Alumni Push for Change at Groton


Courtesy of Creative Commons.

On June 6th, one of the largest days of the Black Lives Matter movement, 500,000 demonstrators emerged onto the streets in 550 places, bearing homemade signs and chanting for social justice. At night, smaller scale rioting broke out, with buildings burned, looted, and graffitied. America was in an uproar, fighting against the unjust violence towards Black lives.

On June 7th, five alumni brought the movement to Groton. Bruce Ramphal ‘15, Kasumi Quinlan ‘15, Monifa Foluke ‘13, Starling Irving ‘13, and Karla Sanford ‘19 sent a letter to the Groton Board of Trustees and administration, calling out the school’s decisions during the current situation and pinpointing a past history of complacency. They proposed six solutions to address racial issues within Groton and better support minority students. Once shared, it rapidly spread, accumulating over seven hundred signatures from current students, alumni, and parents.

“The catalyst was an email sent to alumni on June 4, inviting us to a virtual food and beverage weekend featuring whiskey tasting classes and a tour of an alum’s vineyard. It felt incredibly tonedeaf in the wake of the murders of George Floyd & Breonna Taylor and the resulting widespread direct action,” Bruce, Kasumi, Monifa, Starling, and Karla wrote in an email to the CV. “The email sparked a conversation between friends, and we realized we hadn’t received any other communication from Groton regarding police brutality and racial justice…paired with Groton’s historical position as a primarily white, wealthy institution infused with an incredible amount of privilege, we felt compelled to communicate our concerns and offer some solutions.” 

The six proposed solutions included encouragement for alumni to leverage their expertise in support of BLM, a more inclusive academic curriculum, donations to antiracist organizations, a clear plan to “increase racial diversity and cultural competence among students”, a publicly released list of endowment holdings, and a formal effort to educate students on Groton’s “historical and contemporary complicity in structural oppression,” all outlined in the original letter.

“Our goals were to show the administration how much these issues mean to us, how widespread that support was, and, most of all, to incite deep institutional self-inquiry and transformation at Groton,” the five alumni wrote to the Circle Voice. “The solutions we proposed were targeted primarily at addressing the racism present within Groton as an institution and also within its position in society.” 

In addition to the letter, they created another document dedicated to Black student and alumni experiences as a person of color on campus The alumni explained that they wanted to share more up to date stories to address the experience of students who had arrived after they graduated. “We felt that, as alumni who haven’t touched the Circle in at least four years, we weren’t best equipped to answer those questions,” they explained.  

The letter was shared with the Board of Trustees, administration, and faculty members a few days later. For the next two months, the letter’s authors and recipients collaborated to arrive on an agreement for appropriate action. 

On July 10th, the Board of Trustees sent an email to the Groton community, titled “Inclusion and Confronting Racism”. In their email, they highlighted the recent progress in inclusion and racial issues in Groton, including statistics on financial aid with programs like GRAIN, student leadership, faculty, administration, and trustee compositio. They acknowledged the ongoing “racism and racist behavior” on Groton’s campus and responded to the original alumni letter. “We value their dedication to fighting racism…Regarding the specific demands in the letter, some we support and have already been working on; we know that we can do even better… We embrace that so many have taken a stand against racism through the letter, and we encourage continued engagement in this ongoing effort,” the message read. On August 4th, the headmaster sent out a summer update which included statements from the school on Groton’s efforts to address racism and racial issues on campus, further emphasizing Groton’s mission and commitment to inclusion. 

After discussion, one of the concluded solutions to address the six proposals was a plan to fundraise for antiracist organizations. “The board members we spoke to encouraged us to organize a fundraiser, for which they would coordinate donation-matching from other generous board members up to $250,000,” the alumni described in their email. We began brainstorming ways that we could organize and promote this type of project, and we’re nearly ready to launch a website to track donations from alumni toward our goal! Link coming soon…we’re hoping to launch the donation tracking website by Labor Day. If anyone would like to help out, please contact us.” 

The five alumni also expressed excitement over witnessing Groton faculty members working to replace a formerly white, Eurocentric curriculum with more inclusive syllabi. “We encourage this kind of antiracist energy and practice to suffuse other aspects of Groton too such as extracurriculars, disciplinary practices, psychological services, hiring, etc,” they commented.  

Regarding the negotiations, the alumni described the process as a “back and forth” as solutions were discussed. “Of course, we all have jobs and lives outside of this. We came to some tentative agreements at first, such as…matching donations, but it became clear that, while we were aligned on the theoretical ideals of antiracism and justice, we disagreed on what enacting those ideals should look like,” they wrote. “Ultimately, we were not able to come to a consensus on all the solutions, and we haven’t been in contact with any member of the board since July 11th…in terms of our other proposed solutions, we don’t know what else Groton is working on.” response.

Although the board and alumni were unable to agree on all of the letter’s proposals, the alumni voiced gratitude and said they were “energized” from the immense support from the Groton community. “Beyond the 700+ signatures the letter received, we’ve all gotten messages from alumni, present students, and even faculty members thanking us for starting this conversation,” the five alumni said. 

“We’re proud of the time and care we’ve put into this, and we look forward to continuing to push Groton toward being the most safe, most enriching place it can be for all students.”