Update to Commonwealth's June 1 Statement

Dear Commonwealth community,

Some members of our alumni/ae community have rightly objected to my June 1 letter to Commonwealth families, saying that I—and so the school—did not stand swiftly and strongly enough for Black lives and put on par concern about safety and property with outrage about the violence against Black people by police. Five alumni/ae shared with me, and online, a letter, and asked that I pass it on to our faculty, staff, and trustees. These students voice legitimate grievances shared by many inside and outside our school community, and they also correctly point to the need for us to understand our letter in the context of all the messages we put out in the days following May 25.

I am sorry that I missed this critical opportunity to denounce in the strongest terms the violence perpetrated against Black people and to voice our support for our students, alumni/ae, and other members of our community who have experienced the trauma of racism—acutely exacerbated by the COVID pandemic. When I spoke about restoring order and safety, I was not sensitive to the context of violence perpetrated by police, and that my words would call to mind the loathsome dog-whistle tweets about “domination” and “law and order.” I expressed concern about destruction in our neighborhood because it gives ammunition to those who want to discredit protesters. But the deep pain that has been voiced, along with the need for solidarity and support, make clear that I was wrong. I agree with the alumna who rightly pointed out that buildings and property can be replaced. Lives cannot.

We condemn in no uncertain terms the systemic racism that has plagued our nation for centuries and is upheld, in part, via unjust and unashamedly brutal policing policies. So I reiterate our condemnation, our outrage, at the sickening and ongoing incidence of violence against Black citizens.

Racism is insidious, widespread, and persistent and needs to be combated. These realities need to be acknowledged and wrestled with, particularly by those with the privilege of a larger platform from which to speak. Let me say clearly: Black lives matter.

In the coming weeks and months, we will take steps to foster and strengthen a culture at Commonwealth that ensures all feel included and respected and that leaves no room for racism. This is an ongoing process demanding honesty with ourselves and year-in, year-out efforts. It will start with the following:

  • Hosting a town hall in the coming weeks to provide space for members of our community to give voice to their experiences and concerns, and, more importantly, so we can listen and engage with those experiences and concerns as an institution
  • Giving members of our community a channel where they can share their experiences, feedback, and needs anonymously, should they wish to do so
  • Facilitating summer reading from among a number of books recommended by members of our community, with accompanying discussion groups

But we have much more work to do.

I thank the alumni/ae who wrote the letter that sparked this discourse. Though it is not their responsibility, nor the responsibility of any person of color, to educate others on the injustices of institutionalized racism, they displayed courage and conviction in doing so. It is our responsibility, as allies, to take up the mantle of educating ourselves. I hope these alumni/ae and the greater Commonwealth community know that as an institution we're committed to change. We must be alert and active in examining ourselves and our community. And we welcome your voices.


Bill Wharton