September 24, 2016
I write to share with you a sense of what has happened at Hotchkiss in the wake of the shooting of Terence Crutcher last Friday in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday. I imagine you may have already heard from your student(s) about this.
Over the course of this week, students and faculty have engaged in conversations about the events in Tulsa and Charlotte. For many members of our community, the history and reality of violence against blacks in America is part of their and their families' lived experience, and these incidents prompt students to worry about loved ones back home and to worry about themselves when they are away from the relative safety of Lakeville. A small group gathered Thursday evening to discuss their feelings and then sought to broaden the circle of peers and teachers with whom to share their stories and their feelings in the wake of these events.
We gathered as a school community yesterday morning and again last evening for a discussion of what took place and reactions to it. Many students spoke, often in very personal and quite raw and compelling terms. We listened with respect and compassion.
One might ask why we would opt to use scheduled class time to open the floor to students and faculty sharing personal narratives? Why should we miss class to reflect on the shooting of black men by police in distant cities? Are we going to do this sort of thing every time there is a shooting? In other words, why should we care? Hotchkiss is not cut off from the broader society for which we are preparing our students. We are preparing them to lead lives of consequence and to help build a society in the future that is more just and humane. One of the roles of our school is to broaden our students' understanding of important issues through knowledge of the issues as well as understanding how those who are most directly affected feel, and why. This is one of the great educational benefits of living in a diverse community -- it enables us to learn from those who are different. It is one of theresponsibilities of the school to utilize these teaching moments in an intentional way.
We plan to create other occasions for structured discussion going forward. We will also continue to develop programming on campus that will enable us to learn more about issues of diversity and inclusion. We have also begun preparation for a planned curriculum review in 2017-18 and anticipate productive discussions with departments about the scope and content of our curriculum.
In addition to listening to others' lived experiences, I encourage us to seek other sources to educate ourselves about these issues. A number of colleagues have sent along references to relevant materials. I have not reviewed all of them, but have compiled them in an appendix to this letter.
My perspective on these events has been influenced by two pieces I read this summer. The first is Ta'Nehisi Coates' 2015 book Between the World and Me, which takes the form of a letter from Ta'Nehisi Coates to his young son and includes the story of the shooting death of his friend from Howard University, Prince Jones. The second is an article in the August 18, 2016, New York Review of Books, by Darryl Pinkney entitled "Black Lives and the Police." As Darryl Pinkney's article describes, the history of violence against black Americans is a long history. Our awareness of it is much greater now that most of us carry smart phones with cameras and use social media.
This awareness of racial violence is what creates fear and feelings of vulnerability among some of the members of the Hotchkiss community. Their having the opportunity to express those feelings to the broader community is both validating of their experience and instructive for all.
Craig W. Bradley
Head of School