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Jeanne Carpenter

As Oregon’s population grows and diversifies, so, too, grows the need for the village to be a more inclusive place to live – a place where marginalized groups of people feel someone is listening to them.

That’s the reasoning Oregon Village Board trustees gave for starting the village’s Community Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion. They voted unanimously to do so at their Monday, Jan. 6, meeting.

The initial role of the council will be to shed light on how minorities feel living and working in Oregon, as not all have had the same experiences, trustees concurred. Village president Jeanne Carpenter and trustees Cory Horton and Amanda Peterson said they wielded privilege because of the color of their skin, likely influencing how they’ve come to know their community. They and others on the board said even though Oregon is a supportive and welcoming place, it can always do better.

Down the road, advisory council members might expand the discussion into issues surrounding gender, sex, disabilities, age, mental health – in turn, showing the village how it can better respond to those problems in addition to race. Council leadership will communicate regularly with the board through agenda reports about how those conversations go, village administrator Mike Gracz told the board.

The council will get together on an informal basis, he said, and will be similar in setup to the Oregon Housing Coalition, which has representatives from the school district, county, village staff and board, Joining Forces for Families and area churches and businesses. The council is set to meet as early as February, though exact dates and locations for those gatherings remain yet to be seen, Carpenter said.

In a presentation to the board, Alice Egan, a clinical associate professor and child welfare training coordinator from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work, offered some ideas for how the village could best put its new council to use.

For example, she said, Sun Prairie has an active committee that examines the city’s hiring practices and how services meet the needs of minority constituents. And the City of Appleton has a full-time diversity and inclusion coordinator who serves as the LGBTQ+ liaison. More Wisconsin municipalities have councils that fit the needs of their populations.

Egan, an Oregon resident who has an extensive background in social work, reached out to Carpenter about the council idea, as she has seen it in other municipalities she’s worked with.

She will facilitate the first few council meetings, but eventually, she said, she wants “someone who doesn’t look like her” to run them.

“How can I pitch in and help make this better?” Horton asked Egan. “I totally support this, and I will be involved.”

“I am very privileged,” he added. “I need to learn and would love to participate.”

Peterson said she would love the community to become more welcoming to everyone.

“Diversity is a fact … the fact is that Oregon is growing,” Egan said. “But inclusion is a choice.”

Email Emilie Heidemann at emilie.heidemann@wcinet.com or follow her on Twitter at @HeidemannEmilie.