From the Director: History Before Our Eyes

This time and the issues at hand call out for a review of every choice we make, every resource we allocate, and every message we send. We’ve been speaking with members of the USN community in recent days, and here is what we are working on with renewed purpose this summer.
This past weekend I had the chance to go to Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. to stand next to 25-foot-tall letters on the street, to read the hundreds of hand painted and written signs affixed to the White House security fence, to join thousands of people converging on that spot from all directions, to experience history being made in real time. The ugly truth of race in America makes this specific outcry about the systematic and pervasive injustice borne by Black people across generations essential to our national future. Any more universalist message about fairness for all risks losing the power and truth of economic, social, and political patterns that call out for remedy on a scale equal to the damage they have done to Black lives and families in ways too long tolerated.
Closer to home, we had the chance in the past week to listen to and learn from many dozens of conversations with USN students and (mostly) young graduates. They’ve reached out because they want the best from us, and they see us as a vehicle for doing right in the face of interlocking current national crises. They have been open about citing instances where we fell short of their expectations, and they want to know how we will do better. And at least in many of the conversations I’ve been able to participate in directly, they are generous about offering their assistance. We’re writing down everything we hear, aggregating those insights to share with faculty and staff, to hold up a mirror that will serve as a huge help as we plan for the weeks and months ahead.
Let me take a moment mid-stride to thank our Division Heads for responding directly and openly last week, even as we faced the challenge of being remote. Offering chances for parents and students and colleagues to gather and share experiences helped diminish the distance, literally and figuratively, that separates us. Putting together resource lists and sharing them made another kind of positive difference. And encouraging USN community members to be out there and active is simply the right thing to do. Those gatherings will continue and extend across constituencies in coming weeks, with the help of our Office of Diversity and Community Life, looking at opportunities in reforming curriculum, building cultural competence, and supporting those students, families, and colleagues at the center of this work.
One specific outreach effort arrives this week in the form of summer opportunities that are taking the place of our regular in-person camps. Looking at the roster of choices, you’ll see several that draw directly on the current imperative to increase both our understanding of race in this country and our level of civic engagement. And in coming days you will see more. We’re feeling the need to get this signup option out ASAP, knowing we will probably be adding to it as we go. I’m really looking forward to reconvening the Contemporary Civics class, with the help of some members of the Class of 2020, whose graduation is still on schedule for Friday, June 26.
Add to that work the challenge of imagining school resuming on campus on Tuesday, August 18. We’re very close to Metro Health guidelines being published to provide a roadmap back to classes, and I sense a strong commitment to make that possible for our city. For our school, we’re talking daily about how best to provide the essential human interaction that comes with learning while also keeping a safe and healthy and COVID-mitigated environment. We have two months to plan and imagine and fine tune, and we have the best possible resources to lean on as we do.
Not that we needed another reminder to see our work as a school through a new lens, but there it is. This time and the issues at hand call out for a review of every choice we make, every resource we allocate, and every message we send—not for the next little while, but from now forward. I feel that in my bones, and I’m grateful that you made time to read this message.
With renewed purpose,
    • Director Vince Durnan

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