The Morristown-Beard School in Morris Township is convening a task force to review its diversity policies in response to a “racially charged” social media posting by former graduates over the weekend.
“This unfortunate incident is a reminder of the work that still needs to be done by us as a school and as a nation,” Headmaster Peter Caldwell and board President John Fay said in a message to the school community on Sunday.
A tweet from late Saturday depicts three males, one smoking a cigarette, one munching corn chips, and the third, sitting shirtless and speaking into the camera. They appear to be outdoors. Two of them utter a racial epithet, and one disparages George Floyd, the black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day.
Morristown-Beard students and alumni attributed the statements to two 2020 graduates. One is bound for Cornell University to play football, the other to the University of Richmond.
“We were just made aware of the video in question yesterday and are carefully looking into the situation,” Cornell University spokesman John Carberry told Morristown Green on Monday.
The University of Richmond did not immediately return a request for comment.
Another recent Morristown-Beard grad, a female, posted herself on TikTok against what appears to be a backdrop of a web search of the term “African American.” She then grins and exclaims, “Hey loser, we’re going shopping!”
She was accepted by Colgate University for the fall, according to Morristown-Beard students and graduates. Colgate spokesman Daniel DeVries said:
“A racist TikTok video, purportedly created by a newly admitted student, was brought to the University’s attention today. Colgate University condemns the content of this video as an affront to our core values as a place of higher education. The appropriate offices are now conducting a full review.”
Attempts to reach all three students were unsuccessful; their Morristown-Beard emails no longer work and it appears that their social media accounts have been deleted.
The Morristown-Beard headmaster termed the former students’ behavior “inappropriate and unacceptable,” and their video content as “offensive and hurtful.”
They are not representative of the school, which does not “tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind,” Caldwell said in his message. “We have worked diligently with students and faculty to develop cultural competency programming and a curricula that are fully inclusive.”
Trustees, administration, faculty and staff “are all committed to building and nurturing a culture that honors the qualities of justice and cultivates a community of empathy,” he continued, adding that “over the next several weeks, a task force will be meeting to evaluate our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion policies and programs.”
Caldwell invited students to participate, and share recommendations.
“I appreciate the transparency,” Lisa Woods, an African American who is the parent of a Morristown-Beard football player, commented on the school’s Facebook page.
Julia Sweeney (’14), who is white, expressed disappointment that the school so far has not expressed support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“The type of behavior displayed in the video you are responding to today is not an isolated incident. Sadly, it is reflective of an attitude that is shared among an alarming number of MBS kids,” Sweeney posted.
“I know for a fact that my skin color and social class afforded me my generally positive experience as a student,” she wrote. “But many students who didn’t fit into the rich, white, cisgender, straight box experienced an oftentimes unwelcoming environment and endured daily challenges of overt and covert racism, homophobia, transphobia, and xenophobia from their peers, teachers, and MBS parents.”
Sarah Yamashita, an MBS graduate now attending Smith College, said “none of this is surprising to me, which is sad, but true.
“The culture of the school, they foster this kind of white privilege. There is a lot of harassment and bullying of students of color,” said Yamashita, a former Morristown Green correspondent.
Established in 1891, Morristown-Beard teaches students in grades 6-12. Students of color account for about 10 percent of its 571 students, according to Private School Review, which lists average class size as 12 students and tuition for the upper school as $39,190. The school’s motto is Ad Astra Per Aspera. Translation: To the Stars Through Adversity.