- Bulletin Features
Taft's Dean of Multicultural Education reflects on the work done over the past year and going forward on diversity, equity, and inclusion at the school.
Context is important, and as I write to you now there are two important contexts to acknowledge. The first is that the Bulletin last year featured a Q&A with me titled “The Ongoing Work of Inclusion,” and in some ways this article should serve as a logical and necessary update on the work we have done in the last year. The second is that the United States is having what I hope is a revolutionary reckoning with systemic racism. And I want to start by asserting that Black Lives Matter. This is not a political statement, but a statement of the rights that all humans should be afforded no matter their skin color or any other identifier.
Black Americans should not have to fear for their lives as they jog (Ahmaud Arbery), play with a toy gun (Tamir Rice), shop in Walmart (John Crawford), carry a legally owned and registered firearm (Philando Castille), sleep in their homes (Breonna Taylor and Atatiana Jefferson), exist in the world as who they are meant to be (Islan Nettles), or while under suspicion of using a forged $20 bill (George Floyd).
In my capacity as a leader and educator at Taft, helping our students to understand and process this moment, to see the systemic racism deeply ingrained in the fabric of America, and to feel safe and valued on our campus is a responsibility that I take very seriously, as do all of my colleagues.
I am also more than the roles I inhabit on campus. I am a multiracial man who is often perceived as Black, and consequently this work and this historical moment are deeply personal. My brother and his wife are pregnant, and I cannot wait to love that child with all I have. I am also deeply fearful for their unborn baby, as no amount of privilege, education, money, love, care, or guidance will make it safe from systemic racism. It is this reality that millions of Americans and tens of millions of people or more around the world are protesting to change. The rest of this piece will focus on the work we have and will take up at Taft, but I want to state again that Black Lives Matter.
Affinity groups have been a key feature of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work we do as a community, and our affinity group offerings have expanded in the last school year. In addition to our Black and Latinx male and female affinity groups—Shades and Mosaic, respectively—our Asian and Asian American affinity group, LGBTQ group, and African student affinity group TASA, we saw faculty and students create our Female Student affinity group, GALS, and our European Student affinity group. Additionally, we created affinity groups for families, hosting Families of Students of Color gatherings on move-in day and at Family Weekends. We had also anticipated offering an official Alumni of Color Gathering during Alumni Weekend and a Families of Students of Color Gathering prior to Admissions revisit days, and we were in the process of coordinating a Trans Student group, which we would have run in partnership with peer schools. While COVID-19 kept us from launching these offerings this year, we will certainly take them up again in the new school year.
And in the last few weeks, white faculty and staff have come together to create the White Anti-Racist Caucus (WARC), which will go a long way in furthering the anti-racist work we do as a school. Our fundamental goal is to ensure that students feel safe, included, and affirmed so that they can learn and grow, and this will only happen when folks who have privilege, white people in this case, are actively interrogating and dismantling systemic racism. We have an amazingly caring and dedicated group of faculty, and the WARC will create a space where white faculty members can increase the rate of positive change at Taft and in our broader world.
It is also important to revisit the important work that faculty and staff were doing to further their skills and awarenesses around DEI. A key piece of these efforts is the conferences and workshops that adult community members again attended this year as a part of our Professional Education and Growth (PEG) program. These conferences included Venture Out’s “Beyond Bathrooms” training in support of trans students, the NAIS People of Color Conference and Equity Design Lab, the Glasgow Group’s National Diversity Practitioners Institute, and Educator’s Retreat for Women of Color, and included plans for people to attend the White Privilege Conference, the National Diversity Practitioners Institute, and Diversity Directions Independent School Seminar.
Additionally, we continued our adult community member book club for which we read Nancy Jo Sales’ American Girls: The Secret Lives of Teenagers and Social Media, and in the wake of COVID-19, we expanded to movies and offered American Promise. New faculty have continued to complete required training sessions on what author-educator Zaretta Hammond calls “culturally responsive pedagogy,” and all faculty have completed required training on implicit bias and microaggressions at faculty meetings, including our year opening and closing meetings.
Finally, we are currently in the process of creating a summer training for faculty to help them better identify and address microaggressions and overt racism. In total, Taft spent between a quarter and a third of our PEG budget on DEI training for faculty, in addition to funds from the dedicated DEI budget. The aforementioned efforts and the budget allocation that allows for them reflect the board’s investment in the faculty as a part of our deep communal commitment to professional growth. And the reality is that we can and must do more, whether it is in-house training sessions, more outside conferences, or, in the age of COVID, making use of so many of the excellent online resources that have become available.
The classroom is a key place where DEI work must occur. Department heads and teachers began the process of interrogating our curriculum to look for ways that we could better provide students with “windows” to gaze into the experiences of others and “mirrors” to see their own experiences reflected back to them while also raising students’ awareness of injustices in the world and educating on how to combat them.
In the History Department, for example, we undertook a review of the sources that we had students read in each class and made a concerted effort to ensure that the voices of people of traditionally marginalized groups were more prominent in our curriculum.
The curricular work we started this past school year will continue and intensify this summer and into the upcoming school year as we continue to create opportunities to teach students key DEI principles in the classroom which is essential. Already this summer the Science Department has put together a list of anti-racist resources for science teachers that is being circulated, the English Department is hosting a book club centered on Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, the Pedagogy and Assessment Group is reading Joe Feldman’s Grading for Equity, and the library has put together a web page featuring Racial Justice Literature.
Finally, it will be helpful to review some of the work that has already begun in anticipation of the coming school year. First, Taft will be authoring a DEI strategic plan to guide our work moving forward. The creation of this plan will involve a careful accounting of the work we currently do with input from trustees, administrators, teachers, staff, parents, students, and alumni. We will use this information to identify our strengths around DEI work as well as our areas of needed improvement and construct a series of action steps with associated accountability metrics.
This work will be supported by two newly created philanthropic funds, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Current Use Fund and the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Endowment Fund. These funds will allow us to continue our current efforts and expand upon them in ways that will surely benefit our DEI efforts. For community members looking for ways to support our efforts to make Taft a more inclusive place, giving to these funds would be one important way to contribute.
We have heard a lot from students and alumni recently, and I am deeply appreciative. You have shared your experiences with us in ways that will guide our communal work and help to ensure that everyone feels that they belong at Taft. My parting request is that you continue to reach out to us to both share your experiences and ask us questions about our efforts.
The work of creating a more just and equitable school, and consequently a more just and equitable world, will only be successful if the entire community is working on it together. From trustees to staff to faculty to administrators, our fundamental goal is to ensure that students feel safe, affirmed, and included when they are on campus so that they can take advantage of all of the wonderful things Taft has to offer. I am thankful to be able to do this work for and with the Taft community.
Andrew Prince earned a Master of Arts in private school leadership from the Klingenstein Center Teachers College at Columbia University. His teaching career includes graduate studies work at the Dalton School in New York City and a faculty post at Montclair Kimberley Academy in New Jersey. Originally from California, he graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts in government, with a minor in moral and political philosophy. He also played Division I baseball at Harvard. A faculty member at Taft since 2017, he serves as Dean of Multicultural Education, teaches AP U.S. Government and Politics, and is an adjunct in Centennial. He is also an assistant varsity baseball coach and an assistant varsity football coach. Andrew was recently invited to become a member of the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) Commission on Diversity in Independent Schools (CODIS). CODIS ‘exists to inspire a wide spectrum of individuals in the effort to make our school communities rich in the experience of human differences.’
To learn more about Taft’s ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion work visit www.taftschool.org/dei