News Detail

Announcement of Task Force on Racism, Understanding, and Belonging

Letter to the Episcopal High School community from Lee S. Ainslie III '82, Chairman of the Board, and Charles M. Stillwell, Head of School
July 7, 2020

Dear EHS Community:

Over the past two weeks, the two of us and other Episcopal trustees and leaders have met with a number of Black and African American alumni in a series of listening forums announced last month. These discussions focused on the experience of Black students at EHS, and the conversations were emotionally powerful and at times quite raw. Participants courageously shared stories of how they had encountered prejudice and bias in their fellow students, the faculty and staff, and the culture of the School itself. Their pain was evident, but their resilience, courage, and commitment to the betterment of the School for future students was evident as well.

We are grieved by what we heard in these forums and also by what other alumni have shared with us directly and through @BlackatEHS, an Instagram account through which alumni and students are sharing their experiences at Episcopal. Ultimately, this testimony makes clear that Episcopal — both the institution and its individual faculty and staff members — has fallen short of our ideals and our mission far too often. At times, racism expressed through both words and actions was clear and hurtful to our Black students. We regret deeply and apologize that the Episcopal community did not do more to recognize and stand up to such racism and prejudice.

We have learned a great deal from our alumni, which will help drive new efforts to live up to our ideals — for Black students, for others who have suffered from various forms of prejudice, and for every member of our community. Our school has much work to do, much to learn, and many ways we can grow as an institution and as individuals as we strive to combat racism effectively and to create an antiracist campus culture. Fortunately, it is clear that many in our community of alumni, students, and families are eager to help us with this challenge.

Below is an outline of our first steps. These actions are not the sum of what we expect to do; the shape and details will evolve as we move forward.

  • Establish the Task Force on Racism, Understanding, and Belonging. This group of trustees begins meeting this week to work closely with school leaders to fulfill its charge: “To ensure that the School fosters a community and culture at Episcopal High School that aims to be free of racism, that embodies respectful and appreciative understanding of differences, and in which all its members share a deep sense of belonging.” Trustee Jonathan Beane ’88, who is currently the Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Roche Holding AG, will chair the group. This task force will report on the School’s progress several times during the upcoming school year. See more about the task force and its work here.

  • Host additional listening forums to learn more from our community. Our listening forums are continuing, with conversations being planned for Black alumni, students, their parents, faculty, and staff as well as for non-Black members of our community. We will continue to listen and learn from the @BlackatEHS Instagram account, alumni, and current students who share with us important and relevant perspectives on their personal experiences as Black students at EHS.

  • Create a Black alumni network. Together with a robust number of Black alumni stepping forward to help, we are establishing an alumni network. Separately, several alumni are forming a mentoring group to provide support and guidance to current students.

  • Create a structure for all members of the community to comfortably report prejudice they have witnessed or experienced. Our conversations with Black and African American alumni make clear that students can be hesitant to address incidents of racism or bias on campus or uncertain about the steps to take. Episcopal is building a reporting and accountability mechanism that students and adults will be able to trust and that will be in place before the beginning of the new school year.

  • Train faculty and staff about bias and racism. Internally and with experts, the School is designing a program of training and work that will begin this summer and will run throughout the year to educate adults about how their individual biases influence their lives, their work, and their relationships on campus.

  • Examine our curriculum for bias and racism and revamp it accordingly. Though this work will extend into the school year, the School has begun to conduct an extensive review of curriculum across all disciplines — from math and science to social studies and the humanities — to evaluate potential inherent biases and to include a broader diversity of voices.

  • Begin to empower student leaders as change agents in our culture. The 2020-21 Senior Monitors have met with the School’s leadership to discuss how they can help establish Episcopal’s antiracist culture. Before school begins and throughout the year, the School will conduct training with our broader group of student leaders so they can be supported as change agents.
  • Identify biases inherent in School structures. With the help of independent outside experts and the support of the task force, the School will examine closely every aspect of school life to identify biases or inequities and change the systems that allow them to persist. Among the elements of the School that we will scrutinize are student life and leadership, admissions and financial aid, and faculty and staff diversity and professional development.

  • Educate all Episcopal students about bias and equip them to combat racism even as faculty deepen their own learning. This critical work will begin with student orientation this fall. While even the most committed antiracist might be susceptible to a prejudicial thought, this does not preclude growth. Rather, it is our very awareness of this susceptibility that permits and drives our desire for growth. Ultimately, we want to help everyone better recognize prejudice and give them the skills to combat it and to build healthy relationships.

  • Address the School’s full history with regard to race. It is vital that every EHS community member understand from all perspectives the School’s history, including the role of slavery and the lasting impact of racial discrimination and prejudice. While our history includes moments of challenge for our students and faculty, the School should also highlight the many accomplishments of alumni of color and celebrate their individual and institutional triumphs. Such work will include unflinching looks at our past similar to 2018’s commemoration of 50 years at integration.
Our best chance to succeed at the many elements of this work is to meet the challenge as a community, united in purpose and commitment. We both recognize that we have more to learn and a great deal of important work to do as leaders for the School, and we are counting on the wisdom, talent, and perspective of everyone in the EHS community. We hope you will join us as we move the School forward and fulfill our vision of an Episcopal where racism and prejudice are not tolerated in any form.

Lee S. Ainslie III '82, Chairman of the Board
Charles M. Stillwell, Head of School