Amherst councilors up for anti-racism training despite reservations

Staff Writer
Monday, April 05, 2021

AMHERST — The Town Council is moving ahead with a two-day anti-racism workshop in April, despite concerns from some councilors about the commitment of time required and some uncertainty regarding its outcomes.

The 13 councilors, along with Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Council Clerk Athena O’Keeffe, are expected to be in Equity Consulting Network’s “Rethinking Racism for Social Justice Training” workshop April 10 and 11, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days, with an optional half-day follow-up on May 8 from 9 a.m. to noon.

The virtual sessions, which will cost $9,000, were proposed by District 5 Councilor Shalini Bahl-Milne and District 2 Councilor Pat De Angelis.

De Angelis, who said the hope is that the work will help transform Amherst into an anti-racist community, characterized the workshop as an opportunity to gain awareness of how white supremacy affects decisions.

“It lives within us and it’s among us and it’s in the air we breathe and how we interact with each other,” De Angelis said.

Without such training, De Angelis said, the council’s vision is limited, as well as its ability to creatively govern and transform the community.

“We understand it’s a big commitment of two days,” Bahl-Milne said, but that removing any modules and shortening the training will make it less effective.

Bahl-Milne said the chosen workshop reflects a commitment to a resolution adopted by the council to eradicate the effects of systemic racist practices of town government. The curriculum, she said, will help councilors do their jobs better, not just achieve personal growth.

“This is basically to empower us to look at policies from that (anti-racism) perspective,” Bahl-Milne said.

Though support for the concept remains strong, some councilors observed that elections take place in November, with new councilors seated in 2022.

At-Large Councilor Mandi Jo Hanneke said she remains concerned about how much time is devoted to council affairs away from family and personal life.

“I can’t wholeheartedly endorse just this one,” Hanneke said, explaining that she would have liked to see what other types of workshops might have been available.

District 3 Councilor George Ryan said the council was being presented no other options: “Basically being told this is it, and I don’t like that,” Ryan said.

District 4 Councilor Steve Schreiber said the timing feels off, since it’s the end of semester for those employed at the University of Massachusetts.

“I don’t like going into things where I don’t know what the outcome is,” Schreiber said.

District 1 Councilor Sarah Swartz said she wants serving on the Town Council to be accessible to working people can do and worries about how much time people can give to such workshops.

“I’ve come around to seeing the value in this particular training,” Swartz said.

District 4 Councilor Evan Ross said the training is important, but that it’s a big ask for people, and that concern has to be taken seriously.

“This is not only giving up a Saturday, but an entire weekend,” Ross said.