A Message from our Head of School

Dear HMI Community,

I write to you today during a time of sadness, anger, pain, and conflict. We grieve the loss of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other Black Americans to name here. To see our fellow citizens killed because of the color of their skin is devastating; it is an appalling failure that racism, brutality, and hatred persist in our land.

Yet it comes as no surprise to those who have considered issues of inclusivity, access, equity, and representation in the outdoors that multiple of the recent examples of racial profiling and violence occurred in outdoor recreation settings. The “great outdoors” has a long and tragic history as an unwelcoming and unsafe space for people of color. Look no further than Central Park—one of the most diverse and accessible outdoor spaces in the world—where Christain Cooper was recently threatened by a white person while he was bird watching.

The natural world offers immense promise for reflection, personal growth, and resilience. Outdoor recreation has never felt more essential than right now, as a safe and healthy outlet during a pandemic. But in order for any person to reap fully the benefits of the outdoors, it must be a safe place for all. This is not the case right now, especially for many people of color.

At HMI we strive to make the natural world more inclusive and representative of our diverse country. Wilderness expeditions provide a rare setting for people of vastly disparate backgrounds to build authentic relationships. These bonds are the basis of the community we seek to form at our school. The people who bring this institution to life, however, are not immune to racism. We are a majority-white school operating in two majority-white worlds: independent schools and outdoor recreation. As a white person who feels safe in both of these spheres, I benefit from the same structures that infuriate me. Good intentions alone will not get HMI or me where we need to be.

We must make progress despite our limitations. Doing so is a pillar of our strategic plan, and the horrific events of the last month increase the urgency we feel. We are working to make our student body, employee community, and board of trustees more diverse, though we are not where we need to be. All of our faculty and staff are participating in diversity, equity, and inclusion professional development training, but this is only one step in a humbling journey. Despite our isolated location, our community is no more sheltered from racial tension than we are from disruption by the coronavirus pandemic. We are engaging in difficult conversations to deepen our awareness of the biases we hold.

While much of this work is happening internally at HMI, we feel our community deserves to know about our commitment as well. We grieve, and we also have work to do. Each of our students ought to feel valued, affirmed, and transformed by their time at HMI. This is the goal to which we dedicate ourselves.

Sincerely,

Danny O’Brien
Head of School

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