Controversy over diversity statement continues

Trio of trustees introduce alternative language to commission proposal

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The battle over Oak Park's diversity statement continued at Monday night's village board meeting after an alternative diversity statement surfaced, reworking the language recently submitted by the Community Relations Commission (CRC).

The topic became an issue two weeks ago, when members of the citizen-led CRC brought a revamped diversity statement to the board for approval at the first meeting of the newly elected board of trustees.

At that meeting, typically featuring the ceremonial swearing in of the new trustees and accolades for outgoing elected officials, trustees approved a diversity statement that was first written in 1973 and has been updated a handful of times over the years.

Trustees argued on May 6 that a revamped diversity statement was sprung on the board and public at the last minute, and they directed proponents of the new language to hold a meeting, inviting the public to reconsider the language – the logic being that it would be more transparent and inclusive.

CRC returned May 20 with new language, but were themselves surprised by the introduction of a competing diversity statement from trustees Dan Moroney, Deno Andrews and Simone Boutet.

The alternative language suggested by board members removed the parts of the suggested CRC diversity statement, including the words "intersectionality," "power" and the phrase "breaking down systems of oppression."

Newly elected Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, who has spearheaded the effort to approve the CRC version, called the meeting "a giant mess" and the reworked language "infuriating."

She said that if the new language makes trustees uncomfortable that "comfort comes at the expense of our freedom."

Walker-Peddakotla added that "three white people creating their own diversity statement" illustrates a "complete lack of awareness" when it comes to equity and diversity.

"It's clear you're not listening to what the community wants," she said.

Multiple members of the CRC and those who attended its meeting to craft the language last week testified in favor of the CRC's proposed language.

Cheree Moore, a CRC member recently elected to the District 97 elementary school board, said nearly 30 people attended the commission's meeting last week to provide feedback on the proposed language, adding that she and others were surprised that a competing diversity statement surfaced.

"I don't even know the genesis of the statement," she said.

Resident John Duffy characterized the CRC meeting as a democratic process that was "respectful" and "productive."

He said the competing diversity statement "violates the whole spirit of the diversity statement."

Trustee Deno Andrews, who helped craft the competing statement, said constituents he has spoken with had issues with the phrase "breaking down systems of oppression" in the CRC's proposed language.

"Words mean different things to different people," he said. "A lot of constituents I've spoken to have no idea what this means."

Trustee Dan Moroney said some voices have been silenced out of fear that members of the commission will label them as racist if they oppose the proposed CRC language.

"A large part of this community feels that way and don't bring a voice to the table for fear of being silenced," he said.

Moroney added that the category of "political perspective" was removed from the CRC's proposed language and should be put back in.

Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb took a stern position, saying that the leaders of the community have an obligation to hear all voices and "not shame one another and make one more righteous than the other."

Abu-Taleb, who immigrated to the United States from Palestine at the age of 19, said he has been discriminated against his entire life.

"If you want to talk about oppression, I can talk about oppression to you; to this day my family is profiled against," he said.

He called out Walker-Peddakotla by name, urging her to "stop the negative attacks" on board members with whom she disagrees.

"It is our obligation to listen to everyone and have … [a] much more respectful dialogue," he said.

The issue was tabled by a unanimous vote of the board but is expected to be revisited at a future date.

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Reader Comments

33 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

Les Golden  

Posted: May 29th, 2019 6:56 AM

KBD and BK, this is a well-known phenomenon, "group think." Members do not dissent for fear of ostracism, leading to the inability of groups to make rational decisions. It led to Kennedy's Bay of Pigs fiasco, no one in his inner circle wanting to state that it could never succeed. That, some believe, led directly to his assassination. It leads to D97 and D200 school board members not dissenting for fear of acquiring the apparently heinous tag beyond no other of racist. That may have led to the consequences you describe. It's the result of a commanding human desire to be liked, accepted, considered popular, one of the good guys, or, in the current trite expression, a team player. The members of the boards of D97 and D200 lack understanding of the mechanics of group think, a study of which should be a prerequisite for running for any board.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 8:41 PM

Mr. Dwyer. I'm not a scientist, so when I say "I would suspect" or "most likely go hand-in-hand", those are MY words, NOT those of a scientist. Please don't mince my words Mr. Dwyer. I NEVER said suspicion and assumption pass as science.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 8:28 PM

I absolutely agree with you Kelly. And thank you, Trustee Moroney. When my wife and I moved here 35 years ago to raise a family we wanted a diverse community. I felt that the diversity of this community was in fact its unifying strength. Now that strength has devolved into divisiveness, tribalism and race baiting.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 7:39 PM

So... suspicion and assumption pass as science with you, Ms. Lopez? Sure. OK.

