The spring of 2020 was characterized by nationwide protests against systemic racism and social injustice. Those protests brought strident calls for change, calls that were echoed within the Rivers community as our students and alumni of color gave voice to frustrations that have clearly been building for far too long. Though Rivers has been working hard on diversity, equity, and inclusion issues for some time, these calls have made it clear that we must do much more. And we must do it with urgency. This page is meant to capture how our community has reacted to this important moment in time.

A Response to the Letter and Petition Received on June 8, 2020

On June 8, 2020, the Rivers School received this letter and accompanying petition signed by 525 alumni and students asking Rivers to “to align its commitment to social justice with actionable steps toward fostering an ever-improving culture of anti-racism and awareness.” This letter was addressed to administrators and has been shared with the entire faculty, and all parties were impressed with this respectful, thoughtful, and highly detailed letter. I seek to respond in an equally thoughtful manner.

The actions Rivers will be taking are detailed below. The actions represent a response not only to the requests made in letter but to suggestions that arose during a follow-up discussion between several senior administrators, trustees, and several of the authors of the letter in a Zoom meeting on June 12. During that discussion, we reviewed the curriculum suggestions outlined in the letter, and we also talked about things that Rivers is already doing that are in line with those suggestions.

While it would not be possible to implement all the suggestions contained in the letter by the fall of this year, we do think we could implement most, if not all, by the fall of 2021. Below, in bold type, are the main points laid out in that alumni/student letter, and beneath each bolded item are descriptions of the school’s planned response, including action steps as well as a target date for completion. These responses may be subject to alteration as we move through the work inherent in each item, but we will update the community as to their progress and any changes we see in our initial plans.

In laying out our next steps, please know that we are honoring the call to make the work of fighting racism on our campus and in the larger community an administrative priority. We concur that the actions are consistent with Rivers’s core values.

On behalf of the faculty, administration, and staff here at Rivers, I want to thank the authors of this letter and the alumni and students who signed the petition for encouraging us to expect more from our community. They have called upon us to demonstrate our stated commitment to educating a generation of students who will enter the larger world beyond our walls prepared to build and support equitable approaches to life in a thriving democracy. We know we will need to continue to push hard at our community to bring the ideals we have publicly avowed to life, but we know, too, that this special community has the resolve and the resiliency to take on the work of building a just future for all.

We know, too, that strengthening school culture so that Rivers is a fully comfortable place for all students regardless of their race, ethnicity, or gender identification will require even more work on our part beyond the curricular initiatives laid out here, and we promise to keep working to improve the culture for each of our students in the years ahead.

As we get into the fall, we will continue to update the community as we make progress toward the goals outlined in this letter.

Sincerely,
Ned Parsons
Head of School

SCHOOL RESPONSE AND ACTION STEPS:

List of 6 items.

  • Curriculum Changes

    “Black History, Critical Race Theory, and Ethnic Studies must be central to the school’s core curriculum. Black history on American chattel slavery and Jim Crow, as well as the ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, must be further infused into the sophomore U.S. History curriculum and the Freshman Perspectives in World History class…

    …These histories must be integrated into all core English courses and relevant electives by including more perspectives and works written by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)…

    …Add a contemporary racial education course to the formal curriculum and offer it as an elective available to juniors and seniors by 2021-22 school year…”

    SCHOOL RESPONSE AND ACTION STEPS:
    We welcome the call to develop new curricular approaches to addressing with our students issues of race and societal inequities. This is work we have been engaging in over the past couple of years, largely through the classes we’ve created in our English, history, and IDS elective program. The history and English curricula are constantly being re-evaluated through DEI lenses, and we vow to intensify our efforts to provide broader cultural representation in the curriculum and to implement anti-racist pedagogies.

    Recent changes made to the US History curriculum to include a greater emphasis on the history and experiences of African-Americans and other marginalized groups will continue to be refined and bolstered in preparation for the 2020-21 school year, and augmented for the fall of 2021. We expect to have the sophomore US History curriculum partially redesigned for the 2020-21 school year, with the full curriculum changes implemented in the fall of 2021.

    Other examples of curricular work that has already begun include:
    ● The development of a course for all sophomores through the Center for Community and Civic Engagement (CCCE) on self and society that will explore social and racial identity, systems of power, and skill development for engagement and civic action. That course will be refined during this school year and implemented in the fall of 2021.
    ● The development of a contemporary racial education offering through an elective for juniors and seniors will be developed by the 2021-22 school year. Details and focus for that course will be determined by course designers through the fall of 2020 for presentation to the Curriculum Committee in January 2021.
  • Freshman Year Seminar (FYS) Shifts

    “Restructure a portion of the Freshman Year Seminar (FYS) to center and expand on pertinent equity issues…”

    SCHOOL RESPONSE AND ACTION STEPS:

    The freshman seminar course currently carries elements of identity exploration and will be enhanced to do more of that work. We feel that the larger part of that work, however, belongs in a 10th grade program (see above), where it can be met in a more comprehensive and developmentally appropriate way. Enhancements to the existing 9th grade program will be implemented during the 2020-21 school year.
  • Trainings and Professional Development

    “Starting in the fall of 2020, all student leaders participate in mandatory training programs.”

