Dear Vee Journal received an anonymous submission of this open letter for the ASD Board. The letter had been submitted on September 15, 2020, to the Board. As of today, there has been no response.
September 12, 2020
To: Catherine M. Burns, President
The Board of Directors for the American School for the Deaf
Dear Ms. Burns and the Board of Directors for the American School for the Deaf,
On the behalf of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and Deaf Community at the American School for the Deaf, we want to ensure that our American School for the Deaf (ASD) is a safe and healthy environment for our BIPOC community. This will require taking a hard look at dismantling the system currently in place at ASD in order to ensure justice and equity for all.
Due to the Black Lives Matter movement this summer, we have witnessed profound and historical social changes at higher education and K-12 institutions all over the nation. This includes our American School for the Deaf.
In consideration of the current climate at ASD, we developed and disseminated an ASD Community survey for former and current school employees. Based on this survey:
- ● 75% do not feel comfortable or are somewhat comfortable sharing their concerns with the administration.
- ● Only 1% feel comfortable sharing concerns. After the conclusion of this survey and data collection, we felt we needed to step up and share our concerns with you. Over the years, members of the BIPOC community have indeed experienced racism, audism, nepotism, and other forms of covert bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination at ASD. This is unacceptable. It is time to change the system. The majority of us have felt insecure and frightened to say something. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, we felt it was time for ASD to stop harming our BIPOC community. Listed below are some of our demands, and we request you to listen and take accountability in developing actionable plans:
1. RENAME: The new position of the Diversity, Culture, and Bilingual Specialist needs to be renamed.
Rationale: The name of the position was formerly called ASL/English Specialist, and it was posted online for three years. However, it was suddenly renamed this summer after the resurgence of the Black Lives Matters Movement. This was confirmed in writing to all staff on July 10, 2020. The position description was overall vague, and the end result was the person hired to fill this position is not a BIPOC, however, this position should not be filled by a non-BIPOC individual. We request you to completely separate the position by establishing two positions which ideally are Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Specialist and ASL/English Bilingual Specialist. According to our school philosophy of ASL/English Bilingual Approach, we do need more ASL/English Bilingual Specialists. However, it is essential that a new position is created to address the need for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at ASD, and a BIPOC individual should be hired for this. Additionally, this new position should be on the Executive Leadership Team and possess authority similar to Human Resources.
2. IMPROVEMENT: The Diversity Task Force needs to establish or make a clearer mission, vision, and value.
Rationale: There is a lack of communication. In the past, there were many misunderstandings. Some members of our Diversity Task Force are not qualified for the task force. There were no criteria in selecting appropriate candidates. The Executive Leadership Team (ELT) has repeatedly demonstrated shortcomings with communication and transparency (see Clarion survey) thus ELT should not be in charge of this new effort. Also, the task force needs to develop and demonstrate an action plan. In the past, there was no transparency between the task force and the ASD community. Again, the members of the Diversity Task Force need to be screened and selected based on appropriate criteria. Ideally, this group should consist of a representative from each department and a representative with knowledge of social justice from the BIPOC Parent Advisory Group. Members of the Diversity Task Force also should be required to take Anti-Bias Training before they can develop an action plan.
3. HIRING: The Hiring Interview Committee needs to be diverse.
Rationale: Our Executive Leadership Team and Academic Hub is not diverse. In the past, often hiring was mainly based on nepotism, audism, and racism. Some of our current BIPOC employees applied for positions in hopes of a promotion, however, they often experienced backlash due to nepotism and audism.
The following is the current breakdown of BIPOC and Deaf professionals at ASD:
- 1 BIPOC Teacher
- 1 BIPOC Deaf Administrator working in a residential program.
- 1 non BIPOC Deaf administrator.
- 1 non BIPOC Deaf Executive Leadership Representative.
- 8 Deaf Teachers vs. 18 Hearing Teachers.
- 2 non BIPOC Deaf counselors.
This indicates that we do not have diversity. BIPOC employees should be given an opportunity through appropriate mentoring. New BIPOC candidates with limited experience but with a lot of potential should be also given an opportunity with mentoring. Also, hiring decisions should not rely only on interviews and number of applications received as has been the custom. HR policies need to be examined by outside consultants and revised to become anti-racist. Our students and families would be better served by staff who look, think, act, and can relate like them.
4. COMMUNICATION/EMPATHY: In the Executive Director Bravin’s announcement videos and live sessions, he doesn’t demonstrate his allyship or compassion towards the Black Lives Matter movement and our BIPOC ASD Community.
Rationale: The Black Lives Matter Movement started in May. We received frequent weekly COVID-19 Updates and attended ASD General Staff Sessions. HOWEVER, we felt that he/ASD did not provide any support or guide or even to recognize the Black Lives Matter movement. To date, only one message has been posted to the ASD website in support of the BLM. Other schools have dedicated staff and devoted new webpages or social media accounts toward promoting equity and inclusion. They have also increased family outreach efforts. They have done all of this during the COVID-19 pandemic. ASD has done none of this. For this reason and many more, we view ELT’s actions to be superficial and without sincere meaning. We were not allowed and we felt unsafe to have a healthy dialogue with our supervisors, including Jeff Bravin. In his public vlogs released to the entire staff, Jeff shared inappropriate and divisive remarks such as “I grew up in NYC, so I did not see racism”; “I don’t support these riots”. This is unacceptable for a white person with privilege to say this to the BIPOC ASD community. It is clear that people in leadership positions need to take anti-bias and anti-racism training as well in order to be better with the BIPOC ASD community.
To conclude this letter, it is evident that our ASD has systemic inequalities. The Board of Directors, we expect you to consider all demands that we have listed. Our students are our future. Our employees are our fort. We want to make sure that our students and staff feel safe and that they can thrive at the American School for the Deaf together. We ask you to respect our privacy and not to use this to target us. All of us who stand behind this letter are genuinely afraid for our job security but we want the best for ASD and our students so we take a risk in being courageous through this letter.
We also ask that Jeff Bravin and his Executive Leadership Team not assist with your response as they have not demonstrated the knowledge, understanding or ability to understand or respond effectively to our longstanding buried concerns.
With numerous profound and historical changes unfolding in American society, at this time, we demand a safe, equitable, and just community for our BIPOC Deaf members.
The Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Community at ASD