Marlboro Alumni condemn campus sale amid reports of racism at Democracy Builders

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Media: Jakob Menendez

A view of part of the old Marlboro College campus.

By Jacob Seitz, Senior Marlboro Reporter

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The Marlboro Alumni Council urged the Marlboro Board of Trustees to cancel the sale of the Vermont campus to Democracy Builders due to recent public accusations of racism against the group’s founder, Seth Andrew, in a letter published Friday.

The council, the governing body of the independent Marlboro College Alumni Association, wrote that Andrew’s “racism, bullying, and manipulative behavior towards people of color at Democracy Prep and his other charter schools” was unacceptable. 

The allegations surfaced on the “Black N Brown at Democracy Prep” Facebook page after the sale was announced in May. Seth Andrew posted a statement titled “Reflections on Race & Democracy Prep” on Medium on June 24, and the Black N Brown at Democracy Prep responded with a post of their own the following day.

“We recognize that this is new information that is coming to light after the Campus Working Group made its recommendation and after the Board accepted [Democracy Builders] offer,” the Alumni Council letter reads. “Given the seriousness of the allegations being presented, however, we feel that it is entirely warranted for the Board to take the unusual step of revoking their acceptance of the offer. As leaders of the Alumni Association, we therefore strongly encourage the Marlboro College Board of Trustees to do everything in their power to cancel the agreement.”

Democracy Builders, founded in 2005 by Andrew as a charter school advocacy group in tandem with Democracy Prep, intends to create a hybrid college education system on Potash Hill. The program, named Degrees of Freedom, would offer mixed online and in-person education to underprivileged communities at an affordable price. 

The Alumni Council said it is important that the campus “does not fall into the hands of someone whose work is antithetical to the core values of the Marlboro College community.”

The Council attached a letter sent to the Marlboro alumni community on July 1 by the Black N Brown at Democracy Prep group. 

“We hope, through this letter, to give you some insights into the man behind Democracy Builders, the irreparable harm he has caused to the low-income and first-generation students of color that he served as the founder of Democracy Prep; and show you why the sale of the Marlboro College campus to Seth Andrew, is not only antithetical to the legacy of Marlboro, but a great human rights concern for the very demographics that he claims to serve,” the Black N Brown at Democracy Prep letter reads.

The advocacy group’s letter dives into six specific instances of alleged racism, abuse, and misconduct but does not use names in the attribution. Over 30 other instances are detailed on their Facebook page, which was created on June 18.

“I can’t stress enough how this has been one of the most traumatic jobs I’ve ever experienced and I am so sorry for all the children that go through this prison,” reads one account from a former staff member who left Democracy Prep’s nationwide school system earlier this year. “It’s sad because as staff of color, we go in wanting to help Black and brown children and end up further oppressing them by complying with the policies and practices.”

Another allegation, from a staff member who worked at Democracy Prep from 2011 to 2013, accused Andrew of intentionally holding back the first class of Democracy Prep High School in Harlem, attended only by Black or Latinx students, and denying them access to their records.

“The first graduating class of [Democracy Prep] High School were treated like commodities,” it reads. “So much so that when the Founder Seth Andrew got wind that students were unhappy with the school’s attempts at holding them back DESPITE having all the credits to graduate, he instructed the counseling staff to DENY students requests for THEIR OWN academic information.”

The letter from Black N Brown at Democracy Prep concludes by urging the Marlboro community to resist the sale of the Vermont campus to Democracy Builders and Seth Andrew.

“These submissions, by students and staff who worked directly with Seth illustrate a few points,” they wrote. “1. He is not invested in authentically supporting communities, growing students, or supporting staff to do the former. He is a narcissist, and only interested in ensuring his place in history as an education entrepreneur. 2. He is abusive to students, and will sabotage them if they step out of line. 3. He is deeply and abidingly racist, regularly discriminates against Black students and staff, and is not open to change. Please do not move forward with any sale or lease to Seth Andrew. It will only result in more pain for a community of people that he has promised to help.”

Andrew could not immediately be reached for comment.

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