To the Harker Community:
Thank you to all the students, alumni, parents and alumni parents who attended our town hall events last week to talk about diversity, equity and inclusion at Harker. We were humbled by the feelings you shared and inspired by your depth of commitment to the Harker community. While the school has the responsibility of doing the hard work ahead, Harker is the sum of its students, faculty, staff and families, and we appreciate your emotional investment in its future. We have included highlights of the comments, questions and suggestions you raised at the end of this email, and will be using this feedback as a guide and a checklist as we move forward. We extend a special thank you to Harker staff and faculty Tyeshia Brown, Patricia Lai Burrows, Pilar Agüero-Esparza, and Abel Olivas for moderating the town halls.
First and foremost, we are deeply sorry for the pain and injustice that some of our beloved community members experienced while at Harker. We are disappointed that the open and inclusive culture that we thought we had at Harker was not so for all. We are so appreciative that you took the time to share your experiences with us. You didn’t have to do that, but you did and we are deeply grateful. We are committed to ensuring that none of this happens on our watch again.
We are also sorry that we did not immediately reach out to the Black members of our community when the rest of the world was galvanizing around the senseless and unjust murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. We apologize to you and to our entire community for this oversight.
To be clear, we condemn racism and the senseless and unjust acts of violence against people of color in America. Our commitment is to ensure that Harker is a safe and inspiring community for all, and to educate ourselves and our students about the ongoing reality of oppression and violence against people of color.
Our first priority is the continued education of the adults in our community. Before we can help others be better, we need to be better ourselves. In the past week, many faculty have started that journey by attending additional workshops and seminars for educators around the topics of creating optimal spaces for all identities, with a specific focus on anti-racism. As well, we have modified our Harker-hosted faculty summer reading list to include 15 books to better understand race, institutionalized racism, systemic violence, and anti-racism. As of this week, we have invited all staff to join in this reading, and the subsequent fall book discussions. We are researching online diversity, equity and inclusion training that we will require all employees to undergo this fall (and annually), providing whatever assistance is needed, such as computer access and translation, to ensure completion. We will also build into our faculty meetings and retreats ongoing and regular conversations around implicit bias and cultural humility. We will host a series of speaker events and discussion for parents in the coming year on the same topics to heighten their awareness and urgency of these issues and promote continuous conversations. Parent education about these and other topics will be an ongoing effort.
Our next priority is our curriculum. All of our academic department chairs are reviewing their programs with fresh eyes to ensure that our materials and coursework represent a broad range of human experience. For example, reading lists are being audited and updated for next year to incorporate a more diverse range of materials including additional Black and Latinx authors. Beginning this school year, the upper school will be offering courses in Civics, Social Psychology, Social Justice, and Ethnic Studies.The upper school will also offer a Black Literature course starting in the 2021-22 school year.
To improve and enrich our culture, we will form and fully support affinity groups, with the Black and Latinx affinity groups starting this fall. While we have had assembly speakers, faculty workshops and Harker-sponsored conference attendance by both students and faculty over the years, we are reviewing ways to incorporate learning and conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion into the daily fabric of our student life. Partnered with that, we will review our policies and behavior expectations and consequences. Our goal is growth, and sometimes our growth – both collective and individual – requires reflective responses, and other times punitive ones. We hope to continue to address violations of our community standards, in all arenas, with consistency, thoughtfulness and integrity.
While our mission states that we are “preparing students to take their place as global citizens,” there are areas of that preparation that we will strengthen in the coming years. This will include an elevation of social justice work and socioeconomic exposure to not only serve others, but to face our privilege and become better human beings. Of note, many of our students and alumni have galvanized to raise funds for Black Lives Matter and other world crises in years past. As a nonprofit, 501c(3) corporation which accepts donations to supplement our program, it is inappropriate (and could compromise our nonprofit status) for Harker to make charitable contributions to any other cause. However, we proudly share our student efforts with the community so that individuals can choose to support them.
We are unpacking our admission processes and language to remove obstacles standing in the way of a more diverse applicant pool. We are updating our application to make clear our expectations of parents and the values we expect them to bring and uphold as a member of the Harker community. We are forming an admission outreach team of faculty, staff, parents and alumni to identify and forge avenues to increase our efforts for increased enrollment from the Black and Latinx communities. This committee will also guide the school in ensuring there is a culture of support at Harker for these students.
We will continue to actively seek people of color in our hiring and promoting practices. While our administration team and board of trustees have an even representation of men and women, we will seek opportunities to improve our racial representation.
And finally, we will spend the coming year to evaluate the most effective way for the school to staff our efforts to continue building on its diversity, equity and inclusion work. Whether it’s a new position, a committee or a hybrid thereof, we will announce our plan by the end of the 2020-21 school year.
This work is not expected to be easy, nor to be short-lived. Addressing the issues that we confront as a school and as a society will take much effort, both mental and emotional, and we pledge our long-term commitment to do just that. We continue to welcome your feedback and involvement by reaching out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take care and be well,
Brian Yager, Head of School
Town Hall Recap:
Many students of color have felt implicit racism during their time at Harker
Others have experienced overt racism
The focus on college admissions for Harker upper school students can get in the way of their growth as and preparation to be global citizens
Alumni shared not having experienced curricular content or materials from diverse sources during their time at Harker
Claiming to be a diverse school is statistically untrue
DEI work isn’t just for Black or brown students
The school appears to have avoided addressing some issues openly
The school has not acknowledged racism at school
Harker needs to pause and focus on religious, physical and neural diversity at Harker
The administration at Harker is all white
Events like challenge day provide safe space to be vulnerable with thoughts
Harker needs to have a zero-tolerance approach to racist transgressions
Situations in which community members violate our norms should not only be addressed with a disciplinary lens
Recognize that this work is not about bringing people down, it’s to help people recognize things and grow
Current website language might discourage those needing financial assistance
Increasing financial aid would help diversify Harker
There is a stigma that diverse populations are only at Harker because of financial aid
How can Harker attract more students and staff from diverse backgrounds?
What can Harker do to educate students more about their own privilege?
What can Harker do to educate students more about the history of diverse groups in America, and the world in general, and the African and Black American experience in particular?
What can Harker do to prepare students for environments that are not as homogenous/welcoming as Harker?
Why doesn’t Harker match or support fundraisers to causes like Black Lives Matter?
How can we support conversations within and growth by Harker parents?
What is a process whereby students can report concerns?
How does Harker plan to handle students who display racist actions?
How can Harker give tools for students to address racism?
Who provides moral leadership and examples to students?
How can students and the community be not only bystanders, but to help be the solution?
How can we have conversations in the classroom when parents may not support the content?
What is keeping Black and Latinx students out of the admission process?
Are there clear consequences in place for racist actions/behaviors?
How can we help those who are victims of discrimination?
How do we engage people who are not having these conversations?
Engage alumni in efforts
Explore with the community how our various forms of privilege reinforce bias and/or get in the way of our DEI efforts
Add staff to trainings
Require anti-bias and anti-racist training of all staff
Replace Eagle Buddies program with community buddy program
Require parents and older students to reflect on core values, including embracing diversity, in the application process
Create more affinity groups
Use advisory to have conversations about race and DEI concepts.
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