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Walnut Hill School for the Arts

A Letter to Our Community

July 9, 2020

Dear Walnut Hill Community,
 
This past month has been a moment of reckoning for the United States and the rest of the world as we work to acknowledge, understand, and take steps to eradicate the systemic racism and other forms of bias that exist throughout our society, including educational institutions like Walnut Hill. While Walnut Hill has worked hard to create an inclusive environment for all students, it is clear from feedback from current students and alumni that we have fallen short of that objective. We hear you. And we apologize for the pain that it has caused.
 
Although we cannot change the past, we can take immediate action. As our mission states, Walnut Hill is committed to training creative and intellectually curious young artists to make an enduring impact in the world. In doing so, it is essential that we take advantage of our position as a leader in arts education to shape the future of the arts with a clear focus on, and commitment to equity and inclusion.
 
As the leadership of Walnut Hill addresses the past, so, too, must we look to the future. We know that our students and alumni are mobilizing now in effective ways to challenge persistent racial injustice and to fight racism. We stand with you, we support you, and today we are reinforcing our institutional commitment to meaningful and long-lasting change through the following actions:
 

  1. The Board commits to increase its diversity and that of its leadership. We will accomplish this by using current open seats, and seats that will become open at the end of next school year and going forward.
  2. We will review and revise the admission and audition/portfolio review process for prospective students. We will also establish additional financial aid funds for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students in both year-round and in summer and auxiliary programs.
  3. We will conduct a deep and regular review of curriculum in both academic and arts to ensure that teaching moves far beyond the known white, male, heteronormative perspective, and to ensure that the curriculum is not “whitewashed.” We will revise curriculum, repertoire, and performances in order to represent BIPOC perspectives, artists, and work.
  4. We commit ourselves to diversifying the faculty, staff, and administration at all levels, including guest artists and educators to lead masterclasses, workshops, and other programming at all levels of our School and using the resources and networks available to achieve that goal.
  5. We will educate our community and raise awareness of implicit bias, racial and other privilege, and systematic racism with a goal of creating a fully inclusive and non-discriminatory community for all members of Walnut Hill. We will make implicit bias training mandatory for all students, faculty, and staff. In addition, the Board of Trustees has committed itself to participating in ongoing anti-bias training.
  6. In order to live our commitment to anti-racism, we will actively investigate and respond  to all incidents and reports of racism and share our newly adopted anti-racism statement approved by the Board of Trustees.
  7. We will update and revise the Employee Handbook to include a transparent process for reporting and disciplining for racist and other bias incidents, as well as review, update and revise the Student Handbook to create transparent processes for student reporting and discipline.
  8. We will commit additional resources to add more staff for the office of Diversity and Inclusion to expand its reach and support.
  9. We commit to regular and ongoing climate assessments by an independent DEI  (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) organization.
  10. We will institute more comprehensive exit interviews with departing faculty and staff, especially those of color, to identify common themes, and we will begin an enhanced retention plan that will include interviews with diverse faculty and staff of color to provide support and identify issues early.


We begin with these commitments and we ask that you hold us accountable for them. There is much work to be done as we engage in this vital work ahead. We invite our entire community - faculty, staff, students, families, alumni, and the Board of Trustees – to engage in this conversation as we create lasting systemic change.
 
The discussions we have opened up at this critical time have raised other types of serious challenges that our alumni have faced. We welcome and value your input, and if there is any incident of misconduct that should be brought to our attention, whether it involves recent events or something that has happened in the past, we urge you to bring it forward to us. You can do that in any of several ways. You can email our Human Resources Director at rkadden@walnuthillarts.org, our Head of School at aviva@walnuthillarts.org, or, if you are uncomfortable contacting the School directly, you can report incidents through an independent consultant we have engaged, the law firm Kurker Paget, by emailing walnuthillreports@kurkerpaget.com. Kurker Paget will work with you to bring your report forward, either with attribution or anonymously as you prefer; it will investigate all credible reports; and it will report its findings and make recommendations as appropriate to the School. If you prefer not describing the issue in an email, and would rather discuss it on the telephone, we understand, so just say that in your email and provide your telephone number.
 
We see this letter, and the ones to come, as an essential part of our rising, not only to the issues of the moment, but more importantly, to also become a beacon in the arts and education worlds for what inclusiveness, diversity, and standards for social justice really mean.
 
 
Sincerely,

Board of Trustees
Antonio Viva, Head of School
Senior Leadership

  • diversity and inclusion