Brooklyn private independent school

The Latest on Our Anti-Bias Work

The Latest on Our Anti-Bias Work

Dear Berkeley Carroll Community,

The national reckoning of which I spoke in the spring continues as the fall unfolds. Responding to still more killings of unarmed Black people in our streets, Black Lives Matter activists and allies are demanding justice and retaining hope even when redress seems elusive. In sharing their experiences of interpersonal and structural racism, Berkeley Carroll students and alumni have brought the struggle against racism home, leading us to fortify our ongoing efforts while identifying additional work to be done, both in the short term and over a more extended period of time. With the start of the 2020-2021 school year underway, I am writing to update you on our response to this moment as manifest in our ongoing and future antiracism work.

This letter will cover the following areas:

  • Faculty/Staff Professional Development and Community Programming
  • Board and Parent Training Sessions
  • Ongoing Community Conversations and Collaborations
  • Antiracism Task Force
  • Reporting, Addressing, and Tracking Incidents of Racism and Bias
  • Summary of Select Actions Taken

Faculty/Staff Professional Development and Community Programming
As was promised last spring, we devoted time during the summer to planning the extensive antiracist professional development for faculty and staff as well as programming for colleagues and students with which we started the year. Esteemed independent school educator and equity practitioner Mariama Richards offered an initial round of sessions for faculty and staff in all divisions entitled, Checking Our Systems: Developing our Skills for Building Anti-Racist Pedagogy, Curriculum and Beliefs. These presentations were designed to help us better understand how our beliefs and our teaching practice support or hinder our effort to be a more actively anti-racist institution.

These sessions will continue and they connect directly to ongoing student-centered work in each division including the following:

The Lower School faculty assessed and further developed our Anti-Racist Curriculum (ARC) from the 2019-2020 school year. Additionally, they participated in “Student Stories” workshops, sessions that use student personae to help us create a safe context within which students can have open and honest conversations around all facets of identity. Our Lower School faculty summer read was New Kid by Jerry Kraft. This beautiful graphic novel provides insights and rich opportunities for discussion about the experiences of independent school students in a multiracial environment.

Middle School students and faculty also read New Kid as part of our community building initiatives. Author Jerry Kraft visited with us and also demonstrated his artistic gifts. On the curricular front, we have implemented a new Middle School Anti-Racist Community Curriculum (ARCC) in fifth through eighth grades. The ARCC course is an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and to unpack the systemic bias present in our society. Faculty members have also been engaged in professional development centered around restorative justice practices, while working on adult identity development using a text entitled The Racial Healing Handbook.

The first two weeks of our Upper School program included an antiracism thread, an identity thread, and a community building thread. The shared reading of Claudia Rankine’s Citizen formed a fourth component--engagement. The text was used as a basis for several sessions that allowed educators and students to collectively explore the connections between the narratives in Citizen and our experiences within the Berkeley Carroll community. During her visit, Rankine led a session for all Upper School students, faculty, and staff.

Faculty and staff also participated in seminars designed by the Transgender Training Institute intended to further our work toward becoming a more affirming space for LGBTQIA+ community members. Among the sessions offered were Getting Comfortable with Pronouns and Supporting Students Coming Out.

Practitioners from the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility led multiple seminars for Upper School faculty and staff. Morningside partners with school communities to build equitable educational experiences through social and emotional learning, racial equity, and restorative practices. Our partnership will continue through the school year.

Students participated in the programming highlighted above via intergrade groups, multiracial groups, affinity spaces, advisory sessions, etc. I would like to thank the faculty and staff members who worked through the summer to plan these events and who continue to solicit student feedback as they refine these offerings.

It was gratifying to have students and alumni request that I offer a session on racism and antiracism, pointing to how both are manifest in our school and in our society. I presented this talk for our Upper School community on the first day of classes and appreciated having an opportunity to provide students with content designed to illuminate societal challenges and to engender positive change both at school and in the broader community.

Board and Parent Training Sessions
The Board of Trustees has committed to participate in antiracism training with Pacific Education Group and to provide the opportunity for a significant cohort of parents to join in this work during the current school year. We intend to expand these sessions in the years to come.

Ongoing Community Conversations and Collaborations
Since last spring, we have provided forums for communication and dialog with various constituencies including, students, alumni, parents, guardians, faculty, and staff in both affinity and multiracial configurations. As we envision and implement a plan to make Berkeley Carroll a more equitable and inclusive community, it is important to hear the voices of all of our constituencies and to understand, from multiple perspectives, where our efforts have been most effective and where we need to fortify in order to realize our articulated values. These meetings will continue this year.

