Volunteers lining up to reform Trumbull diversity committee

Joy Colon comments during the April 5 town council discussion about the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

Joy Colon comments during the April 5 town council discussion about the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force.

Zoom screen capture

TRUMBULL — The reformed Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force could be up and running again by summer, according to town council member Ashley Gaudiano.

“I think we’ve received seven or eight applications for the four open spots on the task force, and the hope is that we’ll keep the applications open for another few weeks to see if we get a few more applicants,” