As for curriculum changes, students advocated greater diversity in subjects studied, particularly in English and history classes, in terms of race as well as other areas such as sexuality. Nunley said that one specific change they suggested was for the history curriculum to include greater study of countries outside of Europe and to focus on their histories independent of Europe. They also urged the administration to begin such changes from seventh grade on, not just at the Upper School.

While Interim Head of the Upper School Liz Resnick and Commons were unable to provide concrete timelines, Nunley said they agreed with the changes proposed and tried to offer projections as to when they could be implemented.

“I think it was really good to have that open forum for students to very directly ask them ‘What do you think about this? What do you know about this?’ and for it to be such an open dialogue between administration and students,” Nunley said. “That’s the least amount of distance I’ve seen between faculty and students. A lot of the time it feels like we’re very separate groups, but I really liked that we were encouraged to have this dialogue. We were bouncing ideas off each other and that felt good and like we were being listened to for the first time in a long time.”

They also spoke with faculty and administration more directly about the recent incident. On Friday afternoon, Commons, Resnick and other faculty members met with BLACC to let them know they were aware of the situation and heard students’ initial reactions at that time.

At today’s meeting, administrators told attendees that the Honor Board was conducting a hearing. Besides mentioning that five out of the 12 people sitting on this case are people of color, Commons and Resnick were unable to give students more specific details about how the case was being run but welcomed student suggestions. Some members of BLACC expressed their concern over one of the students allegedly going to the Honor Board being a prefect, as it might be a conflict of interest.

When asked if there was a discussion about possible conflicts of interest with this case going to the Honor Board, Commons said he cannot comment on Honor Board matters, which are private.

Deans have spoken at sophomore and junior class meetings this week to explain in greater detail the school’s disapproval of the language used.

Although BLACC leader Daniel Varela ’18 said he is still unsure about changes in the near future, he felt reassured by the administration’s support and eagerness to help.

“I’m pretty sure there’s going to be an awesome continuation of what we’re talking about and some effective results and solutions that the administration will come to,” Varela said. “I’m sure that their process, the way they think and the way they go about doing things, is different than ours.”

BLACC leader Taylor Redmond ’18 also said she was satisfied by today’s meeting and the faculty’s participation in the matter.

“I think they’ve already shown initiative in my mind,” Redmond said. “Having [Upper School Dean Chris Jones] speak to class meetings, and even addressing the school as a student body, even if separately by grade level, shows that they’re already taking proactive steps to prevent incidents like this in the future.”