Dear Parents of Upper School Students,
After several years of noting the National Day of Silence (“NDOS”) on campus without controversy in the Upper School, this year’s observation has been far from controversy free. This letter contains my explanation of the circumstances. This letter also contains my apology for the misunderstanding surrounding NDOS events, creating concerns and questions that could have been avoided, with more thought and clarity. I hope the conclusion to this letter is reassuring to you.
Several years ago, I instituted the observance on Episcopal’s campus of the National Day of Silence (NDOS) to allow Upper School students, faculty and staff to use their silence for the non-class portions of one day to express their concerns over the discrimination and danger in the world experienced by members of the LGBTQ community. The NDOS was defined clearly as a voluntary activity. Generally, the observance was led by interested students and supervised by the Dean of Students.
Until this year, NDOS observance had been limited to a single day. This year, an expansion of the observance was approved to include an opportunity for discussion about the academic aspects of discrimination for those interested in Dr. Kuhn’s analysis. And, a student wanted to speak in Chapel about what it has meant to stand in alliance with the LGBTQ community as an ally (the term for a supportive straight person).
The main communication of the schedule of events this year consisted of a message written by one of the student leaders in this area, which was forwarded by the Dean of Students to all Upper School students and All Faculty, and Staff at Episcopal. The description of the approved event involving the academic analysis of discrimination by Dr. Kuhn was misleading. Most of the comments I have received have focused on that description, noting that it looked to some as a vehicle for encouraging adoption of an LGBTQ lifestyle. We are not and will not do that. I can assure you with my personal word that neither Dr. Kuhn nor I had any intention whatsoever of adding any sort of “sex education” or exploration of human sexuality to the National Day of Silence. Her offering was to give an academic reflection on the topic of discrimination in general.
It has been pointed out, too, that this year is different in the cumulative attention paid on campus to LGBTQ issues in the Upper School. As I have reflected on this observation, I think it is true. We have had, this year, very active leadership from a significant number of students concerned about LGBTQ issues. The vast majority of these students are not from within the LGBTQ community, but are “allies.” Noting the high suicide rate among LGBTQ students today in America, many Upper School faculty members have clearly labeled their classrooms as “safe,” meaning that insulting language, harassment and bullying will not be tolerated. Such labeling is a recommended practice to head off unsafe practices and suicides. I am in favor of designating safe classrooms. Just a few weeks ago, a few Honors Thesis presentations touched on topics related to the robust LGBTQ discrimination now fully reported across the country. I have been asked things like “Why so much?” and “Why ‘in the face’ of students so much?” For me, looking back, those are fair questions. While the debate could continue on whether the efforts were too much in a cumulative sense, I know that each of the actions—nearly all of which were student driven— were taken with the purest intent of making our campus a safer place for all students.
My Apology and Undertakings
I apologize for creating a situation that caused anxiety, concern, and questioning in some Episcopal families. I apologize, more specifically, for our faults in communicating, in general, and our lack of communication to parents about this issue.
Additionally, going forward I will pay close attention to the professionalism and proportionality in our community of our messages. I am convinced that a significant portion of the controversies raised this year were avoided in prior years (and can be avoided in the future) by tying activities more closely to our internal situations, without ignoring what is going on in the world around us.
We came through the Flood of 2016 by telling each other the truth about the flood damage, by communicating openly about each step of the recovery, and with faith in each other. That’s how this year started. I am working now to get back on those tracks that produced so much good for this community by admitting, telling the truth (as I see it), by communicating openly, and with faith in the Episcopal community of 2017.
Some of you have probably recalled while reading this the letter I sent to the community after the elections in November. In that letter I assured you that Episcopal’s Mission & Ministry and the teachings of Jesus and the Episcopal Church will be the foundational places where we look to set our course. We are not—and will not become—a school defined by the “liberal-conservative” debate raging in the country these days, just as we do not change our stripes after one party goes out of power and another comes in. I represent to you that Episcopal is filled with dedicated professionals who, while not agreeing on a lot of things, are all together on being dedicated to putting first and foremost the education and development of students entrusted to us. That dedication is written large on the 16-17 school year in so, so many ways.
The Episcopal School of Baton Rouge is a diverse community, located in a diverse city found in an even more diverse country and, as we learn more every day, an ever increasingly diverse (and more connected) world. Living effective and rewarding lives for almost all of us requires adjusting to this diversity. We must learn to communicate amid the diversity, to build a community devoid of hate, irrationality or dismissive labeling. I will be working hard to ensure the year that started with this community coming together to recover from the flood of 2016 ends unified and well, with momentum.
Hugh M. McIntosh
Head of School
Well. A few questions:
Interesting to observe how this kind of thing happens: the school administration allows the students to take gay activism and run with it, but keeps the parents largely in the dark about this part of their children’s education and formation. If you’re going to embrace LGBT activism and make it a normal part of the school experience, then there is no reason to hide it from parents or downplay it.
By the way, Episcopal High students who keep trying to comment on this blog: you will stand a better chance of having your comments approved if you don’t resort to profanity and personal insults. One would like to think that you are being taught better than that.