Parents at Dalton School balk at staff’s eight-page list of anti-racist demands

The full text of the memo, as reported by The Naked Dollar:

Without new visions we don’t know what to build, only what to knock down. We not only end up confused, rudderless, and cynical, but we forget that making a revolution is not a series of clever maneuvers and tactics but a process that can and must transform us.

Robin D.G. Kelley


During the past few months, we have been inspired by the Black Lives Matter uprisings across the country. Black activists and their accomplices continue to put their personal safety at risk in order to make a better world for all of us; we thank them for their courage and vision.

We have also had the opportunity to see this activism up close, in our own community. Dalton’s Black students and students of color demonstrated that same courage—going forth unafraid—when they shared personal stories of racism and trauma in the high school town hall at the end of the year. On Instagram, @blackatdalton and @dalton_anonymous have held Dalton accountable for its shortcomings, and Dalton’s Black alumni and parents of Black students are helping us to envision a more inclusive school. We are also inspired by the demands currently being championed by Black Students Demanding Change.

Dalton has also made a public commitment to ‘live up to our stated values as a visibly, vocally, structurally anti-racist institution.’ Towards this end, Head of School Jim Best outlined the following list of actions:

We are heartened to see Dalton’s leadership taking such a strong stance on this issue, and we are energized for the work ahead. In the spirit of eager collaboration, we have identified 24 proposals, detailed below, that we believe will complement and extend Dalton’s existing efforts.

To contextualize these proposals, we would like to include the following definitions, put forward by the Aspen Institute:

Structural Racism: A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity. It identifies dimensions of our history and culture that have allowed privileges associated with ‘whiteness’ and disadvantages associated with ‘color’ to endure and adapt over time. Structural racism is not something that a few people or institutions choose to practice. Instead it has been a feature of the social, economic and political systems in which we all exist.

Institutional Racism: Institutional racism refers to the policies and practices within and across institutions that, intentionally or not, produce outcomes that chronically favor, or put a racial group at a disadvantage. Poignant examples of institutional racism can be found in school disciplinary policies in which students of color are punished at much higher rates than their white counterparts, in the criminal justice system, and within many employment sectors in which day-to-day operations, as well as hiring and firing practices can significantly disadvantage workers of color.

Much of the discourse surrounding equity and inclusion in schools focuses on reducing interpersonal racism, training faculty about implicit bias, and diversifying the curriculum. We heartily affirm the importance of these anti-racist efforts, especially in light of student testimony detailing microagressions, careless remarks, and blatant racial prejudice. In this document, we imagine what it would mean for Dalton to move towards its stated goal of becoming a more ‘structurally anti-racist institution’ (emphasis added)—an inspiring charge that requires more than well-intentioned, individualized efforts. On the contrary, we must ‘[engage with] the Dalton community in an intensive, comprehensive, ongoing examination of our cultural norms, our policies, and our programs,’ and most importantly, we must change them. Structural racism is cumulative, pervasive, durable, and mutable; our response must be similarly thorough and systematic.

It’s important to note that the language in this document focuses primarily on the Black community at Dalton. While we acknowledge that white supremacy harms all people of color, we believe that anti-Blackness must be understood as distinct from ‘racism’ writ large. In this moment, our collective anti-racist efforts must center Black people and their needs. Nonetheless, we believe that many of the proposals outlined below could be extended to consider indigenous and native people; people from other underrepresented racial and ethnic identities; people from working-class backgrounds; people with disabilities; the queer community; non-binary, genderqueer, and gender nonconforming people; etc.

Ta-Nehisi Coates says, ‘black history does not flatter American democracy; it chastens it.’ The testimony of our Black students and alumni should also chasten us. Let their words spur us towards a ‘reckoning,’ as Coates says, ‘that [will] lead to spiritual renewal.’ We have seen the Dalton community come together in amazing ways during times of crisis. Dalton’s Black students and students of color deserve decisive action that reflects the urgency of the moment. Their lives are happening right now. To address past mistakes and obviate future harms, we must be willing to take the necessary steps to fundamentally transform our institution. We believe Dalton can and must be a leader in this vital, urgent work of making our school a home for all students.

To add your name in support of these proposals, please submit your information here.


Equitable Outcomes and Self-Evaluation

Collect and publish data regarding race and discipline (including suspensions).

One of the most damaging manifestations of institutional racism can be found in school discipline policies. Research suggests that schools tend to discipline Black students more often than their non-Black peers and that race, gender, and class are all linked to likelihood and severity of punishment. Dalton should publish all historical data and examine to what extent race plays a role in disciplinary practices.

Collect and publish data regarding race, grades, retention, and graduation rates.

