Anti-Racism Manifesto Creates Firestorm at Exclusive New York City School

Photograph of the Dalton School taken on 26 Feb 2006 by D C McJonathan
Wikipedia Commons

Faculty members of the exclusive Dalton School in New York City have issued an eight-page anti-racism manifesto, the demands of which include sweeping changes in personnel, academic curriculum, and how black students are to be treated differently in discipline matters and assessing academic performance.

The document includes statements that direct all administrators, faculty, and parent volunteers to “undergo yearly anti-racist training,” and that demand all of Dalton’s administrators and staff produce “public anti-racism statements.”

Scott Johnston, who writes the Naked Dollar blog, first reported on what appear to be the manifesto’s demands as made by many on the faculty at the K-12 school located on the Upper East Side.

“Looks like it’s signed by most or all of the faculty,” Johnston observed. “I’d like to meet anyone who didn’t sign. That would be a very brave person.”

According to the manifesto, its authors were “inspired by the Black Lives Matter uprisings across the country.”

“Black activists and their accomplices continue to put their personal safety at risk in order to make a better world for all of us,” the document states, adding, “we thank them for their courage and vision.”

Black students are helping us to envision a more inclusive school,” the manifesto says. “We are also inspired by the demands currently being championed by Black Students Demanding Change.”

The authors state they have used the terms “structural racism” and “institutional racism” as defined by the Aspen Institute, whose board of trustees includes former news anchor Katie Couric; Obama-era Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; former CEO of the Walt Disney Company Michael Eisner; Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who chairs the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University; and George W. Bush-era Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Among the faculty’s demands are that Dalton collect and publish data regarding race, discipline, and suspension, and race, grades, and graduation rates, with recognition that black students “must perform under more challenging conditions than their white peers.”

The faculty signers state that, if membership and performance of black students is not equal to that of non-black students in “leveled courses” by 2023, those courses “should be abolished.”

The manifesto further asserts that Dalton “reflect the city in which it is located,” in terms of the racial make-up of students, faculty, and leadership.

The Dalton curriculum, the document continues, should require courses on black liberation and “challenges to white supremacy.”

The manifesto states:

In the same way that subjects such as English, art, physical education, and mathematics have been embedded within the Dalton experience, so too should coursework that is explicitly anti-racist. No Dalton student should graduate without taking classes that center race, identity, difference, and social justice.

The manifesto states teachers should be released from an assigned class if they “partner with a Black-led community organization to teach a class or volunteer in other meaningful ways.”

Additionally, the document demands the hiring of a staff member “whose entire role is to support Black students” who complain of unjust treatment and disciplinary action, and specialized counselors trained in “race-based traumatic stress.”

The manifesto also states that when engaging contractors and vendors, Dalton should first seek to do business with black-owned companies.

The New York Post noted that CNN anchor Anderson Cooper and actors Christian Slater and Claire Danes are all Dalton alumni.

Tuition at the Dalton School, which has not returned to in-person learning at all this academic year, is currently $54,180 annually, reported Bloomberg in October.

According to Bloomberg, parents of Dalton students are already riled by the school’s decision to only offer remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Post reported that some suggested a petition for a return to in-school learning, signed by more than 70 lower school parents, was racist since faculty of color were more likely living outside of Manhattan or in neighborhoods with higher rates of the coronavirus infection.

The Post further observed some Dalton parents found the manifesto overbearing.

“My ancestors experienced white supremacy by being slaughtered,” one Jewish parent said, for example. “The idea that being white automatically means you are privileged or a white supremacist is ridiculous. My child comes from people who had to fight for everything they got. It’s just about skin color now.”

In an update Saturday, Johnston reported at the Naked Dollar that Dalton Head of School Jim Best represented the manifesto as a “thought starter,” rather than a list of demands.

“There’s clearly some backpedaling going on here,” Johnston wrote.

Then, on Sunday, Best addressed the Naked Dollar’s exposé of the faculty document in an email to the Dalton community, apparently also obtained by Johnston, in which the Head of School represented the document not as a list of demands, but more as the product of healthy “intellectual debate”:

As you may know, a blog called “The Naked Dollar” has blatantly and erroneously mischaracterized diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at Dalton. I feel compelled to set the record straight lest it—and any additional media coverage that may follow—be taken seriously.

At issue is a “thought starter” document created this summer by a subset of faculty and staff with ideas on how to achieve Dalton’s commitment to becoming an anti-racist institution in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death. While the blog refers to these ideas as “faculty demands,” that is not true.

Best stated the administration only recently discovered the document and its members do not support it in its entirety.

He described the eight-page manifesto against perceived racism at the school as a “set of ideas created at a specific moment in time as a well-intentioned effort to help Dalton navigate this critical issue.”

“And while there are better ways to go about advancing those views, I wouldn’t wish for a culture in which the authors didn’t feel free to express themselves,” Best wrote.

Johnston, however – who clarified in his post he is not a Dalton parent – begged to differ, and directed comments to Best:

You refer to the original document as a “thought piece.” A document signed by over one hundred people strikes me as much more of an end point than a beginning. The fact you put “thought starter” in quotes means it’s not a thought starter at all.

To Best’s denial the document contained “faculty demands,” Johnston responded at the Naked Dollar, “Something signed by over one hundred staffers seems very much like a demand, and that’s certainly how the parents I have been in touch with view them.”

The Post reported that many parents are afraid to speak against the demands.

Dalton “has totally failed in its mission to uplift the very people it professes to help,” said one father who has removed his children from the school due to the manifesto. “It’s completely absurd and a total step backwards.”

“This supposed anti-racist agenda is asking everyone to look at black kids and treat them differently because of the color of their skin,” the father added. “The school is more focused on virtue-signaling this nonsense than it is in actually helping students of color. More parents are going to be pulling their kids out.”

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