Tabor administration, students confront schools’s racism issue

Jun 20, 2020

On the new Instagram account @blackattabor, a former black Tabor Academy student writes, “On my first day of Latin class my freshman year, a white student turned to me without introducing himself or asking my name and said to me: 'You know slavery was a great thing for America.’”

As institutions grapple with racism in the wake of the George Floyd killing, so too is Tabor Academy. It’s a lot to unpack, and a long-lasting issue. 

On June 9, Yasmin Madmoune created the account to give a space for past and present black Tabor students to share stories of racism in their time at the school. Since its creation, the account has nearly 1,900 followers and counting.

“You cannot deny that there is racism in this institution,” said Madmoune, a class of 2019 graduate.

She was inspired by prep schools in the New York City area with similar accounts.

Posts range from direct acts of racist aggression to subtler, but still racist, microaggressions: 

“I became a proctor my senior year and my dorm parents said that my new roommate Liz declined her proctorship because she didn’t feel comfortable sharing a room with a black person,” one former student said. “I cried a lot after that meeting.”

“A girl compared her spring break tan to my arm…”

One student spoke about how the school’s official magazine would constantly use the same students of color in every edition.

She said many observers are disgusted with what’s happening at the school. Others are surprised by the acts, which is a “slap in the face” to her because these incidents were “never really a secret.”

On June 11, the school released a letter to the Tabor community and school trustees published a statement on current events, which they worked on for 10 days prior.

The trustees acknowledged “our nation has still not come to grips with the structures that support racism, inequality, and violence against Black people, and we are all paying the price.” 

That same day, a pledge submitted to the school by over 280 students and alumni said the school’s letter supporting the Black community is “problematically vague” because it offered no immediate actions.

When Trustee Geoff Worrell read social media posts on other Tabor accounts, he felt his “blood boiling and intense sadness.” 

Worrell is black and did not attend Tabor, but has three children who did between 1997 and 2010.  

He said the trustees’ letter took so long because they wanted everyone to agree with what was said.

When his kids were in school, he said the goal was to have black students survive in a white world. That no longer seems appropriate. Now, it’s about recognizing that black students need additional help because it’s not a level playing field. 

An in-depth diversity assessment in 2013 looked at curriculum, faculty, students and alumni, and their attitudes. Studies are useful, but “we could technically analyze this for 10 years, but we need to act now,” Worrell said. 

One former black student, who wished to remain anonymous, enjoyed Tabor, but said  “sometimes I felt like I didn’t belong.”

She said some white students make disparaging comments and don’t know any better because the school doesn’t teach about privilege. 

“Tabor has to do more for not only people of color, but for white kids to learn,” she said

And because the school has little to no diversity in its staffing, there is no one to teach or reprimand students — except students. 

“It sucks because people of color shouldn’t be the ones to educate” peers, she said.

In their statement, trustees affirmed that black lives matter, recognized white bias, acknowledged that “Tabor Academy is not immune to these societal forces,” and “black students, faculty and staff have been disproportionately affected by racism and discrimination.” 

Interim Head of School Julie Salit and administrators promised to hire a Director of Equity and Inclusion, focus faculty professional development on anti-racism next year and examine hiring practices.

The student and alumni pledge offers 33 immediate actions the school can take.

Those include denouncing white supremacy and police brutality and apologizing to black students, releasing current and historical data on the makeup of faculty, students and staff and providing transparency on donors to ensure they align with the school’s moral standards.

While students and alumni said they don’t expect change to happen overnight, “we do expect to see a broader, more aggressive, and fully transparent effort, as well as a predicted timeline, to implement and enforce these antiracist measures in years to come.”