Actively Engaging in Anti-Racism: A Message from the Board of Trustees

June 22, 2020

Dear Putney Community,

This is a letter that was recently sent to all Putney alumni, students, families, and friends. I hope you will take time to read it, as it’s a powerful commitment for all of us at the school. When we all return in the fall, we will work on putting these commitments into practice.

Emily Jones
Head of School
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Letter from the Board of Trustees

On March 25, 2020, Head of School Emily Jones wrote a letter about Putney’s response to the pandemic. In the letter, she recognized that COVID-19 will reshape the world our students inherit from us.

In the months that have followed the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, injustices that have always plagued communities around the world have stood out in bold relief. This injustice is a different kind of pandemic, one that is many centuries old.

These injustices include, but are not limited to, the following: racism and police brutality, the culture of white supremacy, sexism and transphobia, healthcare inequality, xenophobia, income inequality, education inequality, food insecurity, and the technology gap.

In light of the international conversation around how the Black community has endured centuries of systemic racism, the question Putney’s board of trustees asks ourselves is this: beyond expressing sympathy, what are we going to do? For the board of trustees and all of The Putney School, this question needs to be answered and re-answered today, tomorrow, in the months and years to come, and on an individual and institutional basis. The questioning never ends. The answering never ends.

In the last few years, we have tried to answer this question by hiring Black faculty and faculty of color, by creating the position of and then hiring a director of equity and inclusion, and by creating and strategizing with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committees at the student, faculty, and board levels. There’s a lot more to do, and we turn to our Fundamental Beliefs and to the voices of those Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) within the Putney community for our marching orders. We do not just stand with them—we are them; they are part of us. So we listen.

Putney’s Fundamental Beliefs are the framework that this community uses to amplify, listen, learn, and take meaningful action.

  1. “To combat prejudice and injustice wherever it appears…” Putney commits to actively engaging in anti-racism. Like the rest of the world, we have room to grow in this area. But because we stand with the wider Black community and acknowledge the Black communities within the Putney community, the board of trustees commits to combat racism and prejudice on and off-campus. We acknowledge the pain and hear the hard truths about the lived experiences of our student body who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Our next step is examining from the board outwards which policies and systems need changing and updating so that Putney delivers on the promise of giving all students access to a nuanced and constantly growing world outlook.
  2. “… willing to take risks, if need be, for moral growth, so that one definitely progresses along the long slow road toward achieving a civilization worthy of the name.” This letter is necessary. A Putney education requires one to learn by doing, to ask critical questions, and to “grow in human understanding and knowledge.” As Emily wrote previously, “We are aware that the biggest lessons that our students will learn this spring will be from watching how the adults they know and trust respond to this…Our students will be watching and listening to us, and they will learn.” Rather than protecting students from the harsh realities of an unjust world, we aim to prepare our students to combat them.
  3. “… not to live in an ivory tower.” Independent schools—and Putney is not the exception here—are a place of privilege, and can feel removed, isolated, and insulated from the hard truths of the world. Putney has always committed itself to developing students who know and actively seek experiences that challenge their privilege.

These are some of our immediate answers to “what are we going to do?” Our steps are being developed. We will fumble and get it wrong many times, but we recognize the importance of daily progression in this work, and we recognize that it is all of our work to do.

We invite you to share your thoughts and help us develop our next steps. And we ask what your own individual next step is going to be. We may make mistakes, but we learn by doing.

We invite you to take this survey and engage with us in this dialogue.

A summary of responses will be shared among those who participated.

Sincerely,

The Putney School Board of Trustees

John Bidwell ’78
Elizabeth Eisold Blaylock ’80
Dinah Buechner-Vischer P’14
Corinne Byus ’22 (Student)
Natasha Osborne Byus ’88, P’19, ’22
Emma Ding ’22 (Student)
Emily Dixon (Faculty)
Paul Fearer ’61
Heather Freedman P’22
Daniel Garcia-Galili ’02 (Faculty)
Rebecca Geary P’17, ’19
Emily Jones, Head of School
Jennifer Just ’77, P’12
Joshua Laughlin ’82, P’21, ’23
John MacIntosh P’20, ’23
Thao Matlock P’18
Breck Montague P’08, ’15
Mary Montague P’08, ’15
Nkomo Morris ’94
Bob Raynolds ’69
Marni Rosner ’69, P’04, ’07
Thomas Steele-Maley P’20
Ira Wender P’77, ’89
Charles Young ’74, P’03