Does your diversity consultant find 40% of your community deplorable? Welcome to Hinsdale!
This is comic gold. Sorry, that's insensitive of me.
Valda Vanbrun, a diversity consultant hired by the Hinsdale school district (in a community that voted 40% Republican) posted on her Facebook page "DeSantis and Abbott are the devil. Just like Trump. I hope the entire GOP implodes.” Strange that some folks in Hinsdale didn't like being categorized. Err...is that bigotry...oops. I can't say that? Or can I call out an African American for being a prejudiced?
Then again, she's probably right, Hinsdale is a "dangerous place". I'm sure she got loads "death threats" and is afraid of being car jacked. Honestly, it's like Viet Nam there.
Hinsdale District 86 anti-racism consultant withdraws training proposal, citing hate mail and hostile comments from residents
By ZAREEN SYED
PIONEER PRESS |
JAN 24, 2022 AT 11:02 AM
An equity and anti-racism consultant withdrew her proposal to provide training to faculty at Hinsdale High School District 86 ahead of her presentation to the Board of Education on Jan. 13, citing a hostile environment that exhibits “racism.”
Valda Valbrun, CEO of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Valbrun Consulting Group, was scheduled to give a virtual presentation about diversity, equity and inclusion after the Culture and Equity Leadership Team approved her hiring in December following an interview on Nov. 17.
According to District 86 spokesperson, Chris Jasculca, after the district received proposals from four vendors, the Culture and Equity Leadership Team recommended that Valbrun be awarded the RFP, but the board was not slated to vote to award the RFP during the Jan. 13 meeting. A contract, therefore, was not yet signed, Jasculca said.
Valbrun, chief executive of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Valbrun Consulting Group, was scheduled to give a virtual presentation to Hinsdale H.S District 86 about diversity, equity and inclusion on Jan. 13. She backed out citing a hostile district community. (Alvin Jacobs / HANDOUT)
At the beginning of the Jan. 13 school board meeting, Superintendent Tammy Prentiss read a letter from Valbrun, that said:
“The vitriol and lack of professionalism in the direct messages I received from members of your school community demonstrates a clear lack of goodwill to address issues of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in your district,” the letter stated. “I got several messages yesterday and really think Hinsdale is a dangerous place and would not be physically comfortable there.”
In a phone conversation with Pioneer Press following the meeting, Valbrun said on Jan. 12, she unexpectedly received “nasty” direct messages on her personal social media platforms.
“I was all in,” said Valbrun. “But then by Wednesday, a day before the meeting, I’m getting hate mail. What is this about?”
Valbrun said a Hinsdale resident flagged an August Facebook post on Valbrun’s personal Facebook account dated Aug. 9, in which Valbrun spoke out against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Republican Party. The post said, “DeSantis and Abbott are the devil. Just like Trump. I hope the entire GOP implodes.”
Valbrun said she quickly connected the dots. The hate mail, threats, direct messages on Twitter and friend requests on Facebook from those with a Hinsdale ZIP code started piling in after the social media post made the rounds in the community, she said.
“I felt violated because people were trying to dig into my personal life,” she added.
According to Valbrun, she changed the privacy settings on her social media accounts from public to private, and began receiving message requests such as “what are you afraid of, why is your Twitter feed protected?” to “no one wants your kind in Hinsdale” and “you don’t belong here, we’re glad you pulled out.”
Valbrun said she made the decision to back out because this caused her mental anguish, not because of her post. “I said I didn’t want anything to do with them because of the threats. They got what they wanted.” Valbrun explained that she didn’t want to be involved with a town or school district exhibiting racism.
Valbrun emailed Prentiss that she would not be furthering her professional relationship with District 86 and gave her permission to read the letter out loud at the Jan. 13 meeting.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, audience members called out Valbrun’s tone as “degrading” toward the community, and several spoke out against the hiring of an equity consultant.
“We have a woke culture ruining our schools,” a Darien resident said. “Why would the district want to hire another racist consultant?”
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Another Darien resident, walked up to the meeting’s video camera and showed Valbrun’s Facebook post, stating, “I find this shameful.”
