Social resilience is focus of free training in Westhampton on Saturday

  • Westhampton Town Hall

Staff Writer
Published: 6/27/2022 8:31:31 AM

WESTHAMPTON — The town is offering a free virtual Ethical Upstander workshop on Saturday in an effort to build social resilience in Westhampton.

Led by diversity consultants, Human in Common, participants will learn how to identify commonly targeted social groups and understand and counter the “bystander effect” psychology at the root of inaction.

“An ethical upstander is someone who takes action to prevent or respond to harmful behavior and chooses to do the right thing even if no one is doing so,” said Deborah Cohen, co-founder and executive director of Human in Common.

The training is part of the town’s Municipal Vulnerability Preparedness grant project. Last August, the state gave the town $237,516 to plan for long-range sustainability and resilience. As part of Westhampton’s project, the town is developing its first master plan and updating its open space and recreation plan, using a lens of climate adaptation and resiliency, according to Teri Anderson, the project manager for the town’s project.

Another component includes youth engagement at Hampshire Regional High School in collaboration with the Grinspoon Foundation Cooler Communities program, which assists schools in providing curriculum around climate change culminating in an exposition of student projects. The exposition will be part of the town’s Fall Festival in October 2022.

Diversity training

The project also includes diversity, equity and inclusion workshops for town staff, boards and residents, said Anderson.

“The purpose (of this training) is to build social resilience in Westhampton by offering residents an understanding of what diversity, equity, and inclusion means and to build communication skills that will help us as a community talk with each other in a respectful and engaging way around differences, bias or conflicts,” she said.

In May, the town offered a six-hour introductory professional development training to staff and board members on diversity, equity and inclusion.

The purpose of the training was to provide education on what diversity, equity, and inclusion means and why they are important in the workplace, in government, and in Westhampton, she said. The introductory training was required for paid town staff as a professional development training. Participation by board members was voluntary but recommended as a learning opportunity to assist in working with the public.

Anderson said that people may want to participate in these introductory trainings to learn more about the experience of various social identity groups — such as race and ethnicity, socio-economic class, age, ability, gender, and sexual orientation — to talk about social differences in a safe and non-judgmental environment and to learn more about ways to effectively and respectively communicate with people of different social groups.

“The feedback I’ve had from participants is that they found it valuable, and informative, and they were glad they participated,” said Anderson. “For me, it is also about creating community and educating myself to increase my understanding and empathy for the experience of people who may have different backgrounds or life experiences than me.”

Nialena Ali, who is the co-founder and director of research and development at Human in Common, said that her organization tries to teach people how to successfully and calmly deescalate and engage in dialogue whenever they see harmful behavior. The benefit of such programming can result in a change in workplace culture and a reduction in cases of harassment.

Having both attended a lot of diversity trainings in the past, Cohen and Ali created Human in Common to provide a more empathetic approach that includes a history on racism in the U.S.

“If you grew up in the U.S., you’ve had bias poured on you — whether it’s sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism — we’ve been immersed in these hateful, biased messages through the media, through advertising, through our history books on what’s been omitted … our take is that we all have to learn. … When microaggressions occur or when there’s implicit bias, what we’ve found is that the shaming and screaming just pushes people away and shuts people down,” said Cohen. “We try to counter hate and polarization by teaching people to engage with one another in really respectful, passionate and equitable ways.”

The training will be held via Zoom on Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and is open to Westhampton residents, town employees and businesses in town.

To register, visit https://bit.ly/3wLvfFx.

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.

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