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Select Board considers adoption of town diversity policy

At the urging of Arm in Arm, a community organization dedicated to promoting and upholding a “safe, inclusive social climate” in Harvard, the Select Board last week voiced support for adopting a policy that would  express the town’s commitment—in the words of an early draft—to make Harvard “a welcoming, accepting, and thriving community for all.”

However, having been presented with a document circulated by board member Rich Maiore less than two hours before their meeting last week, which included edits submitted by Arm in Arm steering committee member Sharon Cronin and others, the board postponed a vote until later this month.

The one-page, 350-word draft declares that “the voices and actions of bigotry, prejudice, and hatred have no place here” and proposes three concrete actions:

  • Providing “diversity and inclusion training” for “all staff members and committees,” coordinated with the schools’ soon-to-be-named diversity, equity, and inclusion coordinator.
  • Welcoming feedback, positive or negative, on the town’s interactions with Harvard residents—and adjusting accordingly.
  • Reviewing and revising hiring practices to ensure “transparency, fairness, and diversity among the town’s workforce and requiring the human resources director to report annually on progress.

“We went down this path not because we felt there were any overt, terrible issues,” said Chair Alice von Loesecke. “But given everything that has happened in the world, in our community, and in surrounding communities, Arm in Arm brought it to our attention and thought that it might be a good idea if we came up with a statement that supported the acceptance of everyone [who] lives in Harvard, works in Harvard, comes to Harvard.”

Arm in Arm members, who had seen Maiore’s draft before the meeting, had already proposed changes and additions that Cronin, speaking on the organization’s behalf, said were meant to strengthen and clarify the document. One recommendation, submitted by School Superintendent Linda Dwight, an Arm in Arm leader, was to replace the word “tolerance” with the word “acceptance” in a sentence that declares the town’s commitment to deliver services to residents with “understanding, acceptance, and equity for all.” Dwight told the Press in an email that she regarded “tolerance” as “an out-dated expression that falls short of fully welcoming and embracing people.”

In addition to taking steps to increase the diversity of Harvard’s workforce, Cronin said Arm in Arm members felt it was important to have policies to retain it. And she proposed that the Select Board add a fourth action item to its statement: to develop a process for responding to acts of prejudice and hate “in an appropriate manner within three months” and to monitor reported incidents “on a regular basis.”

Earlier, during public comment, Bonnie Chandler of Prospect Hill Road said she opposed the use of tax dollars “to force on town employees any kind of diversity or inclusion policies or training.” She said such programs are a form of reverse racism and “are destroying our constitutional freedom of speech.” All they do is “fuel class hatred and divisiveness,” she said. “The people who are doing this are no longer satisfied with virtue signaling; now they have to run encounter sessions, where they force everyone to pretend to hate themselves and avow insincere pious platitudes under the threat of being accused of racism.”

The board did not address Chandler’s remarks, in keeping with its policy of not immediately responding to public comment. Later, following its approximately 15-minute discussion of his draft statement, Maiore was tasked to compile the edits and ideas submitted by Arm in Arm as well as those of Dwight and School Committee Chair SusanMary Redinger and to present a fresh draft to the board at its next meeting March 30.

Noting that the library and schools had already developed diversity and equity policies of their own, von Loesecke said the Select Board’s role was to set a tone for the town. Lucy Wallace agreed. “Maybe [the Select Board] is only responsible for town departments and committees, but we can certainly set a tone for the town, set an expectation for the town, and the town could look to us for that,” she said.

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