Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown, C.J. Spirito, student leaders, and Abbey Baker spoke in front of the portrait of Bishop Hopkins before removing it from the front hall.
Last week, our school community removed a large portrait of Bishop John Henry Hopkins, the first Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont, from the front hall. Although the school's origins began with Hopkins and his family, we decided to remove the painting because of Bishop Hopkins's views on slavery.
This fall, C.J. Spirito (Head of School) and Abbey Baker (English teacher) joined a group of leaders from the Episcopal Diocese to learn more about the legacy of Bishop Hopkins. Under the leadership of Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown, they read Hopkins’ book titled A Scriptural, Ecclesiastical, and Historical View of Slavery, which argues that slavery is not a sin. Bishop Shannon is the first African American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in Vermont and the first African American woman bishop leading a diocese in New England. As part of the Church’s commitment to reconciliation, Bishop Shannon knew that Hopkins’ connection to slavery needed to be discussed among her congregation.
As we continued to have conversations about race and racism in classes and community meetings this year, we began to reflect on the school's history and how it fits into the current national discourse on race. Through our discussions, we wondered how to reconcile the racist history of Bishop Hopkins, the role he played in the founding of the diocese, and his belief in the importance of educating women. Ultimately, the students decided that Bishop Hopkins' portrait should be removed from the front hall because he does not represent our values.
On May 19, Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown, Abbey, C.J., and three student leaders spoke to the school community about the decision. Part of the student statement about the removal reads, “Hopkins is one of countless leaders whose beliefs have shaped the legacy of racism in this country, a legacy we still see the effects of today. It was clear that it needed to be moved.” To acknowledge the history of the school and the connection to Hopkins, we decided to leave a miniature portrait of Bishop Hopkins in the chapel, with the statement written by the students, which puts his legacy in context. You can read the full statement here.
Bishop Shannon MacVean-Brown applauded the decision of the students, “You all are setting a wonderful example to have studied and discussed with each other and decided that this is something you don’t agree with … It’s important to take the first step and have a visual representation of this work and the change happening.”
In addition to removing the portrait, students elected to fly a Black Lives Matter Flag in the front of the school over Bishop Hopkin’s name. As David (11th grader) said, “I thought it was kind of a symbolic gesture, but then I realized that symbolic gestures can actually have a lot of power.”