To the Taft Community:
This letter comes from me as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, on behalf of the full board. I want to share with you our resolve and optimism to make this school a better place for its entire community. In order to accomplish that goal, we first must acknowledge where we are as a society.
It is clear that we are at a critical socio-cultural transition as a nation. There are extraordinarily complex challenges facing society as we confront racism and discrimination embedded in our society and institutional structures as seen most clearly in recent incidents of police brutality. I see this in my business life where professional organizations are rethinking where they are today versus where they want to be. Taft has not been isolated from these challenges. We have at times failed to live up to our own ideals and have been reminded of this by many courageous alumni, students, faculty, parents and staff who have spoken out. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I say to you that we are committed to ensuring that Taft is an inclusive, equitable and welcoming school with zero tolerance for racism and discrimination in any form. What we do in the next year or so will shape the future of The Taft School.
We need to understand our past before we can shape the future. Sadly we have not always been the welcoming and inclusive community we aspire to. I remember at my graduation from Taft in 1969 the speech by our Valedictorian, who was one of only two black students in our class. His address was a real punch in the gut for all of us of white privilege. He excoriated our class for the injustices he experienced at Taft as a student of color. Sadly, many of us, his classmates, were unaware of his concerns until that final day at graduation. I have never forgotten his courage and my ignorance. That should not have been his experience nor the experience of any other student, nor should I have been blind to his realities.
Taft has come a long way from those days. I am proud of the work the school has done under Willy MacMullen's leadership. Our school, our students, our faculty, our staff and our Board are each more diverse, and we will continue to proactively broaden our perspectives and experiences. The Board's commitment to creating a diverse community is deep. The school has created a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) statement which serves as a fundamental and guiding document. The faculty has consistently engaged in DEI professional growth, with full-faculty training and outside consultant work around bias, privilege and micro-aggression. The academic departments have conducted full audits of their curricula, viewed through the lens of inclusion and towards a global understanding. School culture efforts, across multiple areas of campus life (for example, leadership training, student mentoring, and residential life) have focused on ways all community members can and must serve as allies in fostering safe and healthy culture. Affinity groups for students, faculty/staff and alumni have been established and provide critical support. Outside consultants, diversity practitioners and speakers have worked annually with students and faculty.
But we can and must do better. The real question now is what do we do going forward. Beyond simply listening, which we need to continue to do, we must lean into the difficult conversations and we need to act. The premise for the action plan below is the conviction that your board has in two things: first, Taft has zero tolerance for racism and discrimination of any form, and second, the Board of Trustees is committed to the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
We know we must do more. Already the School has taken the following several actions, including without limitation the following:
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan: We have committed to a strategic planning process, co-chaired by trustee Jacqueline Rosa ('82 and P'22) and Dean of Multicultural Education Andrew Prince, which will engage diverse community members; audit past and current DEI practices and data; report out on a regular basis; and make recommendations and set goals. Several sources will help inform the process, including the detailed letter listing DEI recommendations for the school signed by over 900 alumni, feedback from alumni who have reached out to the school, and the School's New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) Self-Study recommendations. This process will be robust and require time, resources and energy, all of which we commit to.
- Professional Growth and Training (Faculty): This summer, the entire faculty will take part in several initiatives. First, all will participate in the Mount Holyoke Graduate Professional Program, a ten-hour synchronous training for hybrid and remote teaching/advising with a focus on social-emotional and equity/inclusion pedagogy. Second, they will participate in a DEI series coordinated by Andrew Prince and Associate Dean of Faculty Steve Palmer which will further the work on bias and micro-aggressions in order to help faculty in their work with students in and out of the classroom. Finally, the Senior Administrative Team will be reading Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility: Why It's So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism as their summer read.
- Establishment of a faculty White Anti-Racism Caucus: This caucus is open to all faculty and staff who identify as white, to join together in reflecting on their role in supporting initiatives that improve the experience of students of color in our community and beyond.
- Professional Growth and Training (Board): The Board is committed to growth and training around DEI work, conducted both internally and with outside experts, and will begin this work immediately.
- Title Change: Willy MacMullen has asked that his title of "Headmaster" be changed to "Head of School," noting that while the title traces its educational history to the idea of a senior teacher with "mastery" over their academic area, it can be confusing and offensive and should be changed.
- Student Safety: We are responding to concerns about student safety in Watertown, partnering with local businesses, elected officials and community leaders to ensure all Taft students feel comfortable when off campus in town.
- Reading Groups: Several faculty reading groups have identified books they will read and discuss.
- Resource Compilation: The school has compiled a targeted "library" of resources—books, articles, webinars, websites—to support faculty education and efforts ranging from Joe Feldman's Grading for Equity to Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students.
- Counseling: The Board has supported and will approve the funding for the hiring of a full-time counselor with training and experience in diverse communities.
- DEI Funds: The Alumni and Development Office has established two DEI funds, one for current annual use and the other endowed. These are intended to support the school's ongoing work around DEI.
- Incident Reporting: This summer the school will establish a new mechanism for students to report incidents of racism or any form of discrimination on campus or in town in a safe and secure process.
- The School will continue to work closely with alumni: to invite concerns and suggestions, to engage in dialogue in different media, and to share updates. Further, the School will work to expand, formalize and support alumni of color networking efforts and establish a mentoring program.
The Taft Board has always reflected rigorously, set goals and sought change. Thoughts, ideas and words are never enough, and actions will be our focus. My advisor at Taft once said to me: "Evil prospers when good people do nothing." How sound was that advice. I believe that the mark of a great organization is one that has the confidence to aspire to excellence and the humility to recognize its shortcomings. We commit to the work that has to get done now. We feel the solemn obligation to leave the school a better place where every student has the same opportunity to thrive on campus, in a community that celebrates its diversity and is steadfast in its determination to lead by example in our collective goal of eradicating racism and intolerance. This is, in the end, all about educating the whole student, every student.
Grant Porter '69
Chair of the Board of Trustees