A Statement from the Head of School

Dear Deerfield Community:

It has been painful for me to read of the racism recounted in social media posts and in emails sent to me by our alumni and students, and it is clear that Deerfield can and will do more to create and sustain an inclusive and welcoming campus environment for all students, especially our Black students and other students of color. We stand with and by our students, employees, and alumni in our collective fight to eradicate racism.

I appreciate those of you who have come forward with passion and courage to share your stories and to challenge us to complete the work of creating a school culture that upholds and honors the dignity of each and every student. Your engagement, leadership, and constructive suggestions are both welcome and admirable. I deeply regret that for some of you, the Academy has not lived up to its aspirations, and I agree with you that we can do more, as one of you wrote, “to lead and defend a culture of love, empathy, and justice.”

The centerpiece of our Deerfield values is to foster citizenship “in a spirit of humility, empathy, and responsibility.” I have tried to approach my work in schools, both here and abroad, in that spirit of humility, knowing that there is always more to do and that our mission is never complete, even as we reach for it with all of our collective energy and imagination.

In 2016 the Academy’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a Strategic Plan for Inclusion, and began to address some of the experiences so painfully described on social media platforms. The plan includes specific goals for the head of school and every senior administrator and their respective departments; it is a living document that may indeed be expanded based on what we have learned over the past four years and in recent weeks. It continues to provide sustained strategic vision and steady guidance as we work toward multiple goals—from addressing gender equity in sports to recruiting faculty of color—to ultimately making Deerfield a school that embraces all and allows each student to flourish and grow in confidence and character.

I am deeply grateful to our student leaders and faculty and staff who, over the last four years, have moved our work forward. Yet progress is no argument for complacency. Among the work to be done is setting new goals in the areas of: improving Deerfield’s climate and culture, and reviewing existing policies on conduct and citizenship (including disciplinary processes more closely aligned with our overall goals); teaching, learning, and curriculum; advancing staff and faculty recruitment and retention; establishing regular all-school forums on issues of civil and human rights that will sustain and deepen community inquiry and discussion; and enhancing access to the Academy through financial aid. Over the next weeks and months we will develop an inclusive process to shape this work and will draw on the creativity, experience, and wisdom of our extended community.

As you know, we have been working to put in place plans to reopen school in the fall, and in designing those plans we consulted widely—drawing on the wisdom of other educators and experts in multiple fields and exploring a range of approaches. (Those plans may be found here.) This model has served us well, and we intend to advance the Strategic Plan for Inclusion—as one student leader recently challenged me to do— with the same creativity, urgency, and intention that have informed and shaped our important—and essential—preparations for September. Our continued work demands thoughtful deliberation and broad consultation—including deepening and extending conversations within our community of students, parents, faculty and staff, trustees, and alumni—on issues of equality, justice, and equity.

I am committed to creating a culture at Deerfield where every student’s individuality and dignity is honored and celebrated, and where every student feels a powerful sense of belonging and agency. I will continue to encourage all members of our community to voice their concerns and perspectives, and I will listen and hear you. Thank you.

John P.N. Austin

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