Kelly Bacon Desmarais  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 7:37 PM

"Trustee Dan Moroney said some voices have been silenced out of fear that members of the commission will label them as racist if they oppose the proposed CRC language. "A large part of this community feels that way and don't bring a voice to the table for fear of being silenced," he said. Thank you, Dan Moroney. This is exactly what's happening. The schools are a mess as well. I know so many who are afraid to voice their opinion due to being labeled a racist. I've never lived in a town so obsessed with race and diversity. If we don't change course, we may end up creating problems that are far worse than the ghosts we are chasing.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 5:05 PM

@ Mr. Dwyer Sorry you feel that way, Based on your theory, I would suspect that one who sets goals, is disciplined and has personal determination, probably has a higher than average IQ as well. They most likely go hand-in-hand. You enjoy yourself as well Mr. Dwyer.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 4:03 PM

somewhat reluctantly wading in to this discussion just to point out that the qualities mentioned by Mr. Dwyer are not as measurable as IQ. So to my way of thinking, both Ms. Lopez and Mr. Dwyer make reasonable points.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 3:36 PM

I really don't care enough to do that, Ms. Lopez. You'll believe what you're going to believe. Enjoy yourself.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 12:23 PM Sorry Mr. Dwyer, but I disagree along with many in the scientific community. Please post links that support your opinion. I would like to read about it.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 10:45 AM

Not only is intellect NOT the best or even a primary indicator of success, numerous studies have found that goal setting, not talent or intellect, was the common denominator of success. Goals that are supported by personal determination and a disciplined commitment to those goals.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 12:12 AM

@ Les. The best predictor of success is IQ. The ethnicity with the highest household income in the U.S. is Indian American. It's over $122,000. How can they do so well with so much oppression to overcome? Maybe Arti could shed some light on this stat for us. 2nd generation immigrants from Africa and the West Indies have a household income of over $80,000. How do they overcome the "systemic racism"?

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 28th, 2019 12:03 AM

@ Ruth. The statement is specific to Oak Park. So I pose the questions "do we have "systems of oppression" here in Oak Park?" If so, I haven't experienced them since I moved here in 1995. Please be specific and identify a "system of oppression" in Oak Park so all of us can meet it head on. You act as if the difficulty of understanding what others experience is unique to white males. Aren't all of us in the same boat? Do people of color have some magical power than allows us to know what Mr. Moroney's life is like? Do Mexicans know what it's like to be Asian? Do Asians know what it's like to be black? I believe Mr. Moroney is listening. By not making a knee jerk decision and caving to a small group of activists, clearly demonstrates the opposite of what you presume Ruth. The CRC consists of only 9 people. Thankfully we have some intelligent, thoughtful and prudent elected officials who believe in getting insight and opinions of many more. Arti and her followers tried to ram this statement through unannounced. It was clearly a calculated move on Arti's part. It appears the SJW's that didn't get their way have been "triggered".

Les Golden  

Posted: May 27th, 2019 9:11 PM

SB: You use the term "race" loosely, ignoring other races and ethnicity in general. We are asked to believe that whites are more successful than minorities because of white privilege and pervasive racism. In fact, not only are whites not the most economically successful racial or ethnic group in America, but also the most successful groups are two that have experienced severe discrimination here, namely, Jews and Asians. That these two groups also have the highest mean IQ, European Jews (110; the range of different studies is 104 to 115) and East Asians (105), provides a clue to how they achieved economic success in America despite discrimination. No other group, including European whites, have a mean IQ greater than 100. For further results, including the astoundingly strong correlation between mean IQ and economic success see

Ruth Lazarus  

Posted: May 27th, 2019 9:59 AM

@Dan Moroney, I have read both of the statements, and listened to much of the board meeting where this was discussed. I believe you are sincere when you say "Of course we can do better and I believe we are committed to doing better," but your actions here do not reflect that sentiment. It is difficult for me to believe that any residents who would object to a statement that recognizes the existence of systems of oppression, have a desire to create a more equitable community. Your interest in representing their view is, I believe, misguided. I understand that as a white man it may be difficult to truly understand the experiences of others, but it should not be that difficult to listen to what people are telling you. If you are really committed to "doing better," you need to start by listening.

Simone Boutet  

Posted: May 24th, 2019 10:11 PM

We are at a cross roads. I would ask people to pause, to notice their emotions and to then reflect on what their higher self is telling them is the right thing to do. Data consistently shows that in our country, our region and our Village people experience unequal outcomes based on race. Let's normalize that and begin to discuss what the Village government can do to address those disparities without all the accusations of whose fault it is and the naturally resulting defensiveness.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: May 24th, 2019 2:56 PM

We should be focusing on what we have in common, not finding more ways to describe micro differences we have in infinite detail.

