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Evanston officials discuss refugees, equity at City-School meeting

Evanston%E2%80%99s+equity+and+empowerment+coordinator+Patricia+Efiom+speaks+about+the+importance+of+equity+at+the+City-School+meeting+on+Wednesday.+The+meeting+addressed+the+importance+of+helping+refugees+and+promoting+equity.+
Evanston’s equity and empowerment coordinator Patricia Efiom speaks about the importance of equity at the City-School meeting on Wednesday. The meeting addressed the importance of helping refugees and promoting equity.

Evanston’s equity and empowerment coordinator Patricia Efiom speaks about the importance of equity at the City-School meeting on Wednesday. The meeting addressed the importance of helping refugees and promoting equity.

Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Katie Pach/Daily Senior Staffer

Evanston’s equity and empowerment coordinator Patricia Efiom speaks about the importance of equity at the City-School meeting on Wednesday. The meeting addressed the importance of helping refugees and promoting equity.

Amelia Langas, Reporter

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Evanston officials discussed updates on the city’s Refugee Task Force and its efforts toward promoting equity at a City-School Liaison Committee meeting Wednesday evening.

The Refugee Task Force was born out of the committee’s meeting in October 2016, after it learned that Evanston schools were experiencing an influx of refugee families, said Savannah Clement, task force coordinator and the city’s housing policy and planning analyst.

“(The task force) connects people to services, to each other and gets people talking about how to better serve the community,” Clement said. “The task force has been really great at giving ideas for places to connect refugee families.”

The task force comprises city staff, two school districts, refugee resettlement agencies, Northwestern and local religious leaders to address the needs of refugees and help them adjust to the U.S., she said.

Clement said there is now a welcoming city resource page on Evanston’s website where refugees can search for resettlement resources — housing, health, education, legal and employment opportunities — and events to connect with other refugees. She said the page is able to be translated via Google translate, which helps non-English speakers get information.

Although the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration have decreased the number of new refugees in the U.S., the task force plans to continue serving families that are already here, Clement said.

“It’s good to keep the conversation going about how we can continue helping these families even though we aren’t seeing the influx in numbers,” she said. “It’s good to stay connected.”

Clement said she hopes the task force can assemble a booklet with a list of services to distribute to schools so administrators can better recommend places for refugee families to get support.

The committee also discussed promoting equity in schools and the Evanston community, and how the two can work together.

“(Equity) is critical to the fact that our city is coming to a completely new level and we all have to come to an understanding of what that means … what is the language we’re using to spread, and at the same time intensify, equity,” District 202 superintendent Eric Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon said the city could promote equity by educating people through the Beyond Diversity program — a two-day program that helps participants address diversity issues.

Patricia Efiom, the city’s equity and empowerment coordinator, said the program has helped Evanston residents “see things through a different lens.”

“Equity is about looking at systemic disparities … and tearing down those systems, so therefore we have to attack our individual, implicit biases,” Efiom said. “Beyond Diversity helps us to begin to open ourselves up to … marginalized people, people who are different from us.”

Efiom said she hopes to “disassemble embedded systems,” which inhibit equity by promoting conversation among people of different backgrounds and identities. She said she would encourage city and school staff to participate in a Beyond Diversity workshop when it comes to Evanston again.

Mayor-elect Steve Hagerty, who attended the meeting, told The Daily he thinks equity is important to the community.

“The city is committed to it, I think the schools have been leaders in it and I think we’re going to make a lot of progress in the next year or two,” Hagerty said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @amelialangas

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