Community and Culture at Roxbury Latin
Roxbury Latin is a democratically gathered community, a school where individuals from a great diversity of backgrounds are brought together by shared goals and common ideals. Character formation, at the heart of who we are and what we do, means we aim to educate boys not just for their own intellectual gains, but so they might understand their responsibility to contribute meaningfully and positively to the whole, and, ultimately, to society. The ongoing concern for fairness, for justice, for how we can positively affect various communities are traits the faculty of Roxbury Latin aim not only to teach, but also to model and insist upon for all students. We also work to help boys discover the joy of knowing and understanding others whose circumstances, beliefs, and interests are unlike their own.
As advisors—guided by our primary promise to know and love each boy—we aim to be effective in understanding and advocating for every single boy, mindful always of what his unique attributes, gifts, and challenges might be. In everything we do, we aim to balance the best of Roxbury Latin—the best of our traditions, our relationships, and our history as an old, Classical school—with an eye toward positive growth, and with deep awareness of who we are, where we have been, and what we aim to be.
We aim to ensure that Roxbury Latin is a welcoming, inclusive, supportive place for every student to learn and grow. Every space at Roxbury Latin should be, and must be, a safe space for all. One part of our work is to ensure that such is the case. The other part of our work entails engaging with students to generate opportunities for discussion, some of which are general and inclusive, others that are tailored to more specific identity groups. These conversations aim to be ones in which students feel safe sharing, but also opportunities for listening, connecting, reflecting, and learning.
Serving the needs of the boys in our care requires ongoing consideration, conversation, and effort. We value the variety of perspectives individuals bring to the school and require that students and adults respect one another’s backgrounds and experiences, as well as have opportunities to discuss, disagree, ask questions, and aim to understand, especially when it comes to issues of race, identity, or topics of social justice. In the same way that we encourage our students to persist through difficult but worthy undertakings, we aim to model that commitment and persistence.
Below are some of the ways in which Roxbury Latin strives to develop a collection of disparate, distinctive, and independent individuals into a cohesive, collaborative “band of brothers” unified by a common mission and a shared dedication to excellence, while also enriched, deepened, and enhanced by diversity of experience, background, and outlook.
Need-Blind Admission and Enrollment
For more than 20 years, Roxbury Latin has maintained a need-blind admission and enrollment policy through which students are admitted and enrolled without regard to their families’ ability to pay. True to Roxbury Latin’s roots, boys are enrolled on merit. This commitment allows us to attract a hardworking and able student body drawn from dissimilar social, economic, racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. We ensure that every student has equal access to the full range of Roxbury Latin offerings—which includes all athletic and extracurricular programs, all off-campus and travel opportunities, access to test prep and psychological services. We insist that our boys—as well as our faculty and staff—commit to the generalist model, pursuing involvement and investment in many activities and offerings, and we seek out boys with vibrant personalities and passionate interests who have a capacity for deep and broad involvement. It is, therefore, natural that boys try out and try on various roles, discovering talents and passions and cultivating leadership skills, as well as collaboration. At RL, one is expected to try, and is supported should he fail. Implicit in our goals for these many years has been a deep commitment to diversity.
Curricular Assessment and Renewal
Each year, as part of our curriculum mapping exercise, we take a close look at all grades and courses to explore ways in which we might incorporate new texts, add new voices, and connect themes covered in multiple disciplines. Our goal is to ensure that we all are doing our part to be inclusive, relevant, and balanced in the content covered and the lessons implied, eager that our boys benefit from new thinking about content, skills, and their application as they move on from here out into the world.
In summer 2020, the Assistant Headmaster for Program and the Director of Community and Culture met individually with each department chair, and then with the Curriculum Committee, to assess with faculty where we might make changes in the curriculum to center minority voices and to broaden boys’ exploration—specifically within United States and global history courses, and English courses, but also in Environmental Science, Music, Classics, Modern Language, and Health courses, for example. This short-term goal exercise resulted in changes for the 2020-2021 school year, including at least one new novel, play, collection of poems or short stories at each level of the English curriculum; in History, an ongoing commitment to offering an upper school elective focused on diverse perspectives and cultures (recently courses in Race and Gender, and Three Carribean Islands), as well as adding primary sources from different perspectives to the courses that every boy encounters. Other departments are also looking at their curriculum through an equity, diversity, and inclusion lens and adding units, readings, and reflections throughout the year. Refinement of units in the Grade 7 History course, for instance, which focuses on the History of Boston, will have students exploring more fully the African American and Native American contributions to the History of Boston; in Grade 8, the Classics Department is aiming to provide an even more cosmopolitan view of the Roman world by spending time exploring the Roman confrontations with Northern Africa and the Carthaginians; and in English classes across grades new readings have been added to the curriculum, including August Wilson’s Fences, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and Tommy Orange’s There There.
