Dear Canterbury Alumni,
I write to you today at the nexus of humility, honesty, and action.
This morning, a posting on the BlackAtCanterburyCT Instagram account (an independent social media handle created across secondary and higher education institutions) was shared with me suggesting that Canterbury’s Board of Trustees and I have been ignoring the voices of our students and alumni of color. It was difficult and painful to read. As a career educator, nothing is more important to me than meeting the needs of our students. I am sorry that our School has failed to do so in some situations and that there are members of the Canterbury family whose experiences on our hilltop have been impacted by microaggressions, marginalization, and/or overt racism. Clearly those actions, words, and behaviors fly in the face of Canterbury’s values and mission.
As we have acknowledged as a School and Leadership Team, systemic racism is a deep-rooted, societal problem. A core educational goal for the Canterbury community has been, and remains, inclusiveness and social justice. This is a commitment not taken lightly. That said, our persistent, critical work toward sustaining a community that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive will always be imperfect at best and therefore demands unrelenting focus and comprehensive attention. I know that for every successful program, protocol, or avenue for conversation we build, there are myriad missed opportunities to listen to, learn from, and support our students and colleagues of color.
To that end, we are grateful to those alumni who have reached out directly to share concerns and provide feedback, knowing that true action must be informed by honest dialogue. We can only grow as a community by engaging in difficult conversations that shed light on those areas where we can—we must—continue to grow and do even better by our students. In order to invite and inspire those conversations, we encourage you to:
Reach out to the School by email (firstname.lastname@example.org); these emails will all be read and stewarded by members of our Senior Leadership Team and Board of Trustees Executive Committee. We hope this will provide an avenue for individual, confidential, and constructive feedback from which Canterbury can learn and by which we can create impactful next steps. We pledge to address your feedback and concerns and encourage you to be in touch.
Look for updates from, and register to participate in upcoming alumni focus groups facilitated by, a larger Canterbury DEI Committee (see below*).
On July 1, we reached out to our current students and families with the following update:
“You have seen recent communications from our hilltop regarding the Canterbury Faculty DEI Committee as well as our student forums and faculty forums, which will continue meeting throughout the summer (and years ahead) to read, reflect, discuss, and create action plans regarding critically important topics centered on anti-racism. In addition, we are building the framework for a *broader committee that will involve student, alumni, trustee, staff, and faculty representatives of the Canterbury family, a committee whose work will begin in earnest this fall to help craft the long-term goals and roadmap reflective of Canterbury’s enduring commitment to social justice and to a diverse and inclusive school community. Regarding our most immediate short-term steps, we will seek feedback/perspective from members of the extended Canterbury family through structured focus groups, and we will formally open the 2020-21 school year with DEI-focused professional development.”
In addition, some alumni have asked for more frequent and detailed updates from the School, updates that would empower them to better understand our current and deepened commitment to meeting the needs of our students through DEI work. While not fully comprehensive, the list we share today illustrates Canterbury’s meaningful and productive community DEI work, some of which is still in early yet earnest stages. These efforts have been largely inspired and carried forward by our students in recent years to build an inclusive campus culture, efforts that remain ongoing and that have become enduring. As you well know, the spirit of our Saints is key to building a community norm that is welcoming and affirming.
Affinity Groups/Education Clubs:
- CDIC (Diversity and Inclusion Club): Formed in 2016 by student
- AHANA (Students of African/Hispanic/Asian/Native American Heritage): Formed in 2019 by, and for, students of color
GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance): Formed in 2019 by students
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committees & Forums:
DEI Faculty Committee: Formed in 2019
DEI Faculty Task Force: Formed in June 2020 in order to help build the DEI strategic roadmap (Dean of Students Jake Dellorco, Director of the Center for Spirituality, Service & Justice Tracy Garcia-LaVigne, Head of School Rachel Stone, and faculty members Raheem Logan ‘12, Lindsay Mulhern & Michel Niu)
*Community DEI Committee (to include Trustees, Students, Alumni, Staff & Faculty): In process for 2020-21
Faculty, Staff, and Students have engaged in Anti-Racism Forums since June 1 (four each for students and for faculty/staff) and will continue to do so throughout the summer and years ahead.
Center for Spirituality, Service and Justice (soon to be the M. & D. D’Amour Center for Faith, Service and Justice as part of the opening of the Steers Center):
- Established in 2017 as a shared space for the integration of opportunities for spiritual growth, social responsibility, and justice/human rights advocacy with a key focus on moral and servant leadership.
Student Leadership & Leadership Training:
2017: Transition from Student Body President to Sixth Form Council in order to broaden the representation of seniors impacting the leadership and direction of the school
2018: Leadership Training grew from a 1-day program to a 3-day retreat model. Student Leaders brainstorm and determine each year’s community theme (2019-20: Sense of Belonging)
2019: Inaugural involvement in the People of Color Conference (PoCC) with ongoing commitment moving forward
2018 & 2019: Connecticut Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC)
2018 & 2019: National SDLC
Saints on the Hill:
- Formed in 2016 by a 2019 graduate; literal and figurative space for members of the Canterbury community to share part of their personal journey.
Racial Justice, Racial Equity and Anti-Racist Resources for Students and Faculty:
- We have created shared folders with articles, videos, books, websites, social media handles, etc. for access by our students and faculty/staff.
- Our Health Center and Counseling Teams are highly accessible to, and present for, our students, and are in ongoing collaboration with Canterbury’s Student Life and Academic Teams.
We could not be prouder of our students and their efforts to help us meet their needs, address their concerns, and support their aspirations. We will continue to listen to, and learn from, their voices. And we invite all of our alumni to come back to campus to hear from our extraordinary students and to provide us the opportunity to listen to, and learn from, your voices as well.
Several weeks ago, I wrote directly and solely to our students regarding the anger, unrest, hatred, and inequities our world is experiencing. This letter was not intended for social media or marketing purposes but rather crafted on a personal, vulnerable level, from me to them. It has been more broadly circulated since, and I share it today simply as a reminder that our mission, goals, and decisions must always begin with our students.
Rachel E. Stone P ’23, ’24
Head of School
Robert H. Steers ’71, P ’11
President, Board of Trustees