I am writing today to follow up on last Thursday’s forum which was hosted by Lori Patriacca ‘01 and John Bouton focused on the film Just Mercy. The film - watch it if you haven’t - focuses on the work of Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative work Stevenson does to review and exonerate those - mostly Black and on death row - who have been wrongfully prosecuted and convicted. It’s an eye-opening film into a skewed legal system and it prompted good community and self reflection. The forum is part of an on-going series of conversations and listening sessions organized at Proctor since the protests, unrest, and calls for police reform following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Individually and collectively we have had to do our work within the Proctor community. Our responsibility is to become better educated around the systemic injustice and bias, both overt and hidden, in our communities and ourselves. Just Mercy is simply a small step in that education, and in the forum that was held Thursday, the call to action was clear. Both students and faculty wanted to know what the school is doing beyond simply having conversations. Listening has to lead to action, and action to observable, tangible change. This responsibility for action is borne by all of us, but it is particularly carried by those in positions of greater responsibility. Those of us who are in a position of power to effect change, have we done enough? It’s a fair question. Yes, in many ways Proctor is that caring, compassionate community I am proud to be a part of building and sustaining, but in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion landscape I know I can do more. I know we all can do more.
There are some steps that have been taken over the last month that need to be shared with the community. Are they enough? No. But, they represent movement, change, and a commitment to the work.
- Hiring for the DEI coordinator position has been posted. This individual will assist Lori Patriacca’s ‘01 work in supporting diversity initiatives and Proctor’s students of color. Proctor’s Board of Trustees committed to ensure funding for this position will be available during the current COVID-related hiring freeze.
- Proctor’s Board of Trustees has committed to further diversifying the board through its Governance Committee. This has been a focus for the Board, and the June trustee meeting sharpened the conversation. The Governance Committee plans to nominate and bring on the board two new trustees of color by the fall board meetings.
- A DEI mission statement is being drafted as a document to ensure this component of the school mission is clearer, more front and center in guiding the institution around admissions, hiring, curriculum, and on-going education.
- Department Heads are continuing the work of developing inclusive curriculum across subjects. 9th and 10th grade seminars will have anti-racist components built into the curriculum.
- Work is on-going to establish DEI continuing education requirements for faculty to help ensure we all work to better understand the national landscape and our position in relation to it.
- Planning is underway to include DEI training for all faculty and staff at the start of the year and to make it a part of all annual back-to-school training.
- Proctor will build more robust content on its external website to directly support five centers of DEI work focused on domestic diversity, Native American issues, gender and sexuality, international perspectives, and religion.
In spite of the challenges we face as a community, Proctor is a school that remains rooted in its core values of honesty, compassion, respect, and responsibility. We are a good community, a compassionate community. Do we need to step up more individually and collectively? Of course. All of our values would suggest there is more we can do around diversity, equity, and inclusion work to change the landscape. We can have honest, hard conversations. We can show greater compassion, respect and work to truly understand the complex history we all share, and we can step up to the responsibility we all have to make our community and surrounding communities better. We need to hire more faculty, staff, and administrators of color. We need to work to expand the diversity of our student body. We need to make sure that the funding is available, or shift resources, for all of these endeavors and initiatives so that we become more the school of hope we have always believed we are.
Education is not simply the act of becoming aware. It is about the capacity to take knowledge that comes with expanded awareness and evolving it into action and meaningful changes that are value driven, rooted in decency and hope. I look forward to continuing this work and doing more together.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School