Springs Survivors stands in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and with Black students and alumni of Indian Springs, who deserve better from the school.
We were dismayed by the June 3, 2020 email from Interim Head of School Don North. As police in Alabama and across the country deploy violent and repressive measures against people protesting police brutality, Don North does not express support for Black Lives Matter or protesters. He does, however, lament the “destruction that has taken place following” George Floyd’s death, and he praises local authorities, including a local police chief, for their commitment to “order.” This is especially troubling given the ugly history of white praise for “order” during Black struggles for justice. The people of Birmingham are acutely familiar with this history.
But Don North reserves his greatest praise for Indian Springs School itself: for its stated commitments to moral courage, inclusion, infinite respect, and antiracism.
This does not reflect the truth of Indian Springs School’s history or current reality. Indian Springs was founded early in the “segregation academy” movement of the 1950s, and funded by the will of a racist industrialist named Harvey G. Woodward. Woodward’s will specifically banned the admission of Black and Jewish boys, and of girls in general. Indian Springs was racially segregated for approximately the first two decades of its existence. The “History” section of the school website makes no mention of this.
Today, Indian Springs remains predominantly white in every respect: in the make-up of its Board of Governors, administration, faculty, staff, and student body. During the 2017-2018 academic year, Black students made up only about 6.7% of the student body, despite the fact that Black people make up 70.5% of the population of Birmingham, over a quarter of the population of Alabama, and a little over 13% of the population of the country.
Moreover, the school’s response to the ongoing Black-led protests seems to prioritize the comfort of white people and the reputation of the school. This tells us that Indian Springs is not only majority-white in composition, but oriented toward the interests of white people in its operation.
Indian Springs School has a responsibility to Black students, alumni, faculty, and staff to do more, and do better. Indian Springs owes its full-throated support for the Movement for Black Lives, and for Black students, alumni, faculty, and staff. It owes honesty about the school’s historic, systemic racism. And it owes institutional accountability and change: outlining the specific, concrete measures it will implement to root out the vestiges of the school’s historical racism, and to recruit, retain, and support Black students, faculty, and staff.
Many alumni, including many of us at Springs Survivors, have written to the school privately about this. Springs Survivors is also making an open statement of solidarity because we believe that advocacy for justice is most powerful when it is public and collective. We have learned from experience that private communications with school leaders about Springs’ systemic problems tend to be ignored outright, or met with only cursory replies.
We believe, too, that the work against sexual violence and the work against white supremacy are connected because sexual violence and white supremacy have always been connected. This is true in the history of the United States and the history of Alabama, where sexual violence has been integral to slavery, Jim Crow, policing, and mass incarceration, and it is true in the particular history of Indian Springs. At Springs as elsewhere, the same culture of silence and complicity upholds white supremacy and rape culture—at great cost to students and alumni.
We offer our unequivocal support and solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and with Black students, alumni, faculty, and staff of Indian Springs. We call on all members of the Springs community, especially white people and non-Black people of color, to learn about the movements to end white supremacy and police brutality, and to support those movements in whatever ways they are able. Please see below for a list of resources to learn, donate, and get involved. #BlackLivesMatter
Templates for engagement:
#DefundPolice Defend Black Lives (Black Lives Matter petition)
Letter template to Indian Springs School
Organizations doing on-the-ground work:
Black Lives Matter Global Network
Black Visions Collective
National Lawyers Guild
The National Police Accountability Project
Reclaim the Block
Alabama Bail Funds:
o Black Lives Matter Birmingham Bail Support: https://cash.app/$STARROB and https://cash.app/$ALFAITHANDWORKS
o BHAM Community Support Fund
o Montgomery Bail Out
List of bail funds across the South
National Bail Out
Color of Change Education Fund
Homeless Black Trans Women’s Fund
In Memory of Tony McDade
Iyanna Dior Cash App: https://cash.app/$NajaBabiie
Justice for David McAtee
NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund
The End of Policing (Free ebook currently available for download)
The Marshall Project
Indian Springs School history and demographics:
Indian Springs School, National Center for Education Statistics
“School Desegregation, Law and Order, and Litigating Social Justice in Alabama, 1954-1973,” 2014
“Southerner Aids,” Ebony Magazine, December 1975
“Will of Harvey Woodward Again before Supreme Court,” Birmingham Post-Herald, 1947
White supremacy and sexual violence:
Our Commitment to Racial Justice (Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape/National Sexual Violence Resource Center)
Racial Justice (National Organization for Women)
Survived and Punished
On December 9, 2019, Indian Springs alums Kelly Stewart '06 and Hudson Munoz '05 published a Medium article about watching Hulu's "Looking for Alaska" in the midst of the ISS sexual misconduct investigation:
"We Went to the Real Culver Creek. It Was A Great School--With a Systemic Sexual Abuse Problem."
On December 5, 2019, WBRC Fox 6 in Birmingham ran a news story on Tim Thomas. While Thomas' church, First Presbyterian Church Birmingham, named him in a June 2019 letter to members, Indian Springs still has not named Thomas or any other living abusers.
"BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - WBRC Fox6 News has learned one of the former Indian Springs School faculty members, alleged to have engaged in 'educator sexual misconduct,' worked for both the school and a Birmingham church, where the church now says he may have been using participation in their choir as a way to 'foster relationships' with students." FULL STORY
Indian Springs School published its latest update to its ongoing investigation of sexual misconduct by teachers. This letter included additional accusations of misconduct involving John Lusco and Lee Watkins, and it included accusations against two previously unnamed teachers: Ray Woodard and Stephen Powell. This update brings the list of named faculty members to five: John Lusco, Lee Watkins, Marvin Balch, Ray Woodard, and Stephen Powell. All are deceased.
There have been credible reports in the community of sexual misconduct by a number of other, former faculty members. Two have been confirmed -- Tim Thomas and Clint Jacobs -- but the school refuses to include them in their updates to the community. And, we know there were still more, who were reported to the school and omitted from the school's official report.
The school's lack of moral courage in confronting and naming the living abusers leaves the accused free to access children. With no public record of their transgressions, they can continue to seek employment with students. In effect, Indian Springs is passing the trash.
In addition, the school's denial of abuse by living perpetrators does further harm to their survivors. By refusing to include these stories, the school is saying to all of the victims of the living abusers, "we don't believe you" and "your abuse wasn't serious enough." This is unacceptable and wrong. The more honest response would be, "we don't have the courage to stand up for you" or "we don't have the courage to face the abuse on our campus." Shame on Springs.
The school's characterization of its history of abuse -- as a distant memory, perpetrated only by a few deceased faculty members -- is disingenuous, and it cruelly denies the more recent experiences of students who were sexually abused or harassed by faculty members in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. How can we expect the school to become a safer place for future generations if it refuses to acknowledge its most recent failings? And, how can we as a community of alumni expect to support our friends and fellow classmates who were abused at Springs if we do not know their stories?
Indian Springs is betting that the internalized shame of the survivors will keep them from coming forward and that we, as alumni, will hold our nostalgia for the institution above our sense of justice and our desire to support our fellow alumni. This cannot be so. Please stand up with us and share your stories and messages of support. Together, we can encourage the school's leadership to uphold the values it encouraged us to hold: integrity and moral courage.