Recently, Upper School administrative colleagues and I met with students who are members of Black Students Demanding Change, a collective of students from independent schools who are committed to collaborating with administrators in their institutions in order to address “ongoing racial inequity across independent schools throughout the nation…[and make] our schools actively anti-racist communities.” They note, “The call for change from students at schools across the nation demonstrates that racial inequity is not unique to any one school. Our outcry is indicative of a need for systemic reform across educational institutions in America.” Our students have produced a thoughtful list of action items related to BC’s antiracist goals. Additionally, the DEI practitioners at member schools, including Brandie Melendez, our Director of Equity and Inclusion, have been in communication with the broader collective on how they can work in tandem to bring about substantive change. Our next steps will be to synthesize the action items from this group as well as the action items that followed the Black@BC page in order to create a compelling and impactful strategic plan centered on antiracism and inclusion. This plan will build upon work already underway and goals already met (see below).

Antiracism Task Force
We are in the process of convening an Antiracism Task Force to consult and dialog with the administration as we pursue our action plans and fortify our accountability measures during the 2020-2021 school year. This group will comprise a cross section of community members who represent various constituencies--students, alumni, parents, guardians, faculty, and staff. Task Force members will share perspectives, questions, and suggestions that will inform the work of the Berkeley Carroll administrative team. Their work will include synthesis and prioritization of action items as well as the development of long-term goals. The Task Force will also consult on our mechanisms for reporting, addressing, and tracking incidents of racism and other forms of bias.

Reporting, Addressing, and Tracking Incidents of Racism and Bias
In addition to the existing option of speaking directly to an administrator, teacher, or another school representative, community members will have the option, via a pilot initiative, to submit a digital form for sharing concerns and complaints regarding biased behaviors. This form will go directly to the Head of School, Division Director(s), and the Director of Equity and Inclusion. Individuals who submit the form will receive follow-up and reassurance that the matter is being pursued. As determined by the division in question, the Upper School Dean of Student Life, Middle School Dean of Students, Lower School Assistant Directors, and Equity Coordinators will also be recipients. An adult in the community can fill out the form on a student’s behalf if the student prefers. Similarly, upstanders who witness inappropriate behavior may submit a form. We would like to provide an opportunity for those who have concerns and those who fall under scrutiny to participate in a fairly adjudicated process. We are consulting with outside experts, including equity practitioners and restorative justice facilitators to ensure that our process, as it relates to any outstanding complaints as well as future incidents, effectively promotes accountability and, whenever possible, repair and restoration. With support from our consulting partners, we will assess these new protocols and make adjustments where needed.

Summary of Select Actions Taken

  • Our psychology team now includes two colleagues of color who were hired in the spring of 2019 and in March of 2020. They offer expertise in a variety of areas including culturally competent and trauma-informed support for Students of Color and LGBTQ students.
  • Hiring protocols have been revised twice in the past five years to reduce bias in the hiring process while attracting faculty and staff who represent a variety of identities and perspectives and who also have demonstrated involvement in diversity, equity, and inclusion work. Metrics regarding hiring and retention of faculty and staff of color have been shared with the Board and various constituencies.
  • At meetings for parents, guardians, alumni, faculty, and staff, we have shared data regarding our progress in the admission and retention of students of color at each divisional level.
  • The search for an Assistant Director of Equity and Inclusion is underway. This is an initial step in expanding the staffing and budget of the Office of Equity and Inclusion such that our capacity matches our aspirations and the needs of our community.
  • Berkeley Carroll’s Policy on Hate Speech and Biased Behavior, developed in the spring of 2019 and cited in the Student-Family Handbook, expressly prohibits the use of slurs and epithets based on identities including race, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ability, and religion. This policy applies to both academic and informal settings.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion-themed professional development and programming for faculty, staff, students, parents, and guardians has been ongoing; however, we will additionally require anti-racist professional development on an annual basis for faculty and staff each year while expanding anti-racist programming for students and families across all three divisions.
  • During the first week of school we held a mandatory meeting for the Upper School community during which I discussed racism and anti-racism, applying both to the Berkeley Carroll context and articulating work to be done.
  • In order to foreground broad inclusivity, the donor wall outside of the Admissions Office has been removed.
  • The Middle School and Upper School orientations were extended in order to devote additional time to discussion and learning around identity and antiracism, respectively.
  • The Board has elevated the Community and Inclusion Task Force to full Board committee status and has also made changes to make the leadership of the Board more racially diverse.
  • We have continued to develop and revise coursework and programming through an inclusive and equitable lens.

It has been good to witness the spirit of inquiry and collaboration that has accompanied our recent programming. I would like to express my appreciation to all who have contributed to these efforts as planners, practitioners, and participants. As a school, we must look toward continual growth and improvement in the areas of antiracism and anti-bias, even as we also acknowledge the strides that have been made in building a diverse community, developing an inclusive curriculum, and engendering meaningful change. Where all of Berkeley Carroll’s constituencies come together in pursuit of these goals, I believe that we cannot but be successful in meeting our aspirations.


Lisa Yvette Waller, Ph.D.
Head of School