fbpx We hear you. We support you. We are listening. | Phillips Exeter Academy

We hear you. We support you. We are listening.

A letter to the Exeter community. 

June 5, 2020

Dear Exeter Community,

We are outraged, and deeply saddened, by this latest evidence of our long history and legacy in this country of anti-Black hatred, violence and injustice. We watched in pain and horror at the brutal killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, and part of the outrage is knowing how many times we have been here before. We see the legacy of racism also in the gross racial disparities in illnesses and death from COVID-19. Black lives matter and Black voices matter.

Black students and adults in our community are in deep pain and do not feel safe; they are asking how we will use these tragic events as a catalyst for real systemic and structural change in our community. We write today to share our absolute condemnation of anti-Black racism in all its forms, and our commitment to recognizing and eradicating it in our school community.

We call attention to the four centuries of racial injustice that have spawned these deaths, and we redouble our responsibility to identify and change the ways in which the Academy continues to perpetuate racial injustice. Black Exonians must feel heard, respected and that they belong.  We renew our commitment to our mission to attract youth from every quarter and educate them in goodness and knowledge, so we can all work together toward a more just and better society where every person can live without fear, is respected and has the opportunities that should be available to all.

When Black members of our community — students, adults and alumni — feel that they are in any way less than fully valued and fully embraced as members of the Exeter community, then we have not lived up to our responsibility to them and ourselves. We acknowledge that we have much work to do to achieve our diversity, equity and inclusion vision

We will examine our own history. In January, we announced an initiative to examine any connections between our school and the institution of slavery and conduct a broad inquiry into the history and legacy of our school. The pandemic has delayed the start and we will restart that initiative in the fall. Understanding our past is a critical step toward confronting our present.  

Increasing the diversity of our teaching faculty and all other departments and offices is a critical institutional priority. Changes in our hiring processes, led by Director of Equity and Inclusion Stephanie Bramlett and Dean of Faculty Ellen Wolff, have produced some results and work must continue. We are falling short in the area of faculty and staff retention. We will address the structural barriers that stand in the way of supporting, promoting and retaining Black faculty and staff and other employees of color. The diversity of our faculty and staff should match the diversity of our student population. 

We will increase the diversity represented in leadership positions within our school. We will examine our leadership structures, and make such changes as are necessary to bring greater diversity to our leadership positions. Diverse voices will enable us to make better decisions. 

As a school, we must acknowledge and combat the pernicious legacy of systemic racism that Black people and other people of color face each and every day. That work must predominantly fall to those of us who have historically, even if unintentionally, thrived in spite of that legacy and must bear the burden of vanquishing it. To do so will require a willingness, particularly on the part of the white members of our community, to be actively and effectively anti-racist. That means recognizing privilege, accepting vulnerability and acting with empathy. 

We are concerned for our Black students. Our Dean of Students Office, Office of Multicultural Affairs and our faculty are all intensely focused on the essential work of supporting all our students, and especially our Black students, during these difficult times. This week, we have been offering virtual affinity meeting spaces where students can process with their peers and faculty facilitators the incredibly tragic events and the hurt and anger they have engendered. As the term comes to a close, many faculty members have also dedicated class time or met with their advisees to continue the conversations centered on racial injustice and to share resources for further education and action. We have created a web page to begin sharing some of those resources, and we invite you to visit it here

We will listen to our Black students and all our students of color and involve them in the important work of making Exeter the diverse, equitable and inclusive community that it can and should be. We admire and respect the work they are already doing on their own initiative.

The Trustees are forming a Diversity Equity and Inclusion Task Force, to be led by Trustee Jackie Hayes ’85, to engage with faculty, staff and administrators and support the important work that needs to be done. Our alumni of color are a source of great strength for Exeter; we will continue efforts already underway, and identify new ones, to engage them in important conversations around race and involve them in this work. 

At the heart of Exeter’s values — at the center of our school’s reason for being — are the beliefs in the imperative of respect for each and every individual and for the power and criticality of equity and inclusion in our community. We are grateful for the insistence of members of the Exeter community that we must do better.  

We state the following to all Black members of our community, and to all persons of color in our community: We hear you. We support you. We are listening. We share your commitment.  With your help, together, we will move forward to fulfill the promise of our school.

 

Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08, 
President of the Trustees Tony Downer ’75; P’06, P’06, P’07 
Incoming President of the Trustees Morgan Sze ’83; P’19, P’22
Vice President of the Trustees Wole Coaxum ’88; P’24
Incoming Vice President of the Trustees Deidre O’Byrne ’84; P’18, P’20, P’23