Director Vince Durnan shared the folllowing letter with the USN community on Sunday, May 31 following nationwide unrest and protests over racism and police violence.
Dear USN community,
Anger and indignation, flowing from our nation’s original sin of racial violence and injustice, echo from Minneapolis to New York to Los Angeles to Washington. And now to the streets of Nashville, beset with so many challenges already. Just as we began tentatively, and perhaps prematurely, to open downtown, a curfew order arrives—with the possibility of National Guard enforcement. What’s a little, intentionally inclusive K-12 school on Edgehill Avenue to do, facing the enormity of the issues at hand? Our very mission statement
bravely asserts that we aim to represent the composition of our city to the fullest extent our resources allow, but so much seems beyond our reach.
It doesn’t help that, per understandable Metro order, we’re still closed, awaiting Phase 3 and finished for the semester. Were we in session, my strong sense is that we’d set a day aside for our High School students, in particular, to engage in the difficult conversations that the wider culture finds so elusive. We’d convene an evening session for people to come together for that same purpose, perhaps with our Vanderbilt or Scarritt-Bennett or Fisk or Metro Nashville Public Schools neighbors. But we’re all in COVID mitigation mode, processing news reports on our own.
I know that faculty colleagues have been reaching out to students and families to offer support and a chance to talk, informally and earnestly, understanding the disproportionate effect of current events on different segments of our school community. For too many, the headlines of recent days in this country tie directly to their own lived experience. Our families of color have always been there for one another in ways that those of us in the majority population knew but probably couldn’t fully understand. At least that has been the case for me, hearing consistently about “the talk” that happens for our teenagers of color as an essential element of their education at home
So what, then, is there for us to do, in a painfully partisan time? First, let’s be there for one another, as directly as current health circumstances allow. Err on the side of communicating too frequently with those we care about. Second, beware of the silence that comes with being overwhelmed or self-conscious or well-intended without urgency. It’s both entirely predictable and utterly amazing that a half-century after the last major street uprisings in the United States, we face this moment anew. If all the relationship networks in the USN community were stitched together, given who we all are, the reach would extend pretty powerfully. Not that we all think with one mind, but that we acknowledge the difference we can make in the aggregate.
Finally, ours is a responsibility to learn what we can and do what we can with what we learn. In that spirit, let me encourage this one small commitment. Our faculty and staff combine to select summer reading titles from a shortlist that we crowdsource—some titles of broader scope and others very classroom-specific. One choice that grows more timely by the hour is Ibram Kendi’s recent How to Be An Antiracist
, and we invite you to join if you haven’t read it already.
Professor Kendi has been to Nashville before and will return in the coming months—he was slated to speak at Lipscomb later this week for a conference since canceled by the pandemic. When the time comes to discuss his scholarly work, I promise that we’ll find a way to do so at scale, on or off-campus.
Let’s not just weather this storm as the fires go out. Let’s face the current realities with the courage of our convictions. Let’s make time to listen to our children, with their questions guiding the scope of our responses. I must confess to hoping that some of our students would find a way to safely participate in the protests
at the Tennessee State Capitol, at the same time worrying about them being in harm’s way if they did and lamenting that this will be their coming of age experience. But to speak to our seniors is to find inspiration—they already display a depth of purpose that surely eluded me at their age. And for that, I’m profoundly grateful.
If there’s a way we can help at school, from this now-familiar if still frustrating distance, please just reach out. We’re here. There’s something for each of us to do, be it grand or modest, and there’s much-needed progress to be made together.
Thanks for reading.
Take care all,