In 2007, we decided that our students needed to be more global learners, and, therefore, we launched Roxbury Latin’s immersion programs in France and Spain, journeys to Rome and Greece, and various other trips that have taken boys to the Northwest of this country, Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, India, China, all over the United States, to South America, and to various countries in Europe. Roxbury Latin enjoys a brother school relationship with the legendary Maru-a-Pula School in Botswana. Each summer, RL boys are in residence there, and often their students visit us here in Boston, living with RL families and taking part in classes and school life, as part of a student exchange.
For the past sixteen years we have offered older boys interesting electives in history. Sometimes, like in 2020 with Professor Zine Magubane (who taught the course Race and Gender), the electives offered were the result of hiring Smith Scholars with particular specialties. Often, however, the courses are the result of articulated priorities and the willingness of department members to stretch their teaching. We have been fortunate to have such electives as The Middle East, Modern China, Modern India, Latin American Lives, World War I, Contemporary Global Issues, World History, U.S. Foreign Policy, Columbus to Chavez, Economics of Globalization, Borders, Medieval World in Antiquity, and Biblical Studies, as well as Modern European History, Economics, Government and Politics, and Art History. In our ongoing quest to offer non-European derived courses, this year we will offer Three Caribbean Islands: Cuba, Dominican Republic and Haiti and Puerto Rico. This course—taught by Dr. Ernesto Guerra—will utilize history, politics, literature, and culture to foster an appreciation for and understanding of these important countries and cultures in our own hemisphere.
This work is ongoing, and never complete. With short-, medium-, and long-term goals in place, we are committed to continuing and enhancing this work as we move forward, always with our roots as a Classical school and our distinctive mission in mind.
Halls: A Range of Voices and Topics
A key and unique part of Roxbury Latin’s program is our tradition of high quality Halls. In some cases, the speakers and performers are intended to broaden and deepen our existing program representing excellences of all kinds. Halls also are intended to put before the school issues that are not routinely covered in our courses and allow for the expanding of boys’ views of the world, the nation, and their communities. We work hard always to ensure that the individuals we invite to speak to the boys and faculty represent a broad range of perspectives, backgrounds, identities, professions, passions, and expertise.
In celebration of RL’s 375th anniversary, we brought to the school nearly twenty different alumni who represented the school’s great diversity, and offered testimonials about their lives and their helpful contributions since their time as RL students. Additionally, launched by the optional, school-wide reading of the book Evicted by Matthew Desmond, we pursued a study of poverty and homelessness in Boston and beyond. A series of speakers, and our own bed-building project, underscored the responsibility we have to both understand systemic injustice, and to resolve in our own lives to do something to help.
As last year’s Smith Scholar, Dr. Zine Magubane, a sociologist at Boston College, was with us for a term leading an elective on race and gender; she also delivered two memorable Halls, one focused on the connected histories of Booker T. Washington and RL alumnus William Baldwin, Class of 1881.
Some recent Hall speakers include:
Frantz Alphonse ‘90, Founder and Managing Director of AP Capital Holdings
Arundhathi Subramaniam, award-winning poet
Mohamad Hafez, visual artist and activist
Adam Foss, Founder of Prosecutor Impact
Derek Ho ‘92, Partner at Kellogg Hansen
Bo Menkiti ‘95, Founder and CEO of Keller Williams Capital Properties
Nikita Stewart, New York Times journalist and contributor to “1619 Project”
Dalia Hochman, Head of Gann Academy
John Semper ‘70, screenwriter and animation artist
Alex Myers, transgender educator and author
Vanessa Calderon-Rosado, CEO of IBA-Inquilinos Boricuas en Accion
Bill Walczak, Founder of Codman Square Health
Iqbal Dhaliwal, Executive Director of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab
Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted
This year we will continue to host speakers who represent a diverse range of backgrounds, perspectives, and professions, but also some who will speak directly to issues of race and social justice, from a variety of angles, including Mansoor Shams and Ambassador Harriet Elam-Thomas.
Each year, we hope boys and adults will share elements of their identities, cultures, and traditions of which they are proud with their schoolmates and the faculty, during Hall or in other ways throughout the year. Among these traditions are annual presentations on the world’s great faith traditions. The school also regularly hosts forums on various topics—current events, historical anniversaries, topics related to social responsibility or social justice—during which boys and adults come together to share their perspectives and respectfully debate differing points of view. We will continue to build on these offerings and opportunities.
