PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city will explore creating an office of diversity, equity, and inclusion to address issues in both the city government and the schools.
The School Committee accepted an anti-racism resolution last week but some members wanted to do more and committee member Alison McGee asked that a subcommittee be formed to make sure the school district follows through on the resolution.
This began a larger discussion on addressing racism in the schools and School Committee member Dennis Powell said just accepting a resolution wasn't enough and more accountability was needed.
"This is really something that I am very concerned about and it is throughout Massachusetts but I live in Berkshire County," said Powell, who is also president of the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP. "I am really concerned about the district because we have some serious problems."
Powell said racism certainly exists in the Pittsfield Public Schools at a student, faculty, and administrative level.
He said students are often racially abused by other students but when reported to faculty, it often falls on deaf ears.
"The kid has enough of it. They turn around like I was taught when I was going to school, the only way to get the bully off your back, you turn around and give him one," Powell said. "Today they can't do that because they end up being penalized or suspended."
He said the use of racial slurs is bullying and there must be consequences.
"The n-word is the same as bullying ... and we haven't really done anything about this as far as I am concerned," he said. "There has to be consequences ... I think we need to show students that we are serious about a no-tolerance policy."
He said these consequences need to extend to staff who ignore abuse.
Powell suggested effective diversity, equity, and inclusion, or DEI, training.
"This is a tough conversation to have and ... trainers were brought in that made people feel more comfortable or good about themselves," he said. "If that is the training that is happening it is a total waste of money ... it has to be a trainer that understands DEI work and is willing to make people feel uncomfortable to get people to the steps we have to get to change the narrative in our schools, city, government, and our communities."
School Committee member William Cameron agreed that the committee needed to do more than just pass a resolution.
He thought, once school was physically back in session, that it would be beneficial to see a presentation on how the new student conduct code is working in relation to racism and inclusion.
Cameron added that racism is a countywide problem and he thought it would be worth bringing it to the Superintendents Roundtable to get a countywide program in order.
Mayor Linda Tyer suggested exploring the possibility of creating a joint city and school Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
"To help us accomplish some of the things outlined in this resolution but also to be working closely with both sides of government," she said. "I have been thinking preliminarily about this and how we might accomplish this. I don't have a plan but it is something that I have been wanting to discuss in more detail."
She said she was hesitant to even bring the idea up in a public forum because it was so preliminary and would need much more consideration but thought it would only be effective if the right person leading the office.
"We've got to have the right person, with the right credentials, and the right background guiding us through this," she said. "It is an investment that we have to make so I just want to put that on the list of things for us to think about over the next few months."