Bryan Rekarson from SD  

Posted: May 23rd, 2019 9:43 PM

I find humor in knowing that ignorant comments posted by "Jameel Rafia" here do much more harm for "her" position than any positive effect they may have. Please, "Jameel", keeping posting about how evil Lily White People (all caps) really are. LOL

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: May 23rd, 2019 8:03 PM

I saw this story (and Dan's editorial) in the print edition and had a little debate with myself: should I or shouldn't I look at the reactionary-right wing-haunted WJ comments section of not. The more practical me lost the debate. And it's just as ghastly as I expected. But hilarious. So funny, in fact, that I sometimes wonder if the WJ is paying a troupe of strolling players to impersonate Republican nut jobs in the comments section. Alas, I fear it is not so. These persons are real thought not in touch with 21st century reality. - Racism is real. - The fabled tolerance of Oak Park does not mean some of its citizens are not expert and practice racists. - America has a vast and unrecognized variety of marginalized groups. - Progress involves making the comfortable uncomfortable. - And if this is really something gets you exercised you need both pharmaceutical, religious and psychological attention and you need it desperately. Much love, Jeffrey

Kline Maureen  

Posted: May 23rd, 2019 10:04 AM

I don't have much of a beef about either version of the Diversity Statement other than I AGREE that the inclusion of a statement that DIFFERENCES IN POLITICAL AFFILIATION IS A TYPE OF DIVERSITY THAT OAK PARK EMBRACES is very important, as Dan Moroney notes in his comment below. There are plenty of self-appointed Thought Police here in OP, ready to bully and shame anyone who makes a statement that is contrary to their own so-called progressive beliefs. The purpose of Monday night's meeting was to discuss the proposed revision put forth by the CRC - there should not have been an expectation that it was to be adopted exactly as written without additional discussion by the elected trustees.

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: May 23rd, 2019 9:07 AM

@Judy Humowiecki. I was at CRC's public meeting. It should not be cited as defining the community's attitude.. Look at it as marketing research. First, it wasn't a representative sample of the community. The CRC and most of the "public" in attendance were social activists. Two, it was a focus group. In smart marketing, you never, never base decisions on focus groups. They gather opinions, and it takes quantative work to support a hypothesis. It was a well-managed focus group, but saying it reflects the community is, at best, misleading.

Theresa Guarino Lipo  

Posted: May 23rd, 2019 7:00 AM

Jameel Rafia, Ms Walker Peddakotla referenced the "community" not being listened to. Unless she's redefining the entire Oak Park community to be her supporters, then I guess as a resident of Oak Park, she was seeming to speak for me as a member of the community. I appreciate you backing her up but she needs to choose her words more carefully.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 23rd, 2019 1:22 AM

@Judy. According to the village website, the CRC consists of 9 people and from what I can tell, they are not elected. I don't ever remember voting for any of them. Why do you complain of due process when elected officials seek input outside the CRC? Everyone should have a voice, not just the 9 on the CRC. As a resident of Oak Park, I would prefer to bypass the CRC and speak directly to my elected officials. I wouldn't want my words filtered by others.

Judy Humowiecki from Oak Park  

Posted: May 22nd, 2019 11:44 PM

My reaction to this whole issue revolves around having three trustees show up at a meeting with a revised statement without first having spoken with the CRC about the results of their community meeting. It smacks of the same attitude that brought trustees Moroney and Andrews to change their views after telling their constituents that they opposed the Albion building. The lack of due process in that situation was appalling to me and I would have changed my vote if I had known the new trustees would change their position without consulting with their constituents or the planning commission. Transparency and regard for public input do not seem to be a high value on this board, regardless of the differences of opinion that any, and all, issues bring out. I respect Trustee Boutet for her integrity, intelligence and insight.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 22nd, 2019 10:40 PM

@ Jameel. The word "oppressed" is thrown around Oak Park extensively. We have access to high quality education, high quality healthcare, fresh food, quality housing, public transportation that allows us access to over a million jobs in under an hour, etc. etc. Please describe specifically how people of color (like myself) are oppressed in Oak Park. Keep in mind the definition of oppressed is "subject to harsh and authoritarian treatment"

Jim Kelly  

Posted: May 22nd, 2019 10:22 PM

I really hope the people who voted for Arti Walker-Peddakotla are already experiencing "voters remorse." You didn't did your homework. You didn't investigate her endorsement to the erstwhile Chicago-based "People's Lobby," campaigning in Oak Park as "Reclaim Oak Park." Nor did you bother to read her responses to their lengthy questionnaire, which had VERY little to do with the essential responsibilities of Village Trustees. She is singularly unprepared for this position.

