On June 3, 2020, Headmaster Derek Boonisar shared the following communication with Fenn faculty, staff, and current families in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Fenn alumni and alumni families also received similar outreach.
Dear Fenn Community,
I come to you today amidst what is customarily a week of joyful graduation celebrations and traditions honoring the life milestones of our boys. This year, however, our hearts, minds, and emotions are simultaneously gripped by the continuing impacts of COVID-19 (compounded by the marginalization of Asians and Asian Americans) and the tremendous unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and the persisting violence against Black and Brown people in our country.
We are a school whose mission honors diversity and the ideals of honesty, respect, empathy, and courage. I, therefore, must begin by stating emphatically and plainly that The Fenn School denounces any acts of violence against people of color. We have no tolerance for racism, violence, or any other form of intolerance that generates the heartache that many in our community and nation are feeling at this time of unrest – and, for that matter, during times when the media spotlight isn't as glaring, but "anti-Blackness" is as pervasive.
As we strive to make sense of the recent events - with others, and for others - there is much to process and act upon. In recent days, I have engaged in thoughtful conversations with members of our School Leadership and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) teams, including DEI Director Jimmy Manyuru, about our individual and institutional responsibility to confront the sources and implications of this violence and racism head-on as we always endeavor to do. We develop the most effective path forward when we come together and truly listen and learn from each other and engage in challenging, and at times uncomfortable, dialogue. Only then do we move forward in a productive way.
We have engaged the broader Fenn community in our recent discussions to ensure a myriad of diverse voices and perspectives:
- Yesterday, faculty and staff came together virtually for connection, conversation, and a sharing of our sadness, anger, and a wide range of other emotions that differed as much as we do as individuals with unique backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences.
- We continued this important conversation this afternoon in a full faculty and staff meeting that engaged us in a group discussion before moving into breakout conversations of three people each to explore more deeply the topic of racism and the role that Fenn can play in delving into the uncomfortable history and current realities that fuel it. As important was discussing how we can best understand and support members of our community who are impacted by racism in their everyday lives. One of our primary goals, always, is ensuring that all of our students, families, alumni, and faculty and staff feel safe and affirmed in our community.
- As current families saw in a communication from Jimmy Manyuru, our DEI team has also scheduled division-specific Student DEI Committee Meetings for Thursday, June 4 to provide students an opportunity to engage around these same issues and express their unique perspectives in ways that feel most comfortable. A group conversation with the boys who attend will ultimately break into three affinity groups divided by race (white, Black, and non-Black students of color) and be guided in discussion by Jimmy Manyuru, DEI Assistant Director Liz Wei, and DEI Associate, Megan Wu Macomber. Students are welcome to participate through silent observation or to actively share their reactions to recent events and what they signify for them. We know from speaking with some of our boys that they are inspired to learn more about what they can personally do to support their friends who are hurting and to be a part of making positive change.
As a faculty and staff community, we are also discussing what reading, thinking, and action we can mobilize this summer to plan for next fall and the work we will wish to do with our students and each other. As educators, we remain obligated to engage race, confront racism, and learn more about the role we and our students can play in our immediate community and in the nation to denounce injustice and racism.
We can appreciate that these are challenging times and circumstances to navigate with your sons, especially when they are removed from close friends from whom they draw comfort and support. To be of some help to you this summer, we provide at the end of this communication what we hope are helpful resources for families to advance learning and conversations around race with children at home.
As always, our Fenn team is here to lend whatever support would be most helpful during this unsettling time. I personally remain committed to ensuring that Fenn continues to explore the role it can play and the actions it can and should take in the fight against racism and violence against all people of color.
Resources for the Community:
- White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (explores the communication breakdowns that white people face when discussing race)
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander (details how the criminal justice system perpetuates racist oppression)
- So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo (delves into a variety of topics, including the school-to-prison pipeline, the model minority myth, etc.)
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi (The National Book Award winning history of how racist ideas were created, spread, and deeply rooted in American society)
- My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem (examines the damage caused by racism in America from the perspective of body-centered psychology)
- "Talking to Children after Racial Incidents" from University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education (July 13, 2016) - https://www.gse.upenn.edu/news/talking-children-after-racial-incidents
- "We need more white parents to talk to their kids about race. Especially now." from The Washington Post, On Parenting by Chandra White-Cummings (May 22, 2020) - https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/05/22/we-need-more-white-parents-talk-their-kids-about-race-especially-now/