TEAM Westport Responds To Diversity Essay Controversy

In response to the uproar that followed announcement of TEAM Westport’s 9th annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest, Harold Bailey — chair of the town’s multiculutral organization — issued this statement:

In TEAM Westport’s 19-year history, there is no initiative of which we are more proud than the annual Teen Diversity Essay Contest.

Over the past 8 years, it is also the initiative which has garnered the greatest acclaim and respect for the town of Westport. From school systems regionally, statewide, and nationally to CNN, the stature of the town has been raised and the town has responded to the insights of its youth with a combination of respect, pride and (often) awe.

In general, the awe has been due to the breath-taking courage and talent required of winning essayists to deliver their searing insights with genuinely brilliant language. Those insights have included first-hand accounts of the impact of “othering” written by White, Black, Asian-American, Latinx, etc. students providing their voices on aspects of race, religion, ethnicity and LGBTQ-IA+ (TEAM Westport’s focus areas by charter).  We invite you to read all 25 winning essays at

Now, through a combination of website and emails, anonymous source(s) have declared that

  • Insights from African-American, Asian-American, Latinx and White students about the toxicity of racial micro-aggressions on their lives and their peers were racist.
  • A White student’s exposition of her marginalization due to the “dumb blonde” stereotypes was unconstitutional.
  • The frank discussion of the marginalization faced by an LGBTQ-IA+ student after coming out was un-American.

Essentially, these anonymous source(s) contend that the Town of Westport should be outraged that these voices were ever heard and ensure that no others are heard in the future.

Last year’s TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest finalists (from left): Curtis Sullivan, Maxwell Tanksley, Jaden Mello.

That contention is patently absurd and diametrically opposed to the town of Westport’s “Statement on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” ratified by the Board of Selectmen (including our current first aelectwoman) on October 13.

It is one thing to criticize adults with a viciousness including accusations of Nazi-ism, but far more troubling to dismiss the insights of our children as ideology trolling for dollars while bullying future participants and their parents.

(From left): TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, with essay contest winners Chet Ellis, Angela Ji, Daniel Boccardo and Olivia Sarno.

The TEAM Westport Teen Diversity Essay Contest was created to give teens in our community an opportunity to reflect on, express, and open up constructive conversations about race and identity based on each teen’s lived experience. If you support the Teen Diversity Essay Contest and its continuation, there are two ways you can help:

  1. Say so. Send an email addressed to the RTM (, Board of Selectmen (, Board of Education ( and Superintendent of Schools (
  2. Contribute. TEAM Westport receives no funding from the town of Westport. All contest prizes are funded via independent contributions. Tax deductible contributions may be made via to TEAM Westport, c/o Department of Finance, Town Hall, 110 Myrtle Avenue, Westport, CT 06880.
  3. TEAM Westport contest judges (from left) Jaina Shaw and Dr. Judith Hamer, and (far right) Mary-Lou Weisman flank 2016 essay contest winners Ellie Shapiro, Ali Tritschler and Jacob Klegar.

25 responses to “TEAM Westport Responds To Diversity Essay Controversy

  1. WE should all thank you, Mr. Bailey for the somewhat late but nontheless candid and no nonsense rebuttal of the essay naysayers…some of the negative comments make me feel as though I were back in Ft. Worth, though I applaud both the expression of and the publication of all sentiments,

  2. Nancy McKeever

    Thank you Harold Bailey for taking the time to write this response. As a former Westport parent and educator, I have read and listened to many essays that Westport high school students have written. Adolescents can raise our moral consciousness and provide insight into ways to think about issues so important to our building of community. I will make a contribution to this effort. I hope people will take the time to read some of the student essays.

  3. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    I would welcome Mr. Bailey’s thoughts on the reality that the well-intentioned and highly laudable initiative that he leads is being continually weaponized and politicized by Westporters on both the left and the right. I think there are “consciousness raising” opportunities that have yet to be explored.

  4. Celia Campbell-Mohn

    Isn’t it ironic that an essay on how hard it is to discuss race leads to an acrimonious discussion?

