By Laura Hayes, Senior Community Reporter
NORTHBOROUGH – From experiences of discrimination to suggestions on how to address diversity, equity and inclusion, residents had an opportunity to share during a listening session held by the Diversity and Inclusion Committee on Sept. 30.
The committee hoped to get feedback on four specific questions surrounding residents’ experiences, the town’s response to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, efforts to meet the needs of residents with disabilities, and opportunities for future work by the committee.
“I just want to say that this is a great idea to have a listening session,” said Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Leslie Rutan.
She advocated for more listening sessions.
“As more people hear about these and realize that they can get on these and speak and talk and they’re actually heard, I think it will inspire other people to call in,” Rutan said.
Resident shares story
Yoon Mee Zhang’s family recently moved to town. She said she was anxious to see what her children’s experience would be.
At his old school, her son, who is in second grade, was told that a common Chinese dish he was eating was “gross.” He now refuses to eat it at school because kids will make fun of him, she said.
In another incident at Halloween, Zhang said boys picked on him and began chanting “Chinese boy.”
“Naturally, I’m concerned about situations like that happening and how they will be handled in the school or in the community,” Zhang said.
So far, he hasn’t experienced anything like that. It’s difficult to approach something like this with other parents, she said.
“There’s always some sort of fear of instead of being receptive, that instead we’ll be ostracized,” Zhang said.
Vice Chair Mariam Ibrahim recently graduated from Algonquin Regional High School.
“These were experiences of many people of color in high school still,” Ibrahim said.
She hoped the committee could work with Superintendent Gregory Martineau, school committees and the district’s coalition for equity to address lingering concerns.
Individuals raise transportation concerns
One resident asked for community celebrations of holidays, like Diwali. Another advocated to rename Columbus Day.
“Could there be an anonymous forum for people to share stories?” one individual asked.
Resident Bertha Tang asked about busing and possible improvements to sidewalks.
“Northborough is, what, six miles away from the commuter rail station, but there’s no way to get there without a car, which seems very counterintuitive to me,” Tang said. “I think if we want our town to be accessible, I think improving our busing infrastructure is hugely important.”
Tang also said she noticed that sidewalks were buckling and crumbling into the grass along the streets surrounding her neighborhood on Pleasant Street. In some areas, the sidewalks are narrow, she said.
“Especially the stretch along Church Street from Pleasant to the little bridge is so narrow that I’m afraid to take my child out in a stroller down that stretch. I just carry her,” Tang said.