Several Brentwood Academy alumni who had expressed concern a few weeks ago over an incident involving one of the school’s history teachers have gone a step further to more generally call out the school’s leadership and its “callous disregard and willful negligence … regarding issues of racial harm and insensitivity.”
The group of five graduates, known as BA-ARC (Brentwood Academy Anti-Racism Community), is seeking to have an in-person meeting with the school’s board of trustees. It specifically is asking for more transparency on the matter of what it says are years of racial insensitivity, and for leadership to take actionable steps including the enlistment of an independent third-party consultant to investigate.
“The board has not agreed to a full-on, on-the-record meeting with this group of concerned alumni,” Andrew Bumbalough, a 2005 graduate, said recently. “There are five of us who represent a coalition of alumni that has reached over 900 signatures to a petition we had started several weeks ago.
“There has been kind of a sidestepping of directly engaging with these alumni who are bringing this issue to light and really trying to create some movement and dialog around it and to make some positive change.”
Brentwood Academy has been open to communicating with the group and others, according to Jennifer Smith, manager of Media Content/Communications for the school.
“We are in touch with those who have reached out to us,” she said. “We are actively listening and gathering information from everyone in our school community, including conversations with the organizers of this effort.”
Concern from the group came to the forefront in early February when school alumni learned that longtime Brentwood Academy history teacher Brad Perry’s job was reportedly in jeopardy after he had penned an opinion piece about the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Perry had published it on the website for The Public, a nonprofit advocacy organization he had cofounded last year in Franklin. For years Perry has taught an African American history class at Brentwood Academy, and according to one of the alums, leadership had threatened to discontinue that class.
The group of alumni had asked for a meeting with the board at that time, but were turned down, according to Bumbalough. The school sent a statement that said no one was “being threatened, fired or forced to resign” over the incident.
But the group’s resolve became stronger, and more organized. It has created a website that includes the group’s mission and an open letter to the Brentwood Academy board of trustees, as well as testimonials from students of color about the alleged racism that has been allowed to fester.
“This is something that didn’t just stem with Brad,” Bumbalough said. “I think that’s the kind of thing that brought us together again to say this isn’t OK, the way things are being handled or the way they’re not being handled.”
He pointed out that incidents of racial insensitivity date back to 2016, and earlier in some instances. And last summer, according to the open letter, when there was heightened unrest in the country in the wake of the George Floyd killing, “the school’s leadership issued a lukewarm statement that failed to mention racism being the cause of such tragedy.”
However, Smith insisted the school is undoubtedly committed to racial sensitivity and equity for all students.
“Brentwood Academy strongly condemns all forms of racism, prejudice and racial injustice,” she said. “Our diversity statement highlights what we believe and teach.
“Within our school community we have consistently expressed our commitment to treat each other in ways that cultivate respect, promote unity, and build each other up, while refraining from divisive rhetoric, without labeling, shaming or attacking. Our faculty and staff work hard every day to put these beliefs into practice.”
Bumbalough and the other leaders of BA-ARC — Emily Tripp (class of 2003), Rachel Rogers Rose (2007), Kayla Williamson (2016) and Lauren Williamson (2018) — said improvement is needed.
“I had a great experience [while a student] at the school,” Bumbalough said. “That is why I’m continuing to invest time and effort into seeing the school does better in this area.”