Jameel Rafia  

Posted: May 22nd, 2019 8:54 PM

Theresa Guarino Lipo first of all Ms Walker-Peddakotla was not speaking on your behalf or for you. She was speaking for People of Color in this Village, State Country, who continue to crushed under the systems of obsession that white people enjoy; and as she mentioned to the white men at the table; " White People Dont Listen" You feel you know everything and therefore when a black person commicates with you your White Privilege prevents you from seeing anything outside of you Lilly White-ness.. and all yall can back up off Ms Walker-Peddakotla  because I got her back..

Bill Strong from Oak Park  

Posted: May 22nd, 2019 5:52 PM

How about we start out with a "How to Play Nice" statement?

Theresa Guarino Lipo  

Posted: May 22nd, 2019 5:35 PM

I guess I would wonder why Ms Walker-Peddakotla feels that her view is specifically that of the community when there are six other trustees that were also elected by the community. Please don't speak for me.

Dan Moroney from Oak Park  

Posted: May 22nd, 2019 12:12 PM

I encourage anyone who is interested to read the edited version of the CRC recommendation (The second of the two images above these comments). I feel that this version is substantially similar to what the CRC recommended and represents a transformation of the Diversity Statement to an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Statement. The revisions attempt to define equity in the context of municipal government. Furthermore, it adds back some language from the original diversity statement such as political affiliation as a type of diversity Oak Park embraces, developing consensus on a shared vision for the future and preserving the best of the past. I strongly support this statement and feel the overwhelming majority of Oak Parkers embrace the ideals described within it. I applaud the work of the CRC and I also feel it is reasonable for elected officials to slightly adjust the recommended statement prior to adopting the changes. As I stated in the meeting, Oak Park has an extraordinary commitment to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion. Residents live here because of Oak Park's diversity, not despite of it. Our diversity is due to the fact that this community is appealing to people of diverse backgrounds. Of course we can do better and I believe we are committed to doing better. Different people approach these issues with different perspectives and different degrees of intensity. That is perfectly normal and to be expected. The challenge for our community is to embrace our different perspectives and give each other the benefit of the doubt that fellow residents have good intentions and have a shared desire to create a more equitable, diverse and inclusive community.

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: May 22nd, 2019 10:51 AM

First, I made a mistake in may earlier comment. The word "oppression" was in earlier drafts. At the May 15 CRC meeting, I simple missed it in the drafts. Had I seen it then, I would have objected. Thank you to Trustees Andrews, Boutet and Moroney for catching it. Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) are trying to put Oak Park among the ranks of those to blame because America is not their social nirvana. I simply don't agree. And I don't like the politics of confrontation and identity as tactics to push that narrative.

Christine Vernon  

Posted: May 22nd, 2019 9:35 AM

Although I have serious differences when it comes to the approach to development of Mayor Anan and some current trustees, the statement he made at this meeting exemplifies the reason he was elected and I voted for him. "Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb took a stern position, saying that the leaders of the community have an obligation to hear all voices and "not shame one another and make one more righteous than the other." "Abu-Taleb, who immigrated to the United States from Palestine at the age of 19, said he has been discriminated against his entire life." "If you want to talk about oppression, I can talk about oppression to you; to this day my family is profiled against," he said. He called out Walker-Peddakotla by name, urging her to "stop the negative attacks" on board members with whom she disagrees. "It is our obligation to listen to everyone and have ? [a] much more respectful dialogue," he said." How many other ethnic groups and races were included in the original discussion? We in the public have no way of knowing this. Recently, a man I know, a distinguished Muslim Iranian immigrant who moved to Oak Park told me he has buyers remorse. I didn't get to ask him why but I wonder if it is from reading articles like this one. There has been a barrage of comments here and on Facebook that are blaming, shaming and outright racist. This won't get anybody anywhere good. I don't know Ms. Walker-Peddakotla personally, but it is distressing that she would demean the opinions of others on the Board who were also elected to govern. They are her equals in decision-making. And we all know that in Oak Park, even un-elected residents have every expectation to have their voices considered in all deliberations! If people could take all of the anger and hostility out of these discussions, get our heads on straight after all, this is not about our baggage being squarely placed on the shoulders of our children, this is about having good learning environments for them.

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: May 21st, 2019 6:25 PM

I one of the 30 citizens at CRC's meeting. Don't Infer that our part in the session endorses the document. That, at the least, is misleading. The word "oppression" was not in the revised version we saw. It was added later and may reflect the opinion of a cadre of social justice warriors, but it was not anything that the citizens endorsed.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: May 21st, 2019 5:51 PM

Oppression? The CRC needs to get out of their little social justice warrior bubble and maybe spend a few days in Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, or even where I grew in Mexico if they want to experience real oppression. Where can I attend the next CRC meeting? BTW, I oppose the language proposed by the CRC and don't really care if I'm labeled a racist.

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