It has been a little over a week since I wrote a community letter in which I shared the contents of my “morning message” to students and faculty. In that video post (and letter) I stated that in keeping with our mission and values, the school stood with George Floyd, the many before him that had lost their lives under comparable circumstances, and those who were peacefully protesting, as well as offering some thoughts as to how in the brief time we had left of school this year, we might be able to collectively process the ongoing events. This is to say, at Falmouth Academy, black lives do indeed and must matter. As is readily apparent on the nightly news and in the demonstrations that continue to occur in our local community, the struggle is ongoing. Now that our school year has officially ended, it seems an opportune time to broaden our lens a bit and share with our various stakeholders some of our emerging efforts and commitment to participate in this important conversation and constructively contribute to its resolution.
While no institution can ever claim that it bats a thousand every day, Falmouth Academy has always had a healthy respect for individual differences. Students are given space and platforms to voice their opinions and are encouraged to march to the beat of a proverbial different drum. Critical thinking is the coin of the realm in our classrooms. This noted, as a result of the demographic make-up of our school and community, the relative insularity of our region, but perhaps also as a result of our not paying close enough attention, the racial tension, conflict, and miscarriages of justice that have precipitated important conversations and program evolution in other institutions more directly impacted, have not always occupied the real estate and air time here as they need to.
Though we certainly have “miles to go before we sleep,” be assured that we are already in the process of executing this much-needed change and are committed to seeing it through. Last fall, we assembled a faculty Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. Chaired by Carol DiFalco, who has enthusiastically added the role of first-ever DEI Coordinator to her role as School Counselor, this group meets regularly to ideate and implement programming that promotes the racial literacy of faculty and students. That group’s initial focus has been on professional development, and they have thoughtfully immersed our entire faculty in a series of external workshops, discussions, activities, and outside reading selected to engage and empower our faculty so they could, in turn, engage and empower our students. We also took the additional step of reaching out to alumni of color to hear their stories and learn from their experiences.
At the same time, we have begun to direct resources (time, money, and attention to name but three) to our students. For the past two years, we have taken a delegation of students to the high school and middle school Students of Color Conferences sponsored by our Association for Independent Schools of New England. As a result of those experiences, our students expressed an interest in establishing a Students of Color affinity group, which we launched last spring. While this group initially provided a much-needed source of mutual support for our students of color, it has taken a more active role this year in engaging the entire school community in the topic of race. And the student body is ready and wiling; when asked in advisory what they thought their most pressing “challenges of the times” were, discrimination, economic inequality, and civil discourse were among their primary concerns. We are also excited to announce an expanded diversity alliance that will invite white allies to join our students of color to move our school forward. It will be launched next fall and a representative from this organization will sit on the Student Council.
Finally, in recognition that injustice and inequity specific to race are community challenges, our school has engaged with the Woods Hole Diversity Advisory Committee. In collaboration with that organization, we were proud to host “Listen Up: Experiences from Students of Color on the Cape,” in March before a standing room only audience in Morse Hall, as well as a screening of Selma in February in the Hermann Theater. We are excited to look for additional ways to engage our local community, invite them to campus, and work together to advance the cause.
Let be clear, however proud I am of the good work of my teachers and students, this is no victory lap; to some degree, we have just left the starting gate. We need to do better. In the coming months, we will publish our Strategic Vision 2020—the result of a year-long planning process—which will outline a number of priorities, objectives, and actions for the next chapter of Falmouth Academy. The vision states, “We connect our students to other ideas, places, and cultures by creating relevant learning opportunities in and out of the classroom to cultivate the curiosity, creativity, and capacity necessary to fully participate in a diverse society within an increasingly interconnected global world.” We also commit to a reexamination of our curriculum to ensure that it is fully responsive to the “challenges of our times,” specifically naming diversity and culture as one of the lenses for the process, and we commit to building a more diverse faculty and a “diverse and diversely talented student body.”
None of this will be easy; we’ve got a lot of work to do, but I am confident that if we do it right, the school, all of our students, and our community will be the better for it. Shortly after attending the Falmouth No Place for Hate breakfast honoring Martin Luther King, Jr, I spoke to the students about my experience, stating, “As we go about our business each day at Falmouth Academy, I think we ought to ask ourselves four questions (which I first heard posed by Rosetta Lee) about our own classrooms and common spaces. Do you see me? Do you hear me? Will you treat me fairly? Will you protect me?” The more the answer is yes, for all of our fellow students (and our fellow citizens) to each of these questions, the closer we will be to living out the promise of our school’s mission.