Williamstown DIRE Committee Talks About Need to Fund Training in Town

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
Print Story | Email Story
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The diversity committee this week discussed the need for the town to make a long-term financial commitment to training for employees and members of town boards and committees in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion.
"There has to be, especially around budgeting, when we talk about this work, some consistency," Noah Smalls of the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee said at its Monday meeting. "I'm struggling to imagine a scenario where you put aside money for training, and it's really a one-off, it doesn't come back in some form annually or quarterly or there's some line item in each department to work with.
"I struggle with it. … That is, in its own way, an undoing. It's one time. Without some consistency and work on the horizon and checking in on it, it goes to waste."
Smalls said that he sees a willingness among people who work in town government to build a more equitable and inclusive community but said past discussions about budgeting for training to support that work have bogged down.
"I remember the conversation getting hung up on, 'We have to have some specific charge or task, like an invoice, so we know how much to budget for,' " Smalls said.
DIRE Committee members talked about putting together a symposium for members of town committees, an event that would require facilitation from a professional in the DEI field.
After committee member Randal Fippinger noted that expenditure would potentially be a request for the fiscal year 2025 budget that will be developed this winter, the committee members talked about alternative sources of funding to at least get an initial training program in place sooner.
Andrew Art suggested the committee could seek funds from a charitable foundation, like the Williamstown Community Chest. Smalls countered that the town could use some of the $166,000 in remaining uncommitted American Rescue Plan Act funds.
"That's probably the sweet spot there," Smalls said. "But I think it cannot disqualify the town from making its own commitment by adding it to the infrastructure of the town by adding a budget line or budget lines within departments."
Art said he agreed that a long-term, regular budget item should be the goal but suggested that could be an uphill battle.
"My gut reaction is this is an area where you're going to get an overwhelming amount of resistance to town spending because of the sort of institutional bias against spending money on this stuff from a subset of vocal critics," Art said. "I don't think that should be a reason not to press forward."
Art said grant funding from an outside source, like the Community Chest, could be "seed funding" that would demonstrate the value of the training and provide the specifics on costs that would be needed for a budget discussion in the future.
Other town boards and committees were a focus of much of the conversation at the DIRE Committee's June 5 meeting.
Early in the discussion, Art called to his colleagues' attention the number of vacancies on the boards appointed by either the Select Board or the town manager and suggested that the high number of vacancies presented an opportunity to bring new and diverse voices to those panels.
He suggested that the appointing authorities should signal to residents that they welcome more participation from residents who are members of groups that historically have been underrepresented.
"First, the town and town leadership needs to demonstrate a willingness to listen," Randal Fippinger said. "This isn't a marketing issue. Maybe some members of our community don't feel this is a safe space. Not that they're going to be yelled at or hurt, but maybe some folks don't feel like their voices are welcome, so why spend the time?
"I feel like I've heard some of that energy from some town members. … Maybe that's a big part of the problem as a town."
Smalls referenced that notion moments later when he opened the discussion about training for members of those committees.
He said it was time, "for the existing group to start doing whatever they can to condition themselves for a cultural shift that is going to be needed when, suddenly, there is someone with a different background, different opinions, a different voice, a different approach, different ideas.
"It can be doubly unnerving to walk into this space where you're different and have your ideas and your presence worked against just because people aren't as used to those differences."
On a more optimistic note, members of the committee expressed appreciation for representatives from the town's Historical Commission and 1753 House Committee and the non-profit Williamstown Historical Museum who participated in a May 15 DIRE Committee-sponsored round table discussion on inclusive history.
"I was proud that people came and stood here and had the conversation," Smalls said. "I appreciate the people who came and spoke for their institutions. To me, that was courageous."

Tags: DIRE,   

If you would like to contribute information on this article, contact us at info@iberkshires.com.

GET LOUD: A Celebration of Banned Books

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — On Sunday, Oct. 1, the Williamstown League of Women Voters in collaboration with the David and Joyce Milne Public Library and the Friends of the Milne Library are presenting Get Loud: A Celebration of Banned Books.
A group of nine authors, performers, teachers, and local individuals will read aloud selections from books currently or previously banned in US libraries and schools. Introducing them will be authors Karen Shepard and Jim Shepard, both on the English faculty of Williams College.
This performance was initiated by the Williamstown League of Women Voters with the goal of bringing together organizations and individuals with a strong interest in the importance of free speech and artistic freedom. 
The event is intended to raise awareness of the history and practice of government censorship, and to give the community an opportunity to experience firsthand the power and joy of good writing.
"One of our goals is to dramatize the importance of the books that have come under attack historically and also recently in some schools and public libraries," said League representative Jane Nicholls. "We hope bringing together an impressive group of artists will help remind us all that the freedom to write and to read is crucial to all other freedoms."
Participants selected their readings from a list supplied by Milne Library Director Pat MacLeod, which cataloged books being  banned from some school libraries and reading lists. The selections include passages from "The Bluest Eye" by Toni Morrison, "Bridge to Terabitha" by Katherine Paterson, "Ceremony" by Leslie Marmon Silko, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker, and "Dear Martin" by Nic Stone.
Mt. Greylock Regional High School teacher Rebecca Tucker-Smith will read from "The Color Purple," and also recite excerpts from her students’ responses to the book.
View Full Story

More Williamstown Stories