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No Place for Hate

NMH strengthens commitment for 2020–21.

The confluence of COVID-19, an American reckoning around racial inequity, and a divisive presidential election is making this an incredibly challenging year for schools everywhere.  

“We are on a different set of railroad tracks and nobody has been on this ride before,” says NMH Dean of Equity and Social Justice Martha Neubert. “It’s a hard place to be as an educator, when knowing — or figuring out how to know — is our currency.” 

To make productive sense of it all, NMH has adopted a theme of “citizenship and social justice” for the year. “We believe in being inclusive,” Head of School Brian Hargrove and NMH Board of Trustees Chair Mariah Calagione ’89, P’18, ’20 wrote in a letter to the NMH community that outlined the school’s thinking. “We seek to offer space for divergent opinions and belief systems, encourage critical thinking, and emphasize the importance of civil discourse.” 

That’s nothing new for NMH, but what it means right now, Neubert says, is working harder on anti-bias, antiracist programming. It means trying to steer election discussions toward specific issues and policies rather than individual candidates — health care, civil rights, the economy, international and domestic policy, the military, climate change. It also means zero tolerance for any expression of hatred. “We absolutely have to open up space for all ideologies, but we have to keep each other’s humanity intact,” Neubert says. “Even if I vehemently disagree with you, I’ve got to value your humanity.”

The citizenship and social justice theme took shape over the summer, just as NMH was hosting a series of online discussion forums for students, employees, and alumni in the wake of the May 25 murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by a police officer. The “community conversations,” 18 in all, focused on racism, specifically as it related to NMH policies and people’s personal experiences. Neubert said, “We wanted to provide a platform where people could weigh in and raise questions, hold NMH accountable, and integrate that sentiment with their love for NMH.” 

Hargrove and other school leaders joined many of the discussions. “Northfield Mount Hermon should be a place where every community member feels seen, heard, valued, and loved, and we acknowledge that has not always been the case,” Hargrove said. “These conversations underscored that NMH must do more to affirm what we absolutely embrace: that Black Lives Matter.” 

The school has committed to numerous action steps in the 2020–21 school year, including the development of an official anti-bias, antiracist statement for the school and a comprehensive plan for anti-bias, antiracist training for students, employees, senior administrators, and trustees. NMH will also explore new strategies for recruiting students and faculty from underrepresented communities, and create a representative working group to develop and recommend further steps that will strengthen the school’s commitment to equity and social justice.