The Village of Oak Park has selected a university research institute rather than a consulting firm to conduct its first ever racial equity assessment. The village board all but unanimously approved the contract with the Great Cities Institute of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Trustee Susan Buchanan, who is an employee of the university, recused herself from the May 8 vote.

Conducting such an assessment feeds into the village board’s goal set in 2021 to promote racial equity throughout the village. The intent of this assessment, which was discussed last January, is to determine where the village currently stands regarding racial equity. The results of the assessment will then be used as the foundation of the village’s planned overarching racial equity plan.

The Great Cities Institute of UIC beat out 17 other organizations that submitted proposals. Unlike BerryDunn, which conducted an equity assessment of the Oak Park Police Department and has recently been reengaged to implement some of its equity recommendations, the Great Cities Institute is not a consulting firm. Rather, it is a university-wide, interdisciplinary research institute located within the university’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. 

Danielle Walker, the Village of Oak Park’s first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer | Provided

The institute’s mission is to link academic resources with different partners to address “urban issues” through research, policy analysis and program development, according to its proposal. Dr. Kathleen Yang-Clayton, UIC professor and Great Cities Institute senior faculty fellow, is serving as the project manager and prime investigator for the Oak Park assessment. Yang-Clayton is also associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at UIC. The rest of the team includes Thea Crum, who will be working alongside Yang-Clayton as co-prime investigator, as well as Adam Slade and Katherine Faydash, both serving as researchers on the assessment.

The four-person team will be working directly with Dr. Danielle Walker, Oak Park’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer. The assessment is expected to be a very data-driven project that will take place over the course of several months with an anticipated completion date of September. The village will be paying a total of $300,000 in American Rescue Plan Act federal funding for the assessment, paid in half across fiscal years 2023 and 2024.

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