“I stand by the post on my personal page,” Valbrun said over the phone, sharing that she caught snippets of the board meeting livestream. “I’ll be on the right side of history on this, my opinions about the Republican Party are my right, I am sitting here witnessing them attempting to take away voting rights from people of color and organizing at school boards to effectively maintain the status quo which is power and privilege for one group of people over another.”
Valbrun said the demographics of the district speak for themselves. According to data from Illinois Report Card, District 86 has a 36% minority enrollment rate that breaks down into 63% white, 17% Asian, 10% Hispanic and 7.5% Black.
While Valbrun’s letter outraged some members of the community, it also struck a chord with others, including a Hinsdale Central teacher who left Valbrun a voicemail in solidarity.
And a Hinsdale South parent emailed Valbrun, saying, “I want to express my deepest apologies for the extreme ignorance that some people have in this area and for the way they have treated you. Your letter has opened my eyes and I intend to become more active in the school.”
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Valbrun said she had the privilege of walking away, but minority students and parents do not. She shared over the phone, and briefly at the top of her Jan. 13 letter, an incident that occurred on Nov. 17 when she flew in to interview for the consultant position.
“I did the presentation and then opened up the Q&A and a gentleman asked, “how will your company help us to change the public perception of us?” Valbrun recounted. “I said to him that’s an interesting question because I can more than imagine what the public perception is based on my own experience.”
Valbrun told the audience her first impression of District 86 was not pleasant. She said upon walking into the front office, she was met with hostility from employees who told her the interview was taking place in the auditorium down the street.
“I’m used to experiencing micro-aggressions as a Black woman, that’s the story of my life,” Valbrun said. “But in that moment I considered that I could have been a Black parent or I could have been a Black student and my heart broke at that moment for them.”
In a statement provided to Pioneer Press, Prentiss said the administration agrees with Valbrun that the behavior members of the district community have directed toward her is “abhorrent and inexcusable.”
“As we have stated clearly, repeatedly and emphatically, one of the main goals of our equity work is to create an environment where everyone is not only treated with compassion, dignity and respect, but also feels safe and welcome,” the statement reads. “It is both troubling and disturbing that people who claim to share that belief would choose to laugh at or mock someone who said they felt none of those things based on the way they were treated. Sadly, Ms. Valbrun’s experience is not unlike what some of our students and staff members have encountered during their time in our district.”
Board member Erik Held, who is a graduate of District 86, tried to address the need for an equity consultant by saying such a hiring is a way to strengthen the district.
“I hope we don’t lose sight of that, that we don’t allow people to use buzzwords from various talking heads or pundits on Twitter to try to obfuscate the issue and make it seem different from what it is,” Held said.
Valbrun acknowledged that several school officials and Prentiss were aware of race-related issues in the district, and handled the fallout apologetically.
“I know they are very aware of what is going on in the district, but the problem I have with many districts is they say they want to do this work, but then they let their communities go crazy. Just the behavior, the laughing, the clapping … it demonstrates a lack of humanity on the part of the people there,” Valbrun said.
Prentiss offered an explanation in her statement that from a “strictly procedural standpoint,” the practice of the board is not to engage in a discussion with audience members during board meetings, which includes responding to what they say during public comment.
“From an ideological standpoint, the individuals who attended the meeting on Jan. 13 represent those in our community who have always opposed this work, regardless of what we have said to them publicly or privately,” Prentiss said. “That does not mean that we stop standing up for what we believe in. It simply means focusing our time, effort and energy toward having a productive dialogue about the issues and challenges our students and staff have faced for far too long.”
School officials said the Cultural and Equity Leadership Team would hold a meeting in February to review the next steps in hiring a consultant, who would train staff about equity issues.
“The need to address equity exists because we see how pervasive it is in schools, we see how the outcomes are different for children of color and I don’t understand why (some people) wouldn’t want to create an equitable environment where everybody can thrive,” Valbrun said. “No one is saying if we help Black or POC students, that we are not helping those from the majority population. We are saying that the needs are different, so I can’t just throw my hands up and say I’m done, but I can protect myself as a practitioner in this field.”