By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
NORTHBOROUGH — From conducting a survey, to meeting with town departments, the Northborough Diversity & Inclusion Committee has been busy since it was formed last summer.
The committee presented an update on its work to the Board of Selectmen on July 19.
The Board’s Vice Chair, Leslie Rutan, said it was great to hear the level of detail included in that presentation since Diversity & Inclusion is a new committee.
“I think so much more has been accomplished than I thought it would be in this period of time, in terms of the meetings you’ve had and the kind of conversations you’ve had with these department heads is really impressive,” Rutan said.
Committee conducts survey, prepares report
Diversity & Inclusion Committee Chair Timothy Kaelin said the committee decided to focus on four areas — training, recruiting and hiring, a strategic plan and community engagement.
“Our committee has no policy-setting authority,” he said. “We’ve just been established as a committee to do research and provide a written report to the Board of Selectmen with our recommendations, and the Board of Selectmen will choose how to move forward with those recommendations or not.”
That report is to be delivered within a year of the committee’s first meeting. The committee was also tasked with providing the selectmen with quarterly updates.
According to his presentation, some of the work that the committee was charged with doing included reviewing any existing town policies and procedures regarding diversity and inclusion, identifying areas for improvement and offering opportunities for engagement and input.
One of the committee’s first actions was conducting a survey.
“We did a survey because we needed a baseline,” Kaelin said. “We needed to gain some understanding from the entire community on what the feelings around diversity and inclusion were in the community.”
The survey, which included 15 questions, was taken by 672 Northborough residents.
People were asked whether they felt people of all cultures and backgrounds were respected in Northborough. Just over 62 percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that they were. Nearly 77 percent agreed that they felt included and respected in the community, while 60.8 percent felt that the town could do more to address diversity, equity and inclusion.
Committee talks with departments
Since it was formed, the committee has issued statements on Juneteenth and Asian American and Pacific Islander violence.
The committee also plans to create a Facebook page and a community calendar.
Meanwhile, the committee has met with several departments and committees to discuss its goals, how diversity, equity and inclusion fit into departments’ operations and how the committee could help.
“It wasn’t to find flaws or anything along those sorts,” Kaelin said of those meetings. “It was to learn.”
The committee has met with the police department, the fire department, the public schools, the Community Affairs Committee, the recreation department, the Northborough Free Library and the Northborough Senior Center.
Kaelin said many are facing challenges with recruitment and hiring.
Committee sees need for educational programs
Some educational programs may be helpful, such as partnering with the library or YMCA.
“When we analyzed the data results from the survey, one glaring thing that was apparent to us was the default to answer questions in the agree to neutral, which to me, after our discussions lends us to believe that there’s a general lack of understanding or lack of exposure to diversity and inclusion,” Kaelin said.
Kaelin noted that there is an openness and willingness to embrace diversity and inclusion improvements.
“The kids in our town — they’re already more diverse,” he said. “The more we can do today to make improvements to our community, the better it will be for them tomorrow.”