Dalton faculty are increasingly attendant to the pernicious effects of implicit bias and its impact in the classroom. Research suggests that grading practices can be one source of racial discrimination in schools.

Furthermore, Black students and students of color at Dalton must perform under more challenging conditions than their white peers; for instance, one recent paper suggests that exposure to police violence leads to a persistent decrease in GPA for Black and Hispanic students. Other research shows that racist incidents on campus also have negative effects on GPA and mental health for Black students and students of color. In order to move towards equity within the classroom, we should ensure that there is no correlation between a student’s racial background and their ability to be successful at Dalton.

Commit to racial equity in leveled courses by 2023; at that time, if membership and performance of Black students are not at parity with non-Black students, leveled courses should be abolished.

Research suggests that Black students, students of color, and low-income students are more likely to be tracked into lower-level courses, creating segregated learning environments that affect students’ educational trajectories. In the High School, there have been persistent complaints of de facto racial segregation in some ‘Advanced’ courses. Dalton should ensure that there is no correlation between race and placement or grades in all tracked courses.

Publish data regarding faculty, staff, and administration salaries, including mean and median salaries of employees by race and gender.

Race and gender are well-established variables that affect negotiations, salaries, attainment of leadership positions, and turnover, and the Black-white wage gap has widened over the previous two decades. Providing salary benchmarks and transparency will prevent inadvertent salary disparities at Dalton.

Dalton’s student body, faculty, staff, administration, and trustees should be representative of New York City in terms of gender, race, socioeconomic background, and immigration status by 2025. Dalton should publish yearly updates regarding the demographics of each of these groups.

As ‘an intentionally diverse community,’ ‘an inclusive, democratic community,’ and to ensure access and equity in the institution, Dalton should reflect the city in which it is located. Dalton has already made some progress on this front: for instance, 25% of the school’s top leadership is Black or African American, which reflects the demographics of New York City. Dalton should continue to diversify its community—from students to faculty to leadership—and publish comprehensive data about its progress each year.

Develop a systematic and robust approach to assessing the experience of Black students and their families, and Black faculty, staff, and administration. Publish an annual report detailing institutional progress towards equity and inclusion.

The best way to hold ourselves accountable is to be public and transparent about our successes and failures; institutional integrity is crucial to the success of our mission. Informed community members will continue to push Dalton to be better, and we should welcome their engagement and recognize it as a form of optimism and love. As Head of School Jim Best acknowledges, this is ‘a conversation that needs many more voices,’ and we won’t get it right every time. Dalton can and should change, but it will not be a straight line to success. An annual report will help us to stay focused and on track.

Convene a committee of students, alumni, parents, and faculty to audit progress and develop new suggestions to supplement these measures by 2023. At least half of the committee participants should be Black. 

Anti-Racist Pedagogy

Adopt a two-pronged approach to course-related content changes: 1) Institute a divisional requirement for courses that explicitly center Black liberation and challenges to white supremacy. The requirement should be equivalent to or greater than the smallest requirement for any other department. 2) All other existing course content and departmental work via Dalton by Design should undergo an audit to ensure that content is guided by Dalton’s commitment to anti-racist education and diversity, equity, and inclusion.

In the same way that subjects such as English, art, physical education, and mathematics have been embedded within the Dalton experience, so too should coursework that is explicitly anti-racist. No Dalton student should graduate without taking classes that center race, identity, difference, and social justice.

Furthermore, we should take this opportunity to review all of our content and pedagogy across all divisions. While we acknowledge that diversifying curriculum is not a solution in and of itself, centering Black experiences, scholars, authors, and primary sources can be part of a broader strategy to align our classrooms with our stated values.

Allow faculty members to earn a course release if they partner with a Black-led community organization to teach a class or volunteer in other meaningful ways.

Dalton should build partnerships with other organizations and schools to provide a robust array of opportunities for interested faculty, and the necessary support and professional development to ensure success. Dalton has already committed to ‘Creat[ing] a K-12 Service Learning program that emphasizes service in New York City and beyond as an essential part of the Dalton experience and prioritizes time for reflection on issues of ethics, equity, inclusion and social justice,’ per the 2018 Strategic Plan. These opportunities should be expanded to allow faculty members to take their expertise beyond Dalton’s walls. In addition to good citizenship, this would be a powerful, transformative form of professional development that would improve faculty retention and Dalton’s ability to attract dynamic educators.

All faculty, staff, administration, Parent Association volunteers, and trustees should undergo yearly anti-racist training.

This proposal builds on work that has been ongoing in Equity Leadership Groups, new faculty and staff onboarding, and recent professional development efforts at the end of the 2019-20 school year. Dalton should build in time during the school year for these groups to collaborate with their colleagues and with experts from outside Dalton.

