This piece is found in the Capital Gazette.
Former pro lacrosse player Josh Sims on Friday renounced his 2009 induction in the athletic hall of fame at Severn School, sharply criticizing the school’s response to systemic racism.
In a comment posted to his Facebook page, the 1996 graduate of the exclusive private school in Severna Park — who went on to be a three-time All-American at Princeton and vaunted pro player — said he no longer wished to be associated with the school.
“As we seek our place in this pivotal time, I am overwhelmed with disappointment and despair in admitting I cannot associate … myself with the ideology and behavior of Severn School’s failed leadership. I request the school cease associating my name with this athletic distinction in any capacity,” he wrote in a letter sent to the school.
His statement was among the most ardent in response to a statement on racism by Headmaster Doug Lagarde in the days after the police killing of George Floyd. Within days, Lagarde admitted in an open letter to the school community that more needed to be done within his own school community. Hundreds of alumni have demanded more direct action at the largely white school.
“My intent was to convey that our mission compels us to condemn injustice and racism. Since then, we have heard from many of you that the letter did not achieve what I had intended and missed the gravity of the moment,” Lagarde wrote in his second letter to the school community.
“I understand that I could have done a much better job in describing our stance against the violence and racism that the Black community has endured, as well as how we plan to address this as a community.”
Neither Lagarde nor a school spokeswoman could be reached for comment Friday afternoon.
The Severn School confrontation was one example of how Anne Arundel County private schools are dealing with calls to address systemic racism. Some private schools have set up discussion panels and facilitated conversations on race and identity. Others say they have begun analyzing curriculum and looking for better practices to adopt for the fall semester.
Nowhere in the county, however, has the clamor for change been as great as at Severn. Its alumni include a World War II Medal of Honor winner, actor and director Robert Duvall and Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon.
During a professional career, he is a five-time Major League Lacrosse All-star and National League All-star. At Severn, he scored 20 goals and had 16 assists in his junior year.
“In the past weeks I have learned of an institution that has grown increasingly toxic, suppressing diversity, suppressing teacher voices, and failing to provide a safe and just environment for students,” Sims wrote on social media. “I’ve also heard far too many troubling stories of neglect from fellow alumni recounting their time at school and returning to campus.”
Lagarde’s letter and Sims’ response comes days after former students at school, where high school tuition tops $26,000 a year, called for more action and a stricter policy on racism.
“A lot of us were kind of reflecting a lot on the national discourse and the instances of anti-black racism, and we’re trying to figure out the ways in which we’ve contributed and have participated in communities that have perpetuated these systems,” said Aidan Wang, a 2018 graduate.
Along with other alumni, Wang started by emailing faculty members. Separately, Severn Community Standing Against Racism, a Facebook group, started publishing open letters.
A June 5 letter signed by 750 people was directed at the school community and leadership, including Lagarde.
“We must directly confront injustice, vocally and unrelentingly, wherever it exists — and ensure it is more than just lip-service. These soft-spoken calls to action — or to leadership — cannot be our response.”
Stephanie Tuerk, a 1995 graduate and coordinator of the group response, said she was upset after reading an initial letter written by Lagarde and wanted to see more. Education offers students a chance to understand the complexities of the world, and can provide opportunities to dismantle issues like racism, Tuerk said.
“Young people, we are born not knowing much about the world and we listen from the people who are guiding us in the world,” she said. “We teach things as facts to children like don’t drink and drive or have safe sex.”
Recommendations from the group include adding curriculum to explore white privilege, expand curriculum with more diverse narratives, offer training on racial microaggressions and teaching that racism is wrong.
Lagarde said in a statement to The Capital that the school has started working on a plan to address concerns to “foster a more inclusive community where each person is welcomed and affirmed.”
“We understand that words at this point are not enough; we must take action,” he said.
Alum Bryson Popham and his wife created Sparks Endowment after Leroy Sparks, the first African American student at Severn School in 1967, in order to increase diversity.
“We’re awash in a sea of information in this world right now. Too many of us, just go to the places where we hear our own views reinforced that’s absolutely the wrong thing to do, you need to hear the views of other people,” he said.
Private school response
Other private schools are grappling with the same issues, and are looking to create a space for students.
Archbishop Spalding held a forum for students and faculty to talk about what is going on on a national level, such as the protests, as well as discussing fears and hopes, President Kathleen Mahar wrote in an email.
Key School has sent out resources for parents and students and is still in the process of providing steps for students, faculty and family. The school is planning forums and creating a framework by the diversity, equity and inclusion team, according to a school spokeswoman.
Earlier this year, Annapolis Area Christian School began searching for a director of diversity, equity and inclusion, said Superintendent Rick Kempton. Part of the role would be offering professional development, reviewing curriculum changes and facilitating conversations with the school community.
Change can begin in school, Kempton said.
“Here in our culture, we have some influence. We have some element of control that we have to be different,” he said.
Indian Creek Equity and Inclusion Chair Doug McCuiston and his team have conducted sessions with students, parents and faculty over the past couple of weeks.
Normally, his team covers a range of topics but at this point, he said they have focused in on race and going over that the violent deaths from George Floyd to Ahmaud Arbery to Breonna Taylor “was not in a vacuum.”
“The first thing that we wanted to do was lean into these conversations because that is the starting point,” McCuiston said.
After creating a space for expression, he said the school can make more progress.
“Once everybody has a kind of understanding about how we feel and what we want to do, then we start delving into the education,” McCuiston said.