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All too many signs point to this effort as potentially becoming a tokenistic gesture

Although I moved from Lake Oswego last year, I have remained a member of Respond to Racism (RtR) LO. I was encouraged to hear that the City of Lake Oswego was forming a diversity task force to create tangible, impactful actions in this community that still struggles with multiple forms of overt and covert marginalization and racism.

However, as the process continued, I began to hear troubling details around its organization and goals. As detailed in the RtR Steering Committee June 10 open letter, three key issues have emerged: selection committee makeup, task force selection criteria, and selection/duration timeframes.

The first issue surrounds the selection committee makeup. The RtR's Steering Committee's open letter shared details around the selection committee formation. During the April 23 meeting, the Mayor and other stakeholders (predominantly white, save one woman of color) proclaimed they would head the selection process (Note: Daniel Nguyen, selection committee member, was not able to attend the meeting). This proclamation sent up the first red flag that the main purpose of this task force may already be threatened. Why a mostly white selection committee? Shouldn't those with the cultural competence and first-hand experience with racism and marginalization in this community determine who best should come together to spearhead efforts to eradicate it?

The second issue is the task force selection criteria. The criteria for candidacy and membership on this task force appears to be quite narrow and lacks validity. For example, it was brought to my attention that selection criteria were biased toward business owners and parents of LO students (mostly white in LO), with only a few spots for people of color, women, differently abled and LGBTQ. Why just business owners (who are mostly white in LO)? Why just LO residents (who are mostly white)? Why not form a task force that includes individuals from different communities locally (and perhaps a few nationally to present an outside view) who not only more comprehensively represent, but also have a proven track record of raising and solving issues surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion? We do have the technology to support virtual teams if necessary.

The short durations of the selection process (one month) and the task force itself (six months) are problematic. The average time to select a candidate for, let's say a government job, is over 50 days (Glassdoor, 2017). Selecting the right mix of task force members is just as, if not more, critical to the well-being of this municipality, and deserves the time and attention it needs to get it right. Finally, why is this task force slated to be "sunsetted" at only six months? What will be accomplished in six months? This short window of existence in itself is offensive.

As the RtR letter states, all too many signs point to this effort as potentially becoming a tokenistic gesture to check off the boxes rather than to foster and sustain real change in LO.

The RtR Steering Committee said it best: "Getting this right is that important."

To "get it right," we can't afford to think small when it comes to making LO an inclusive, welcoming community for everyone. The current task force formation efforts seem to indicate that we are still thinking "too small"...or perhaps not at all.

Norina Columbaro is a Tigard resident.


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