An Open Letter to Parents and Students:
I’m sorry to be writing to you in response to another hate-based, mass shooting. Friday’s heinous shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand is another tragedy that, along with Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the march in Charlottesville, has its foundation in hate.
I am heartbroken that I have to spend another weekend composing a letter to reassure Muslim members, and all members, of our schools that you are safe, respected, valued, and loved. We are fortunate to have you in Burlington to add to our rich culture and religious diversity.
These words, however, do not take away the reality that supremacist, hate-based crimes are on the rise around the world. As a community of learners, we must acknowledge this hate and continue to work every day to combat it. I am speaking to myself as much as to all of you.
My personal journey includes recognizing my privilege in this conversation. This idea of privilege is something I resisted for a long time. I connected the word “privilege” to wealth. I used to believe that my extended family wasn’t economically rich so how could I be considered privileged?
More recently I am coming to understand that my privilege does not have its roots in economics, but rather in attention or choice. My privilege is that I can choose to ignore the recent hate crimes. I can say that New Zealand is a world away and doesn’t involve me. I can choose to ignore comments on social media or from public figures that stoke the flames of hate and my daily life and safety will not be directly impacted. Not all members of our community share that privilege, however, and I cannot pretend that what affects my community does not affect me.
I am sure there are many other areas of privilege that I am missing or have yet to recognize in myself, but I am committed to this journey of increased self-awareness. I encourage each of you to make this journey on your own. I am simply imploring you to choose empathy over apathy. Understand that many in our own community do not have the choice or privilege to ignore the expanding atmosphere of nationalist sentiment that sets the stage for the growing number of hate crimes we are all witnessing.
Burlington schools are places of acceptance. We must acknowledge that we all play a role in creating and maintaining these places. To fulfill that role, we must promote acceptance of differences and foster compassion and love. Please do not accept these mass killings as normal. Even if you have difficulty immediately identifying with those targeted, standing on the sidelines is an expression of privilege that is not worthy of our classrooms or our community.
In the coming weeks, please take a few minutes to introduce yourself to someone at school you do not know. Ask them about their family and their favorite food. Show an interest in them and share something about yourself. I am certain that you will find something in common. It is these core commonalities that inoculate us against events intended to divide us.
Eric M. Conti,
Superintendent of Schools