Administrators, faculty, and staff should produce individual public anti-racism statements. Faculty should also include anti-racist resources for each class they teach. Each department/grade level should publish its DEI-related efforts in an annual report.

Anti-racism statements and resources provide an opportunity at the individual level for engagement with students, colleagues, and the broader Dalton community. Administrators, faculty, and staff should use these statements to describe the specific ways they have adapted their practices and curriculum to align with Dalton’s commitment to anti-racist eduation. Departments should also clarify their expectations for teachers, and produce an annual report on progress and other new initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Public statements help make the work visible to the wider community; the DEI office should not be the only mechanism by which we hold each other accountable.

Needed Personnel and Equity in Hiring

Expand the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to include at least 12 full-time positions: one Director, one Office Assistant, three full-time staff members per division, and one full-time staff member for PE/Athletics.

In keeping with Dalton’s commitment to small class sizes and personal attention, we should budget for more full-time positions to support our community as we make these important changes to the school. At the divisional level, three staff members could collaborate on work that is faculty-, student-, and parent-facing.

It is especially important for PE/Athletics to have a dedicated full-time staff member; PE/Athletics is housed in a different building and operates on a different schedule from the rest of Dalton. Furthermore, research suggests that PE/Athletics are important sites of racial identity formation.

Hire a staff member outside of the DEI office whose entire role is to support Black students and students of color who come forward with complaints and/or face disciplinary action.

The outpouring of pain from current students and alumni reflect ongoing trauma in the Dalton environment that has been underappreciated and unaddressed. Black students deserve to have a full-time advocate to support and validate them as they navigate a predominantly white institution.

Hire a psychologist in every division with a specialization on psychological issues affecting ‘ethnic minority populations,’ as defined by the Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Interests. Expand services to support students coping with race-based traumatic stress.

Research suggests that racism has persistent negative psychological effects on the well-being of Black students and students of color. It is vital that Dalton invests in safe spaces where our Black students know they will be supported, and in people who reflect their backgrounds and can validate their experience.

Implement name-, school-, and salary history-blind recruitment and hiring practices for faculty, staff, and administrative roles; require diversity statements as part of every application; publish expected salary range in every job posting; and publish data regarding the racial makeup of every stage of every hire.

Implementing explicitly anti-racist safeguards for recruitment, hiring, and promotion can be effective ways to reduce bias in recruitment and hiring. Research suggests the use of diversity statements early in a hiring process can be an effective strategy to improve equity in faculty hiring. Dalton should commit to publicly explaining the mechanisms that it employs to prevent discrimination in recruitment, hiring, and promotion.

Review and audit all vendor and third-party contracts to ensure that Dalton is partnering with Black-owned businesses wherever possible. Publish yearly reports detailing Dalton’s vendors and third-party contracts.

For a variety of reasons, Black-owned businesses lag behind white-owned businesses in profits, employment, and survival. Nonetheless, Black-owned businesses tend to employ more Black people than their white-owned counterparts, and they are an important tool for economic advancement in the Black community.

Retain all security/maintenance/dining/other contracted staff without reduction in salary or benefits, regardless of whether Dalton is able to physically re-open facilities.

Black workers have suffered record job losses since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are disproportionately represented among essential workers who must risk their health in order to continue working. Dalton must prioritize the health and security of its staff—no one is disposable. Our staff are beloved members of the Dalton community, and they should be supported in the same way that we are supporting administration and faculty.

Institutional Resources and Commitments

Offer a special orientation session for incoming students and families of underrepresented racial and ethnic backgrounds. Provide anti-racist orientations for all families on a yearly basis.

Dalton is already expanding the use of student affinity groups in Middle and High School, and should consider formal programming at the start of each year for new and returning Black students and students of color, and their families. Anti-racist orientations for all families would be especially important at crucial transition points (Kindergarten, 4th grade, 6th grade, 9th grade).

Provide child and elder care support for faculty and staff, and any families who qualify for financial aid, especially if Dalton remains primarily online due to COVID-19. Dalton should also restructure its parental leave policies for employees; rather than 6 weeks of paid leave and 6 weeks of unpaid leave, Dalton should follow the lead of companies like Netflix and offer a full year of paid leave for new parents.

Families with young children have lower incomes than households without children, and ‘for parents of color, the lower income level associated with having a young child is compounded by the broader labor market disadvantages faced by people of color.’ Access to high-quality child care is essential for child development and intergenerational social mobility; it is also unaffordable to the vast majority of Americans, and especially to Black families, who have significantly less wealth on average than white families.