  5. Bravo!

  6. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    As my grandfather told me when I was a hardscrabble kid in Scranton (before we moved to Westport), “Talk is cheap, Joey. If you want to change things, go into public service.”

  7. Thank you, Harold, for this excellent response and for all the work you do on behalf of Westport students and the community. I will be sending a contribution to support the efforts of the essay contest on Monday.

    Also – just to make sure everyone has the correct info: The email to reach the entire RTM is now:

    Lisa Newman
    RTM District 8

    • Lisa,

      With all due respect, why are you asking people to send letters to the RTM regarding this essay contest when you (should) know that the RTM has nothing to do with the TEAM essay contest? You either are trying to show that you and RTM have some influence over the TEAM essay (which is misleading) or are simply confused as to the limitations of the role of the RTM.
      Thank you.

      • The RTM members are elected to represent the residents in the town. If you have an opinion on something town-related (TEAM Westport is an town-appointed board), then I think it’s important to let your representative know where you stand, and vice versa.

      • Hi Bea,

        I did not ask people to send letters to the RTM. My comment merely corrected the email address originally noted in Harold’s piece, as the address for the RTM was not the address by which to reach all RTM members at once. Dan has since edited the post to include the corrected email address (thanks Dan!).

        However, I agree! The RTM has nothing to do with the TEAM essay contest so it is confusing that those behind the anonymouse website added the RTM as recipients for grievances regarding TEAM Westport in the first place.

        Either way, it has been wonderful to see the influx of emails today speaking in support of the work and role of TEAM Westport thanks to Harold’s excellent response on the matter.


  8. Kristin Schneeman

    Beautifully stated, Mr. Bailey, thank you!

  9. Danielle Dobin

    Bravo, Harold.

  10. Mr. Bailey, I appreciate your sincerity and respect your right to express yourself, even though I may disagree with your belief that stressing people’s differences will reduce, not increase, prejudices. My view is the opposite, we should worship individuality over group identity, and that is the key to having an accepting and fair society. Reasonable people can disagree about the best ways to address racism and prejudice. It is not racist to believe in lowering tensions and viewing people as individuals more than members of groups. Intolerance of dissent is just as egregious as other forms of discrimination. TEAM Westport’s views are not morally superior to those who seek a more equal society by other means than the pursuit of identity politics. Calling those who disagree with you racist is not helping to create a more diverse and accepting community. Nor is it lowering racial tensions. TEAM Westport is becoming a divisive influence, and this is contrary to the goals for which it was created and backed by the Town and its taxpayers. It may well be time to defund TEAM Westport and find new ways of creating a more diverse and accepting community.

    • Adam, as noted in the story, TEAM Westport receives no funding from the town.

    • Adam, you are so myopically and disappointingly off base here, that the mind staggers under your posting…a posting that says, I think, that NOT talking about or writing an essay about felt racism is the way to get rid of felt racism…please hold the hand of this low IQ reader and lead me to some logic in your thinking.

  11. Just because a coward who can’t even share his or her name writes offensive comments about the essay contest does not mean that Team Westport is stirring controversy. During a time of divisiveness in US politics let Westport stand as a community where teens are encouraged to express themselves, adults are able to learn from their experiences, and openness and dialogue helps to create awareness of the impact of racism and prejudice on individuals and our community at large.

  12. Empathy is well understood to be a skill that is learned. To be empathetic, you need to be able to see things from someone else’s perspective. Reading the previous years’ winning essays might temper the discussion around this contest. While people can quibble about the wording of the various essay prompts, the essay contest serves the important purpose of bringing to light the experiences of a diversity of students in our community, which enables us to better act with empathy toward all of our neighbors.

  13. Dear Board of Selectmen, Board of Education and RTM,
    I fully support the continuation of the Teen Diversity Essay Contest and the work of TEAM Westport.

    Dear Harold and All on TEAM Westport,
    Thank you for your important work for our town. I can’t think of anything more American than working towards a more equitable society. I am proud to support you. My check is in the mail.

