A Message from our Head of School: Reflecting on the U.S. Capitol Attack

On January, 14, 2021, Head of School Chris Mazzola shared this message with the Branson community in light of the recent attacks on our nation's Capitol.

January 14, 2021

Dear Branson Community,

Last Wednesday, as I watched the emerging crisis in Washington, I found myself – perhaps like you – experiencing a range of emotions: disbelief, fear, sadness, outrage, and indignation, to name a few. I was astounded and bewildered as I watched a sitting U.S. president incite violence against his own people and his own government. 

In the wake of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, social media and each of the news networks were flooded with information. Some of this information was accurate but much of it was either presented out of context or simply was not true. Simultaneously, political and media narratives quickly emerged that oversimplified explanations for what happened. As a result, there are some Americans who are not surprised about the events of January 6 and others who wonder how it could have happened in the first place. I imagine that each member of our Branson community also experienced a different range of thoughts and emotions as the day unfolded; we all needed help making sense of all that was occurring before our eyes. 

I am still struggling to make sense of all that transpired last week, and find myself voraciously reading any commentary I can get my hands on. Though I disagree intensely with the politics and decisions of the people who stormed the Capitol last Wednesday, and I strongly reject their hate speech and calls to violence, I do want to understand the factors that led them to that moment. I want our Branson students to feel this same sense of urgent curiosity that I do and I want to help them to understand and address the complicated issues inherent in last week's violence. What we cannot afford is for them to become cynical, disinterested, or tuned out.

At Branson, our primary responsibility as an educational institution is:

  1. to ensure that our students obtain reliable, factual information;
  2. to facilitate their processing of that information; and
  3. to assist them in critically evaluating the information.

In doing so, it is important that we not tell our students what to think, but rather, teach them how to think.

As the next leaders of this country and their generation, our students must have a thorough understanding of our nation's history and the roots of our current deep divides. They must also have the desire and tools to address these divisions in ways that are grounded in social justice principles and respect for the dignity of every human being.

At Branson, our core values – courage, kindness, honor, and purpose – guide our actions and our relationships with one another. Through our diversity mission statement we believe that diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential to creating a truly excellent learning environment and a vibrant, caring community. Each and every day, the Branson community engages in dialogue, learning, and self-exploration around building community, determining one's own values, understanding difference, and reaching across the aisle to those who hold opposing beliefs. 

As an educational institution, we also strive to instill in our students a deep sense of curiosity, and the ability to ask excellent questions and walk in the shoes of others, and to be disciplined enough to examine all sides of an issue before making a judgment. They need to be able to navigate a world that will increasingly rely on their skills as sophisticated learners and principled leaders to solve problems. These skills are critical components of any excellent education because they allow our graduates to better navigate a global landscape full of differences of every kind. 

Over the past year, my team has worked to lay a foundation that allows us to critically examine and share different perspectives about events like the Capitol incident. Our student leaders led lunch sessions last Thursday and Friday to provide a space for students to process and examine the issues. We have also created weekly time for faculty and staff to learn and/or refine their practice in leading our students in dialogue around these important events. 

This Friday, we are changing our schedule to provide students, faculty and staff the opportunity to engage with each other in dialogue, reflect, and process what happened.

Our goal is to create space to inform and empower our students as they try to make sense of what's happening in the days leading up to next week's inauguration. 

As awful as last Wednesday was for our country, it has presented us with a unique opportunity to delve deeply into the issues and examine them from every angle and every point of view. My hope is that in helping our students to understand the complex nature of the factors that led to that day, we are preparing them to lead with courage, honor, and purpose as they take on the challenges of their generation. In doing so, perhaps they can begin to address and solve the problems that we and others before us have created. My faculty, staff, and I solemnly take on this important responsibility to our students with urgency, care, and a desire to prepare them for the world they will soon inherit.

Chris Mazzola
Head of School