Commit to paying all Dalton employees—especially staff and independent contractors—at minimum a living wage for New York, as calculated by MIT’s Living Wage Calculator. Ensure racial equity in the proportion of full- and part-time workers; independent contractors; faculty, staff, administration, and associate teachers; and publish information regarding the racial makeup of each of these categories every year.

According to the Urban Institute, ‘Structural racism continues to disproportionately segregate communities of color from access to opportunity and upward mobility by making it more difficult for people of color to secure quality education, jobs, housing, healthcare, and equal treatment in the criminal justice system.’ Studies also suggest that Black and Hispanic employees are more likely to be concentrated in less remunerative, more precarious occupations. As part of a commitment to structural anti-racism, and to ensure all employees can live in the city in which they work, Dalton should commit to salary floors for all employees that reflect the living wage—not the minimum wage—for New York.

Double individual faculty and staff professional development (PD) allotment if it is used to service student debt.

Student debt is both a symptom and cause of the racial wealth gap. On the day of graduation, Black college graduates owe on average $23,400—$7,400 more than their white counterparts; four years later, their average debt balloons to $53,000, twice that of their white peers. Black students in doctoral and master’s programs were also more likely to borrow money and graduate with debt. One recent study suggests that the median debt for an average Black graduate student borrower is 50% higher than that of a white graduate student borrower.

One of the most meaningful changes Dalton could make for the long-term financial safety of its Black faculty and staff would be to commit to paying any outstanding student debt upon employment; failing that, Dalton should double the PD allotment for employees who use the money to service student debt. We believe this would also help Dalton stand out from other schools to attract and retain top teachers.

Publish the endowment investment portfolio and immediately divest from private prisons and detention centers; companies that manufacture technology, equipment or weapons for police; companies that use prison labor; the bail-bond industry; and other companies as determined by a committee of students, faculty, parents, and trustees. At least half of the committee participants should be Black.

In alignment with the Movement for Black Lives, Dalton should immediately divest from the ‘criminalizing, caging, and harming of Black people.’ Marbre Stahly-Butts, Executive Director of Law for Black Lives, says that divestment and reinvestment are parts of a broader strategy to ‘reallocate power and resources back to our safety, back to our health, in ways that help us thrive, and don’t criminalize or dehumanize us.’ For Dalton to be a structurally anti-racist institution, it must ensure that its financial resources do not contribute to ongoing dehumanization and harming of Black people.

If Dalton is unable to diversify per Proposal 5, the school should make a financial commitment to institutions that serve a student body more closely representative of New York City, and contribute 50¢ of every dollar raised via any form of fundraising to the NYC Fund for Public Schools.

Over 100,000 NYC public and charter school students were unhoused or housing insecure at some point in the 2018-19 school year—approximately 10% of all students. As many as 20% of children in New York City experience food insecurity, and rely on schools for meals. Dalton is in the enviable position of spending millions of dollars to enhance already-abundant opportunities for its students; most recently, the school spent at least $24 million to build the Ellen C. Stein Center for Collaborative Study. We believe that the school should redistribute a portion of its resources to support fellow New York City students, many of whom are in dire need. A commitment to ‘cultivating ethical, purposeful citizens of a diverse community’ and structural anti-racism requires accountability and reparations for historic inequities, including those inequities that were not directly caused by Dalton. We recognize that our school exists within a broader community; good citizenship should push us to spend our privilege, support institutions that serve our neighbors, make our city livable, and safeguard our collective future.

Going forward, any Black student or student of color who appears in Dalton’s promotional materials should receive reduced tuition, or be retroactively compensated the equivalent amount if they graduate before their likeness is used. Similarly, any Black student or student of color who does work or provides consultation with the school regarding anti-racist and/or DEI initiatives should receive reduced tuition. Dalton should convene a committee of students, parents, alumni, and outside consultants to determine an appropriate compensation policy. At least half of the committee participants should be Black.

The previous few weeks have been a stark reminder that Black students and students of color do not receive the same educational experience as their white peers. For some of these students, the benefits of attending Dalton are undermined by otherness, exclusion, and trauma. Nonetheless, Dalton relies on the presence and participation of Black students and students of color. Dalton says, ‘Our mission to educate students…hinges on their capacity to think critically and make ethical decisions that stem from a core belief in the value of difference, a real sense of cultural fluency, and a sincere and empathic regard for interdependence and the ways in which diversity enriches the way that we see ourselves and each other’ (emphasis added). The presence of Black students and students of color affirms Dalton’s legitimacy as an appropriately multiracial, cosmopolitan, modern school; their participation is necessary for the ‘conscious collaboration, hard work, and dialogue’ within the school. In this way, Black students and students of color make unique contributions and create value on behalf of Dalton. Just as Dalton compensates staff and faculty for the value they create for the school, it should similarly compensate Black students and students of color.  

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