    Nancy Kail

  14. Patra Kanchanagom

    Thank you to Harold Bailey and TEAM Westport for all of their years of hard work and dedication to create a welcoming and inclusive community. As a person of color, TEAM was the first place where I felt a real sense of belonging in Westport. I had been (and continue to be) an active member of my children’s PTA, but it wasn’t until I attended my first TEAM meeting that I truly felt supported, seen and heard. They created a safe space where I could be vulnerable, share experiences, and discuss ideas that I hadn’t found anywhere else here. This has given me the courage to be more authentically myself and helped me step outside of my “comfort zone” to take on more leadership roles in various community initiatives. It is why I have joined groups like the PTA DEI committee and Westport Pride. It is why I have helped start AAPI Westport. I want EVERYONE who comes to this town to have a space where they can be who THEY are. I want EVERYONE to feel the support and love that I have found with TEAM Westport.

  15. I think this is a great opportunity to give to TEAM, which receives no funding from the town and yet beautifies so many lives here every day. I’m sending mine today!!!

  16. I also want to thank Harold Bailey and everyone who is involved with TEAM Westport for the important work you do in our town. It gives me a great deal of hope to see leaders in the community working together towards a goal of “equitable respect, belonging and treatment of all citizens, students, employees and visitors by its populace, government, schools, businesses and organizations. That commitment extends across all community segments including but not limited to races, ethnicities, religions, genders, abilities and LGBTQIA+.”

    To those that hadn’t felt the need for an open discussion around race previously, hopefully the comments over the last few days have convinced you otherwise. We need to talk openly, urgently and with civility, as uncomfortable as it may be, and listen to the young voices who bravely lay their emotions and experiences on the line through heartfelt essays each year, and give them a forum and warm reception for sharing them any other time as well. I applaud each student’s effort and TEAM’s initiative for encouraging these conversations.

  17. Danielle Teplica

    I am so appreciative of TEAM Westport for what they do for all people of our town, and I am personally indebted as well, as I am much happier because of their work. Thank you to Harold Bailey, Reverend Patton and all of TEAM Westport for your dedicated service on behalf of others.

    I noticed in the comments yesterday that people have questions about “color blindness.” I understand why. Some people may feel embarrassed if they thought it was the way to be and now don’t understand why people say it isn’t. For those of us who were raised that way, it can be confusing. Not being “color blind” does not mean focusing on racial problems between people. Here’s a starter explanation:

  18. Michael Mossman

    It must be frustrating for groups like WP06880 that Westporters are not going to be “gaslighted” by their “talking points.” Their are just too many residents here that actually read the essays, mission statements, school board decisions, and attend town meetings and therefore understand the fallacies WP06680 expects less savvy citizens to swallow.

    Marxism… really? Westport, the hotbed of socialism! Lions and tigers and Karl Marx, oh my!

    It must be galling to be called out for their cowardice in not standing behind their words, wearing the hood of “anonymity” because they need a safe space from which to throw rocks at people seeking a just and equitable society.

    Encouraging discussion of issues of bigotry and racism is not divisive. It’s the path toward understanding, improvement and greater unity even if it’s is uncomfortable. Trying to bully schools out of discussion is weak. Who’s afraid of kids sharing their experiences and opinions?

    I do stand behind Dan’s decision to cover this issue. This discussion helps keep us vigilant.

    Let the kids speak and may the adults listen. Go TEAM Westport!

  19. Thank you TEAM Westport for giving our great kids the opportunity to express themselves with their own individual persecutive and language. I urge folks who may disagree with this year’s topic to just let our kids sing their own songs in their own way. Adults need to cut out the negative background noise. I have read most of the essays from past competitions and I urge all to please do the same. Our kids are wonderfully talented, insightful and sensitive.
    My check will also be mailed on Monday.

  20. Arline Gertzoff

    Team Westport is providing a venue for high school students to participate if they so choose It is not part of the curriculum or required nor are town funds involved. I have read the essays every year and as a retired educator it is not
    always easy to come up with an essay all will like .Furthermore anonymous groups are not acceptable either Years ago the local newspaper allowed and printed anonymous letters When the public said this is unacceptable they listened and changed their policy ..TeamWestport and their chair Harold Bailey are trying to make Westport a better community.People have the right to disagree but should identify themselves.