On Wednesday night, the Pittsfield City Council endorsed the creation of a new office to oversee diversity and inclusion initiatives in city leadership. At-Large Councilor Pete White understood the effort’s import — because to him, it’s personal.
“For me, I was born with spina bifida. And seeing people who have disabilities in roles is not something I saw growing up,” said Mr. White, who chairs the city’s Affirmative Action Advisory Committee. “So anything we can do to make the people in our communities feel better about knowing that they’re represented by people who have similar backgrounds and experiences is extremely important.”
For Pittsfield, not only Berkshire County’s most populous municipality but also its most diverse, this should be a key goal. Good governance is bolstered when those who represent and serve the public are representative of the public they’re serving. The council’s OK on Mayor Linda Tyer’s funding proposal for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion is an encouraging step toward making sure the city’s public sector reflects its diverse constituency.
The DEI Office proposal also considers the youngest constituents: students in the city’s public schools. While one chief officer will lead initiatives within municipal government, another chief officer will concentrate on Pittsfield Public Schools. Recently, the Pittsfield School Committee’s decision on who should lead the district as superintendent sparked heated debate over whether the city’s public education system is modeling itself inclusively enough to best serve a diverse student body. Unfortunately, the flashpoint resulted in the unceremonious resignation of former School Committee member Dennis Powell. Without relitigating that contentious process, we must acknowledge the valid concerns of those community members who think Pittsfield’s public schools and city government in general could do more to commit to diversity and inclusion.
This new office is a chance to address these concerns. Officers would oversee employee recruitment, training and retention, and work with “ambassadors” across multiple city departments to help new hires acclimate. It would also be productive to have some benchmarks (e.g., hiring, retention, outreach) to shoot for — or at least commit to developing these targets over the six months provided for by the funding proposal approved Wednesday. This is an entirely new city office, and right now it’s only budgeted for half a year. If it’s going to be sustainable in advancing the cause of diversity, it’s going to be crucial to convince some inevitable naysayers that this isn’t just taxpayer money being thrown at buzzwords to merely make the city appear proactive. The DEI Office’s aims are laudable and necessary; having some concrete goals in the sights would bring needed focus and show that the office is committed to bringing about real change where it counts.
Kids from vulnerable populations are disproportionately unlikely to see their identities reflected in their educators. Those who feel underrepresented by their officials and government are less likely to engage in critical civic and democratic projects. These are vicious cycles that we should commit to breaking. Hopefully this new office will be a chance to do just that. Diversity and inclusion are about fairness and equality, but they’re also about strength. Our communities, from our schools to City Hall, are stronger and safer when no one is left out. We hope this new citywide effort is successful in that endeavor.