The ongoing education of our faculty and staff is a priority at Roxbury Latin. Each year, many RL adults pursue coursework focused on their academic disciplines, emerging technology and pedagogy, teaching and caring for adolescent boys, and understanding topics related to equity, diversity, and inclusion, in order to best support our students. In recent years, we have, as a full faculty, engaged in professional development focused on the latter.
In 2018, faculty and staff began the school year with a three-part session focused on understanding and supporting, in particular, boys of color. Faculty watched the film American Promise; engaged in small group discussions about the film; and heard afterward from a panel of college-aged RL alumni of color, who shared their experiences from Roxbury Latin and from college.
In 2019, through the school’s partnership with Penn’s Graduate School of Education, two educators from the Racial Empowerment Collaborative spent a day with faculty and staff discussing biases and how they are formed; understanding intention versus impact; and establishing common language that we can all enlist to discuss topics of diversity, equity and inclusion thoughtfully and respectfully with one another.
In 2020, Dr. Derrick Gay—one of the country’s foremost thinkers on how schools confront challenges of difference—met with the faculty and staff to contextualize and discuss issues of diversity and race within schools, how individual schools’ cultures inform this work, and techniques and philosophies faculty can use to address issues of diversity to best support the students in their care.
The school supports faculty and staff members—as well as boys—wishing to participate in conferences or other opportunities to learn more about issues of race, equity, and supporting our diverse group of boys. Some of these recent opportunities have included the NAIS People of Color Conference, as well as the 2020 National Anti-Racism Teach-In and concurrent Teen Conference for students in summer 2020.
Finally, during the summer of 2020, members of the faculty and staff participated in a weekly discussion group in which they encountered some of the most provocative writings and films of the times on topics of race, including Ava Duvernay’s film 13th, Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to be an Antiracist, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s book Between the World and Me.
Faculty and Staff Hiring and Support
We aim to have our faculty and staff reflect the same diversity of backgrounds and experiences that Roxbury Latin students represent. That work must include both attracting and hiring a talented and diverse cohort of adults—including women, people of color, individuals with diverse religious backgrounds—and also supporting and retaining them once they’re part of the RL community.
Each year, we partner with a number of organizations that help us to attract diverse candidates to Roxbury Latin—including NEMNET, and NAIS hiring fairs focused on attracting minority applicants. Through our Penn Fellows program we bring, each year, two new, young faculty members to Roxbury Latin, with a special focus on introducing fresh perspectives, learning about new curricular and pedagogical opportunities, and attracting women, people of color, and LGBTQ individuals to our school. Our Penn Fellows in recent years have been broadly representative of a range of voices, perspectives and backgrounds, and we aim to build on that reality and on the great value they bring to our school. This program, now in eleven different schools, is intended to “broaden the funnel” for attracting a diverse cohort to independent school work.
RL boys are admonished to “lead and serve,” and our long-standing and robust community service program is a key pillar of our mission. The service program’s goals include relationship-building, introducing students to spaces and individuals they may otherwise never know, and opening boys’ eyes to the experiences of our neighbors in and around Boston.
Boys are committed both to class-specific service projects, as well as to other, optional service opportunities throughout the year. Class VI boys make regular visits to St. Theresa’s School down the hill to interact with preschoolers; Class V boys support hunger initiatives by working at a local food bank and participating in the Walk for Hunger each year; Class IV visits the elderly at the Deutsches Altenheim several times a month throughout the year; Class III boys work at Haley House, an organization serving the homeless and low-income residents of Boston; Class II devotes hours to the students at Epiphany School in Dorchester, where they prepare and serve dinner. On Saturday mornings throughout the school year, seniors prepare and serve breakfast for the residents of the Pine Street Inn residential shelter in Jamaica Plain. Finally, through the school’s Ave Atque Vale Society, boys in the senior class serve as pallbearers at graveside services for homeless or indigent men and women who have no family to bury them.
The RL chapter of Habitat for Humanity helps to raise money and build homes for Boston families, and for ten years students have tutored senior citizens each week in the school’s computer lab to introduce them to and assist them with utilizing various technology.
Through our various community service initiatives we aim to open boys’ eyes and increase their awareness of the community—and the world around them—in an effort to engender understanding, respect, and compassion, and to develop humble young men, committed to serving others well beyond their Roxbury Latin years and well beyond our walls.
If you have questions related to Roxbury Latin’s efforts toward cultivating an equitable, supportive, diverse, and inclusive school experience for all its members, please contact Darian Reid ‘05, Director of Community and Culture. Mr. Reid serves as a member of the school’s senior leadership team and leads in the school’s ongoing efforts to know and love every boy, helping us to intentionally and explicitly expand upon the ways in which we support, in particular, Black and brown students and all students of color, as well as LGBTQ+ students.