Geneva diversity task force presents findings at halfway mark

Affordable housing, community policing and restroom access in the shopping district are among several themes that emerged via listening sessions with city residents, according to a report from Geneva's Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force to the City Council this week.

Task force chair Ashley Nuzzo-Ericksen said at the Oct. 17 meeting that other concerns which emerged from talking with community members are Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, LGBTQ awareness and senior citizens wanting their voices to be heard.

The task force was appointed last year for a two-year term ending in July 2023, Nuzzo-Ericksen said.

"We are committed to research, dialogue and action that leads to opportunities for all to feel welcomed, included and empowered in our thriving community," Nuzzo-Ericksen said.

Outcomes of the research are still to be determined, Nuzzo-Ericksen said, because the task force was not given any specific objectives.

"And we took that as a learning opportunity," she said.

The task force tried to hear from as many people as possible before deciding what they want to do, she said.

The task force invited speakers to each of its meetings: Sheriff Ron Hain, an affordable housing advocate, Geneva Police Chief Eric Passarelli, the city's Human Resources Generalist Mera Johnson, the Geneva History Museum and Waubonsee Community College's strategist Jamal Scott.

The goal was to focus on listening rather than the task force members' own experiences, Nuzzo-Ericksen said.

"I've been hosting some private one-on-one meetings with residents at the Geneva (Public) Library," Nuzzo-Ericksen said. "Sometimes getting up and speaking in front of people, especially about topics that may be controversial, is intimidating."

The task force's listening sessions raised the issues of affordability to live in Geneva, not wanting to shop downtown because they don't know where they can use the restroom, and a Black man who was in a mental health crisis, but the person was afraid to call police because she didn't know what would happen to him, she said.

The person who could not afford to live in Geneva works at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital "in a very well respected position," Nuzzo-Ericksen said.

In terms of restroom access in the downtown shopping district, the Gay-Straight Alliance at Geneva High School spoke with the group about the need for universal restroom designation.

"We have partnered with them to help spread awareness and to help the students," Nuzzo-Ericksen said. "This is a student-led project. They've developed a sticker, they're working directly with community members."

The Geneva History Museum reached out to the task force on diving more deeply into the city's documented history of people of color, she said.

Nuzzo-Ericksen said the task force wants to hire a facilitator to assist in its continuing mission.

"To ensure that when we do produce outcomes, when we are looking at recommendations, we're doing so with as much inclusivity as possible and avoiding any potentially negative frameworks as well," Nuzzo-Ericksen said. "There aren't things that we're trying to problem-solve, we're just gathering information."

In terms of demographics, Geneva is a community of mostly white residents, the average sale price of a house is $438,000 and the average income is $144,000 for 2022, she said.

Among the things the task force learned was that every traffic stop Geneva police make, the person receives a survey of how their experience was. The police department also employs a full-time social worker and the city is widening its employee search to achieve a more diverse workforce.

The task force also learned that the library has a diversity, equality and inclusion book club, hosts programs for all ages, offers Spanish classes and is fully accessible.

Among the city's successes for increasing diversity, celebrating Pride Month and Mental Health Awareness, she said.

"We do have some suggestions ... little things that could be done easily within the city," Nuzzo-Ericksen said. "One of those is recognizing Juneteenth as a holiday for employees. This year, the stock market was actually closed for Juneteenth. It's become a federally recognized holiday."

Juneteenth - which is short for June 19th - commemorates the official end of slavery in 1865 when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas and brought news of freedom to the last enslaved Black people.

As the task force continues to gather information, it is planning a second listening session, she said.

The full presentation is available on the city's website at

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