June 26, 2020
Dear Williston Northampton Community,
Since early June, when I first sent a letter in response to the killing of George Floyd and took part in a student and faculty forum via Zoom, I have received many messages from Williston Northampton’s students and alumni. In phone calls, emails, one-on-one conversations, social media messages, a local newspaper column by a class of 2018 alumna, and more, the message to me has been clear and unequivocal: Historically and today, Williston has not done enough to support Black and Brown students or fight systemic racism in our community, and that I, as the head of school along with our administration, trustees, and entire community, must take action to change this.
I want to thank everyone who has had the courage to come forward, and I also want to express that I hear you, the administration hears you, and that I acknowledge and support your criticisms, feedback, and desire for change. Williston clearly has work to do, and we must confront the failures of our past and present in order to move forward. We must not tolerate racism or discrimination in any form on our campus. We must fully show that Black Lives Matter in our culture and community. With the backing of our full administration, I pledge to our Black and Brown students and alumni that Williston is committed to transforming itself to an anti-racist institution that supports all members of our community.
Numerous alumni have reminded me of the importance of actions over words at this time, so I want to outline some immediate and longer-term steps.
• We will increase our anti-racist training for all faculty and staff. Anti-racism is the focus of summer reading for Williston’s board, faculty, and staff, and will serve as the basis for broad and small-group discussion upon our return for the opening of school in the fall. All faculty and staff will receive anti-racist and implicit bias training prior to the start of school (this year and every year), and it will remain a primary focus of our three full faculty professional development meetings throughout the 2020-21 school year. In October, our Board of Trustees will also receive anti-racist and implicit bias training.
• We will help our students understand and engage in creating an anti-racist community. This year (and every year), all Williston students will receive increased anti-racist training, including at grade level, by residential hall, and in smaller breakout groups including advisories.
• This year, Williston’s academic dean, director of curriculum, our six department chairs, and our director of inclusion will audit our curriculum to ensure multicultural perspectives are more fully represented.
• Williston will formally evaluate and actively seek to improve the process we use to recruit and retain faculty of color with a goal of increasing representation and retention in our faculty.
• We are revising our student and employee handbooks to make even more explicit the school’s expectations for a community free of micro-aggressions, hate speech, and racism, and the consequences for violating these expectations. We will also more clearly communicate a protocol for students and employees to report incidents of racism or discrimination to school administrators.
• This fall, Williston will conduct a formal assessment of inclusivity and multiculturalism through the National Association of Independent Schools. Completion of the survey will result in round-table discussions with students, faculty, alumni, and parents about current experiences and next steps. We will also use the data to measure ourselves in future iterations of the survey.
• The Strategic Issues Committee of the Board of Trustees, working in conjunction with the school, will develop a five-year Strategic Plan for Diversity, Equity (DEI), and Inclusion at Williston, which will define specific DEI goals and timelines, and a plan for building the financial resources and philanthropic support necessary to carry out these plans.
• We are forming a new Anti-Racist Coalition to act as a sounding board to the head of school for immediate progress that will include members of the administration, faculty, trustees, parents, and alumni of color.
• We have appointed an assistant director of inclusion to assist the director in supporting Black and Brown students and multi-cultural clubs and events on campus.
• We will continue to engage alumni in opportunities for reflection on racism and supporting our Black and Brown students. Williston will continue to help with alumni efforts to establish the Williston Alumni of Color Alliance, an alumni-led affinity group. An inaugural meeting of the Alliance was help on campus during Reunion Weekend in 2019, and will meet again virtually this upcoming Saturday, June 27 at 7 p.m. EDT. Interested alumni may find more information and a registration link for this Zoom call on the alumni events page.
Finally, I want to be clear that these steps are just the beginning, and that our efforts this year will establish additional goals, which we will share with you. Critical to these efforts is the continued input from alumni and students. I encourage you to be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org with your ideas, questions, and criticism. One thing I am certain of from my 10 years at Williston is that our community will only grow stronger through dialogue and conversation, and that, in turn, will fuel our change.
Please know that we are listening, and that we want to partner with you, so that together, we can tap into the wellspring of support that I know exists to make Williston an institution of which we can all be proud.
Robert W. Hill III P’15, ’19
Head of School