    SCHOOL RESPONSE AND ACTION STEPS:
    We are in the process now of developing programming for student leaders across all facets of student life, from athletic team captains to club leaders. Training will include (but not be limited to) allyship training, anti-bias training, and the development of skills to help our students manage “uncomfortable conversations about power, privilege, and oppression.” We’ll begin building that training curriculum this summer and begin implementation in the fall of 2020, with the goal of having it completely worked out for the fall of 2021.

    Staff training, which has been ongoing in these areas for many years at Rivers, will continue and be matched with the work we’re doing with our students.

    Parent education programming, which we began in earnest in the 2019-20 school year, will accelerate in the 2020-21 year and be matched with the training mentioned above for students and faculty. (Note: Because of the current health crisis, it’s unclear right now how we’re going to be operating come the fall, so these types of training have not yet been determined or scheduled at the time of this writing. We can update on that work as we get the year settled and the training piece figured out.)
  • Summer Reading

    “Starting in the summer of 2021, each incoming junior class is assigned a culturally relevant book chosen collaboratively by the English department and BRIDGE.”

    SCHOOL RESPONSE AND ACTION STEPS:
    We appreciate this suggestion and plan to continue using our US summer reading program and our English department summer reading selections to provide opportunities for students to acquaint themselves with different cultures and explore issues of racial and social injustice. We like the idea of working with BRIDGE to identify appropriate texts for juniors and can commit to making that happen for the summer of 2021. Currently, all juniors read Imbolo Mbue's “Behold the Dreamers” as a summer reading text for English 11 and AP English 11. Freshmen read Angie Thomas's “The Hate U Give” (and watch the film adaptation) for English 9, and all sophomores read Khaled Hosseini's “The Kite Runner” for English 10 and Honors English 10. The summer read for middle school students this year is “New Kid.”
  • Scholarship

    “Create a generous four-year scholarship grant awarded to a new, incoming freshman, who demonstrates leadership and activism in the fight for racial justice.”

    SCHOOL RESPONSE AND ACTION STEPS:

    While we think this is a powerful idea—one that places a public value on the work of civic engagement—we have to acknowledge that there are some structural impediments to deploying a “scholarship” in this way that we will have to problem-solve. We are restricted in the way in which we are allowed to deploy financial aid by the cooperative arrangement of the league of schools in which we operate, a way that does not allow for “scholarships,” per se. However, we think we can find a way to take this concept and make it work for our current students who qualify for significant aid and who demonstrate effective leadership and engagement in the diversity, equity, and inclusion work in their time at Rivers. We are engaged in crafting what this could look like and hope to have it rolled out—as we seek the requisite funding required—for the 2021-22 school year and beyond.
  • Student, Staff, and Administrative Accountability

    “Increase student, staff, and administrative accountability when addressing disciplinary matters pertaining to discrimination.”

    SCHOOL RESPONSE AND ACTION STEPS:
    We have added a new section to the student handbook entitled community citizenship.  This section explicitly lays out what we at Rivers mean by citizenship and identifies vulnerable populations in our community who will be uniquely and deeply impacted by offenses, whether those be micro-aggressions or sustained aggressions.  The Dean of Students was very clear with our student body about these new sections in the handbook and about the fact that slights and slurs, whether they are song lyrics or quotes from a text have no place in our community.   This was a message all students received in addition to some ground rules set up during orientation to empower students to be up-standers in ally-ship with those who are being negatively impacted.  

    Along with this addition to the handbook we have created a bias reporting system aligned with our community standards that allows for any student to find a trusted adult and report incidents that arise. Alone or with that trusted adult, that student can bring any issue of concern forward to the DOS.  There is also opportunity to report anonymously.  Then a committee comprised of the dean of students, the DEI Director and the division head will meet together to discuss a path forward. There are number of ways in which any incident might be handled ranging from mediation and education all the way to expulsion depending on the severity of the incident and the discipline history of said student or students.  The other thing this reporting system allows us to do is shape our all school programming in a way that is specifically informed by the incidents that occur in our community.

Our DEI Strategy


How does Rivers go about its DEI work? Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Ava Archibald shares strategy and tactics.

Events Held

• June 25, 2020 - First of four White Ally Group Discussions

• June 22, 2020 - Alumni Critical Conversations Webinar: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion


• June 21, 2020 - Affinity Group Conversation for Alumni of Color


• June 10, 2020 - Student-Sponsored Die-In


• June 4, 2020 - Virtual Vigil
On June 4, The Center for Community and Civic Engagement along with the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion hosted a virtual vigil for students and faculty . The vigil was meant to provide an opportunity for the members of our community to come together in solidarity with those who are working to bring an end to the systemic racism that continues to plague our country. The vigil was used to name, honor, and mourn those who have fallen victim to racial violence, including, most recently George Floyd. After the vigil, we lit the buildings on The Rivers School campus as a symbol of light and hope. The Rivers School will continue the work to combat systemic racism and actively engage students in an effort to live our value of Excellence with Humanity.