Pittsfield Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Office Has Successful First Year
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In its inaugural year, the city's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) has opened up the conversation about creating safe and equal spaces for all community members.
"I would say that almost a full year has gone very, very well, exceptionally well," Chief Diversity Officer Michael Obasohan said about the work that has been done internally within the city departments and externally with other organizations.
He was appointed in February after the City Council approved a new six-month budget of $99,760 for the department during its fiscal 2022 budget process.
For the fiscal year 2023, that number increased to $169,416.
Obasohan came in with an agenda and there were some shifts to the plan, as a need for his services came up in additional places.
One of the actions he felt was the most impactful was the assessments of city departments.
"I would go into all the departments and pretty much have an informal conversation with the director and then also the staff within those departments around their understanding of diversity, equity inclusion," he explained.
"What are they currently doing that focuses on equity, social justice, or what I can do as a chief diversity officer that would support them in that work and it was very well received."
Obasohan has learned a lot from city employees and has built relationships. What came out during those assessments fed the curriculum he is developing for training and workshops.
A lot of conversation was raised around pronouns such as the understanding of pronouns and how they can be used to be more welcoming and support the community more.
A safe zone training was also conducted in May, which was a two-day training workshop around awareness of, definitions, and terms within the LGBTQ+ community led by people with lived experience. It aimed to provide city employees with basic knowledge on how to support the community and anyone that walks into their department.
"The conversations that happened in there were great," Obasohan said. "The facilitators did a really awesome job at creating a space where people feel comfortable enough and also comfortable enough to challenge each other."
It was followed by a successful makeup session in June.
The department has also worked with external organizations to be in the conversation about opioid abuse and equality in women's health care.
Aside from some pushback from the get-go, Obasohan feels that the department has bell well-received and embraced by the community.
At the time of his appointment, Ward 2 Councilor Charles Kronick and Councilor at Large Karen Kalinowsky voted in opposition to the appointment at last week's City Council meeting, saying the department approved last year was not needed.
But upon approval, it was met with applause throughout Council Chambers.
"The majority has been very positive and welcoming," Obasohan said. "And then I would say that the leadership team has been very open to look at policies or asking questions about how can we be more equitable, how can we be more welcoming."
Residents have also felt comfortable coming into the department and sharing experiences in the community or how they feel about living in the city.
One of the major goals that the DEI office has for the next calendar year is to establish a strategic plan for the department, an equity audit of the city, and to deploy DEI ambassadors as support systems for other departments.
The DEI office currently has two employees: Obasohan and an administrative coordinator.