In February, to celebrate Black History Month, Castleton University hosted a study group that offered different meetings, films and readings to discuss the topic of race in a project called “Race Matters: A Castleton Dialogue.”
“It was Black History Month, and I wanted to do something. The crucial thing was for racism and race issues to be addressed. It is true that Black History Month and Women’s History Month are more about celebrating achievements and raising awareness of contributions from that group,” said Charlotte Gerstein, reference and instruction librarian at Castleton’s Calvin Coolidge Library.
“I always wonder about our students of color on campus; are they comfortable, and is there anything we can do to help them feel more comfortable, and to help white students feel more comfortable talking about race?”
The group watched the film “The Green Book,” and invited guest speaker Adam Taylor, superintendent of Rutland City Public Schools.
“I thought a leader in the community, an educator, and a person of color could have something valuable to say,” said Gerstein on why she invited him.
Taylor, originally from Oakland, California, came to talk to Castleton about how to deal with race and racism in a classroom and school environment.
“It’s important to get diverse views. Being a black man in Vermont provides a diverse opinion, especially being from Oakland, California where there are over 100 languages spoken … every 3 or 4 blocks the culture changed. I think that provides me an opportunity to share some things other people may not have experienced,” said Taylor in an interview last week.
But while responding to a question during his visit to Castleton, Taylor made some controversial remarks.
Kate Barcellos, the reporter from the Rutland Herald covering his talk, quoted Taylor saying, “I’ll use an Oakland analogy … a pimp has to groom, he has to get to know a young lady in order to get her to go out and sell her body to get him money,” Taylor said. “It’s about building that relationship that then gets her to go out and do something that she would not do … it’s a foul analogy, but it makes sense. It’s about building the relationship. Similar to a Catholic priest … similar to a pedophile … it’s about building those relationships where there’s trust, where I will do whatever you ask me to.”
The question he was reacting to was “what’s the most important thing first-year teachers need to know,” and while talking about building relationships, Taylor used the analogy that caused quite a stir in the Rutland community.
Monica McEnerny, professor of education at Castleton University and an attendee at the event, said “I appreciate that Mr. Taylor presented to our campus, as he shared some insightful thoughts about culturally responsive teaching, project-based learning, authentic classrooms, proficiency-based assessment, and other educational practices. In my view, while the intent was not malicious, the choice of language in his analogy was unfortunate and unnecessary.”
“We must carefully choose language that supports, encourages, and connects us to one another, and we must think in this way as well,” McEnerny said.
Taylor received a lot of backlash, from people speaking against him at a subsequent School Board meeting to comments and shares across social media calling for his resignation.
At a recent School Board meeting about raising the Black Lives Matter flag, a school board member said a racial slur. That board member was a white man and some argue he did not receive as much attention for what he said.
So, did the backlash Taylor received have anything to do with race?
After a long pause, Taylor said “no.”
He recognizes that what he said negatively impacted people, including himself.
But after pondering it, he asks, “could it be?”
“I don’t know Vermont yet. I don’t the community and culture of Rutland yet … it could be. After hearing the kids from New Neighbors speak and what they endure, and what my son now endures… I don’t know, it could be.”
“I’d like to apologize to them,” Taylor said, referring to the Castleton students and faculty who may have been impacted by what he said. “It hadn’t crossed my mind… so I didn’t recognize them and the institution… and I should’ve. So shame on me.”
“We all make mistakes. We have to own them when we make them, if an apology needs to be issued, you apologize, and then you have to learn from that mistake, because you can’t make that same mistake twice. You have to be able to do that, and then continue forward,” Taylor said.
“I just hope one day the community accepts me, not as a Vermonter, but as a piece of fabric in the community,” Taylor said. “I didn’t move 3,000 miles to hurt people. I moved here to make Rutland City Public Schools the greatest they can be, because they have so much going on that is great. So many great staff members, great students. Unintentionally, I recognize I harmed the community, but I own it.”
With a final statement, Taylor mentioned a Martin Luther King Jr. quote.
“Don’t judge me by the color of my skin, but the content of my character.”