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You Belong in Our Community

March 23, 2021

Message from the headmaster

 

 

Since the beginning of the COVID crisis there has been a marked increase in attacks on people of Asian descent here in America. The hateful rhetoric of some of our leaders—juvenile name-calling, bitter scapegoating, and specious claims about the virus being the fault of “China”—has created the conditions for anti-Asian racism and violence. Rhetoric spurred violence at the Capitol in January, and as our freshman students reading Shakespeare this semester are learning, rhetoric has abetted violence since the time of Julius Caesar. Words matter; language can change the character of a country.

 

To our students and families from countries in Asia, and to our Asian-American students and families, we need you to know that St. Johnsbury Academy abhors and denounces with our whole hearts the attacks on Asian Americans that have been motivated by hate and ignorance. We have so many students—students we cherish and have missed this year—who might need to hear this said clearly and forcefully:

 

You belong in our community. You more than belong in our community: you ARE our community. You are a part of our school, our town, and our state. You are treasured and essential; your presence when you are able to be here is a gift that we will protect fiercely. And we will not tolerate any actions or words that make you feel otherwise.

 

Language matters, and has the potential to create change, but talk alone is not change. We are conscious of how you might feel right now given the climate the attack in Georgia has spotlighted, and while I hope that this message can amend that feeling, it is only a start.

 

Our mission at St. Johnsbury Academy is to teach students how to learn independently, how to be good people, and how to live well in their communities. But none of these things are possible if a student does not feel safe or fully valued. And if we want this safety for all our students then we must act according to our charge: to teach them those lessons that will combat ignorance and hatred. Our mission obliges us to teach students how to recognize and abjure hateful words—how to lift and include all others. But it also obliges us to help them understand the historical forces that have created our current society, including those systems, policies, and practices that motivate, and too often sponsor, racist violence.

 

Our deep optimism about young people comes from the good we see in them every day, and it drives everything we do. It also makes us hopeful that this new generation of students will come closer than we have to creating a just society. In the meantime, we want to acknowledge that this moment of distress for the Asian community makes our work more urgent than ever, and we offer our students and their families our support and our love.

 

Dr. Sharon L. Howell

Headmaster

 

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