Community members discuss diversity, inclusion at first speaker event


Shane McKeon/The Daily Northwestern

A number of Evanston residents discuss individual identity in small groups during an Evanston Public Library-hosted event on diversity. The event was the first part of a speaker series sponsored by multiple Evanston organizations.

Shane McKeon, Reporter

More than 100 parents and community members visited Evanston Public Library on Tuesday, where they were encouraged to have honest, open conversations with their children about issues of diversity and inclusion.

The event, titled “Navigating Real Life Diversity with our Kids,” was led by Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan, a part-time diversity professor at DePaul University.

The talk, sponsored by the Evanston/Skokie PTA Council, Evanston/Skokie School District 65, Youth Organizations Umbrella, Family Focus, YWCA Evanston/North Shore and the Evanston Public Library, 1703 Orrington Ave., was the first of four sessions designed to help parents discuss diversity and inclusion with their children.

“We cannot solve inequality without talking about racism, without talking about white privilege, without talking about homophobia,” Lindsay-Ryan said. “We have to say those words. We have to call it what it is, or we can’t overcome it.”

During the program, Lindsay-Ryan critiqued some common ways parents address the idea of race, including the “colorblind” approach, in which some insist they “can’t see race.” Parents should teach their kids to support those different from them, Lindsay-Ryan said.

“If I have white children, as I do, I’m going to talk to them about how to be an ally around race,” she said. “When they notice and see that inequality, how do they stand up? How do they make sure their voice is heard?”

Children can recognize and vocalize racial differences, but they should not associate negative stereotypes with these differences, Lindsay-Ryan said.

She also spoke about privilege, specifically white privilege.

“You cannot opt out of privilege,” she said. “We are always in a system. The only question is whether one is part of the system in a way that challenges or strengthens the status quo.”

Evanston resident Colin Langan acknowledged the idea of privilege. As a father of three, he said none of the issues discussed during the event such as gender, finance and race were things he has had to deal with.

Lindsay-Ryan also discussed diversity beyond race, including gender identity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.

Toward the end of the meeting, Lindsay-Ryan shared with attendees different ways to model positive behavior for their children, including the advice to “integrate the toy chest” with a more diverse range of options. Another tip read, “Speak up and do your part. Your kids are watching.”

Lindsay-Ryan will speak at the next event in the series, which will be held at the library on Nov. 4. The final two events will be in February and March 2015 and will be led by a different speaker.

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