An Update from the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee of the Board

Dear Hotchkiss Community,  

As we write to you today, about three months have passed since the murder of George Floyd. It has been less than two weeks since Jacob Blake was shot multiple times in the back by a police officer. On Friday, thousands of people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to demand social and racial equity. This peaceful protest took place on the 57th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s exhortation to our nation to share with him a dream of justice.

In the time since George Floyd's death, we at Hotchkiss have undergone a period of self-reckoning, as have so many institutions and individuals across the country and around the world. We have heard students and alumni share stories of racism on the Hotchkiss campus. We have read the posts on Black@ Instagram accounts. We have listened respectfully to voices that question the reality of racism here, though these voices do not sway our conviction that racism is present. We have taken a hard look at good work that was already in progress to increase diversity and inclusion. And we have embraced the reality that we must do more.

The mission of The Hotchkiss School is to inspire a diverse range of students who are committed to the betterment of self and society, and to cultivate in them the highest standards of excellence such that they may discover and fulfill their potential as individuals fully engaged in our world. A nuanced understanding of the history of racism in this country and its tenacious grip on our society are part of a comprehensive education and integral to students' preparation as future leaders in our society. 

In June, Hotchkiss announced the formation of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee of the Board, led by Trustees Raymond McGuire '75, P'21 and Becky van der Bogert, on which Yassine Talhaoui, director of diversity and inclusion, also serves. To provide structure for their work, the Committee established the following subcommittees and mandates:

Admissions: enroll the highest caliber of students from anywhere in the United States and around the world, including Black students and other students of color, and make attending Hotchkiss possible for the most capable young people regardless of their circumstances.

Curriculum and pedagogy: ensure diverse representation of thinkers and ideas at every level of a truly comprehensive curriculum that is taught without bias. 

Hiring, retention, and training: recruit the most capable faculty, including the best Black teachers, with training for all employees in anti-racism and the unconscious stereotyping known as implicit bias.

Student life and culture: strengthen the culture at Hotchkiss with respect to the experiences of Black students and those from other marginalized groups that have historically been underrepresented. 

Alumni engagement: identify, honor, and celebrate Black alumni of distinction, with increased opportunity to connect with the student body.

These subcommittees are actively engaged even as the School reopens amidst a pandemic. The fact that this work is happening in parallel, rather than being postponed until School life returns to a more predictable pace, is important. A lot is being asked of the people who are driving this change. They are doing it out of a fundamental commitment to ensuring that the Hotchkiss to which students return this fall is stronger, more equitable, and more inclusive than the one they departed in the spring. 

 Among changes already made or in progress are the following:

  • External experts have been engaged to review student and faculty handbooks, reporting, disciplinary, recruitment, and hiring processes to make sure that policies reflect the School's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Hiring procedures already demonstrate greater equity.

  • The School has strengthened the bias incident reporting process to ensure that anyone who experiences bias based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic factors, or other criteria can report it without fear, stigma, or retribution.

  • Last week, before the arrival of students on-campus, proctors and dorm faculty received training on implicit bias, anti-Black racism, and LGBTQ+ identity. Throughout the year, all students and faculty will participate in this training. The Board of Trustees will also engage in diversity, equity, inclusion training. 

  • The Office of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) has been expanded with the addition of the new assistant director of D&I, Renée Marcellus. The School is currently recruiting for a counselor in Health Services with expertise in issues related to bias.

  • Throughout the summer, faculty and staff voluntarily participated in anti-racist reading and discussion. The School will continue to offer spaces for these conversations and training. 

  • This fall, an external party will administer an anonymous student climate survey to help identify issues of racism or other forms of bias on campus.  

This is only a sample of a comprehensive body of work, all of which is being done in alignment with input from students. In July, a group of student leaders submitted a thoughtful and comprehensive letter to the School's administration: "This proposal," it reads, "was drafted by current Hotchkiss students with input from both current students and alumni, with the purpose of enacting changes that will foster an actively anti-racist learning environment in which marginalized students will truly feel safe, seen, and supported." 

It is an impressive piece of work, a testament to Hotchkiss students and their ability to lead change.

Alumni are equally engaged. More than 800 Hotchkiss graduates have added their names to an open letter demanding institutional change. In July, the executive committee of the Alumni Association, known as the Board of Governors, worked with alumni volunteers to host a virtual Alumni of Color Town Hall that offered Black alumni the opportunity to share personal stories and to ask questions of School leaders. A webpage dedicated to anti-racism provides an avenue through which those who have experienced discrimination at Hotchkiss can notify the School.

The actions outlined above represent important progress, but the journey is ongoing. Our enduring commitment and purpose is excellence in education. We view the strengthening of Hotchkiss as a truly inclusive learning community as integral to that commitment and purpose. We look forward to providing further updates on our progress as the academic year gets underway. In the interim, we wish you continued safety and good health.

To reach us directly regarding this work, please email us here.

Sincerely yours,

Raymond J. McGuire '75, P'21
Co-chair of the Board Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Vice President, Board of Trustees 

Rebecca van der Bogert
Co-chair of the Board Committee for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Board of Trustees

Yassine Talhaoui
Director of Diversity and Inclusion

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