Parent Group speaks out on accusations of radical teachings at Lipscomb
By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — A parent group at Lipscomb Academy has accused the school’s first Dean of Intercultural Development, Brittany Paschall, of racist “indoctrination” for teaching students about white privilege and other issues, prompting an opposing peer group to publicly dispute the claims against her.
Paschall, a black woman, took the position last June.
Screenshots provided by the concerned parent of a black student wishing to remain anonymous fearing backlash show John Rich of country duo Big & Rich advocating the removal of several school staff members, including Paschall, for actions he said violated its Church of Christ-based doctrine. “It is important for you to know that the information below and attached has now been circulated and digested by a large portion of the parent body, and the reactions are intense and negative,” Rich said in an email dated Dec. 29 and obtained by The Tennessee Tribune. The parent is a member of Lipscomb Academy Diversity and Inclusion Parent Network and said Paschall was singled out in a crusade against “radical liberalism” at the school.
Rich’s wife, Joan, is the president of Lipscomb’s elementary school, and the couple’s children are students.
The accusations aren’t accurate, said the parent. One complaint alleged Paschall taught politics from the pulpit during school, which the source said was addressed and debunked at the institution’s town halls.
“Recently I was made aware that during chapel, subjects that are politically charged and of a sensitive nature have been the focus of these chapel sessions. Not only have the subjects been deeply discussed, they have been presented with unadulterated bias which I view as an unmistakable attempt of clear indoctrination of our young kids,” reads the email. “The most egregious of these cases was dealing with ‘white privilege.’ You will see attached to this email an essay that the students were forced to read, and then answer questions about the essay. As you will read, the essay asks the reader ‘Are you white?’ And “if so, then you don’t realize how privileged you are being a caucasian…” and it goes on from there to talk about how white people have 400 years of ‘blood on their hands…’”
“It simply didn’t happen,” the parent said of Rich’s claims against Paschall, adding the essay Rich referenced was distributed in Aug. last year to eighth-graders and was written by a white woman, Laurie Halse Anderson. Written in 2012, the essay, “Whose Story Is It?” asks readers–specifically those who are white– to learn the culture and background of characters whose experiences they don’t share when they write about them. The parent said Paschall had limited engagement with students and didn’t distribute the essay, adding the point was to promote critical thinking about race and society, not racism. The essay can be found at www.madwomanintheforest.com.
The term ‘white privilege’ stems from 1988’s “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies” by Wellesley professor Peggy McIntosh, also a white woman.
The Tribune asked Rich for comment and received an audio file via email from an apparent representative. “I want to say something about Brittany Paschall,” Rich began. Its title suggests it was recorded at one of the town hall meetings but it’s unclear what date the meeting took place. “Can’t be hating on Brittany Paschall. Because Brittany Paschall has a constitutional right to think what she wants to think, be who she wants to be, support what she wants to support (inaudible),” he said, shifting the focus to two teachers specifically. “Shall I continue with some other teachers’ names, who aren’t Brittany Paschall, who did put these things on the desks, who are not African American,” he asked, and the audio file ended.
The Tribune reached out to the representative that sent the file but hadn’t received an answer to our request for comment at press time on whether he has clarified his position on Paschall to those he emailed or engaged with on social media.
For months parents supporting Paschall have shied away from public comment. Now, they’ve chosen to dispute “the lies permeating our community,” the source said, adding that plenty of white families at the school are upset over Rich’s allegations.
E-mails from Rich detail his accusations and recommendations for the school’s Board of Trustees, including calling for the resignation of the Lipscomb employee who vetted Paschall.
“That is a feeling shared by all the parents who I have spoken with, which is growing daily,” Rich’s email said. “A ground swell is occurring at this very moment, and should this information ever become public, it would tarnish Lipscomb in a permanent way.”
The parent said Lipscomb’s vetting process was “intense” and that Paschall and other candidates were vetted by attorneys, administration and parents.
Rich, in a screenshotted social media post, called for the firing of Lisa Bruce, Associate Head of School for Academics and Paschall’s supervisor and the lateral removal of Paschall from the Academy to Lipscomb University “or to be managed so that she builds Unity, not Division … OR, some of you may want her GONE as well as Lisa Bruce.” It also calls for a restructuring of the school’s leadership, with the headmaster to have sole authority over the school rather than answer to the University’s president, who oversees the entire Lipscomb campus. That same post said Randy Lowry, the university’s president, was removed from the Board of Trustees’s email list.
Another e-mail obtained by the Tribune addressed supporters of Lipscomb and its athletic program and shows Rich cancelling a songwriters fundraiser for Lipscomb at his home. “We cannot in good conscience continue to raise money for a school who has so drastically disappointed us, and has veered into a line of teaching that is not what we support as a family,” the email said.
Despite the controversy the school’s Diversity and Inclusion Parent Network is still supportive of the institution. “We just believe now that the other group has opened the door to the other issues that we need to make sure our position is understood. We do not in any way want Lipscomb or the Administration or Administrators to be displayed in a negative light like the other group who’s calling for people’s firing. We genuinely want to offer support and ideas to expand on the work they have begun,” they said.
That includes adopting policies and procedures to clearly combat racism, mandatory cultural competency training for faculty, administration and staff, maintaining the position of Dean of Intercultural Development, and telling the truth about racial issues at the school’s campus.
The Parent Network has urged the school not to be pressured by Rich’s money and influence and continue fostering an environment that encourages diversity, the source remarked.
Attempts to reach a spokesperson for the school did not respond to a request for comment at the time of press.