For the past two months, the Waunakee Village Board has focused on fostering equity and inclusivity in the village, and now members will begin training on social justice and race relations.
At Monday’s virtual village board meeting, trustees voted unanimously to contract with Antonio Hoye and Betsy Delzer, who will coach them and lead circles on racial justice education. Hoye has served families and youth in the Middleton schools as a Student and Family Engagement Specialist and as a coach since 2010, and Delzer has done skill training in school districts and businesses throughout the country and been employed at the Middleton-Cross Plains School District since 2001.
Funds are available for the $2,300 contract, as a more than $5,000 savings resulted from an under budget staffing organizational study, according to a memo from village staff.
Both Delzer and Hoye introduced themselves over Zoom and described the training. Delzer, a Waunakee resident since 2002, said she has worked with racial justice using mindfulness or heightened awareness. The first step would be to meet one-on-one with board members in individual coaching sessions where they would reflect on their families their close community and the larger community.
Hoye said the idea is to build a community that will allow the board to work together more as a cohesive group.
“Everyone walks around with a different background,” Hoye said, noting the coaching sessions will allow the members to get know one another and move together. They will be able to identify how their past experiences affect their world view.
Building a community will allow the members will allow them to move forward with a stronger sense of purpose, Hoye added. The work will challenge the members to think differently.
“I call this work changing hearts and changing minds,” Hoye said. “If we can change hearts and minds of individuals, to me I think that’s how we get a chance to move the community forward,” Hoye said.
As the members work on themselves, they will be able to better lead their community.
Delzer said after the coaching sessions, the group will come back together and “create a scaffolding” with questions they will have in advance.
“As a group, you’re learning about yourself, you’re learning about each other, and we are fascinated and super inspired by helping teams function optimally together,” Delzer added.
She said the board is making decisions and leading the way for others in the community.
Another proposal would be to build capacity within the community, creating circle facilitators among diversity groups, providing others with the skills Delzer and Hoye have to bring people together for conversations to continue the exploration and discovery process.
Board members all expressed enthusiasm about the training.
“I’m excited for this,” said Trustee Kristin Runge, who added in her work at UW Extension, others have been talking about the “need to interrogate our beliefs and own experiences.”
“The coaching I’m really looking forward to. It’s a heavy lift to really understand your own preconceptions and biases and how your own experiences are playing into this larger world,” Runge said.
Trustee Nila Frye added that the experiences will be educational and eye opening.
While Trustee Gary Herzberg said he has taken diversity training through work, it has consisted of hour-long online sessions.
Trustee Erin Moran added that the training is a good commitment to the community.
Village President Chris Zellner said the board looks at how it can invest in the community and use taxpayer dollars to improve the community.
“This is one of those things we can invest right into our people for all of us to become better people and a better community. I can’t think of a better way for us to get started with this and for us to get going,” Zellner said.
The training is the latest step the board has taken on what will likely be a long road to improving equity within the village. It began with drafting a statement on racist incidents and intolerance following a night in May when young men were heard yelling racial slurs from a vehicle while driving down a village street.
Village Administrator Todd Schmidt described efforts since then, providing a long list of other initiatives.
The village has launched an equity and inclusion survey, along with a community survey to a random sample of 1,700 households, hosted a listening session focused on equity and inclusion, held staff roundtables and researched training for all village staff. Community groups with the library have convened book discussions ,and a Be the Change wall invites discussion on equity. The Waunakee Police Department is also engaged in different efforts, Schmidt said. He noted that these are “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Trustee Gary Herzberg said Waunakee resident Linda Ashmore contacted him and questioned a comment he made at a listening session in June, indicating he was interested in hearing only from Waunakee residents. Upon further thought, Herzberg said the board really should listen to residents from other communities within the school district, adding their comments are valuable, as well, and thanked Ashmore for contacting him.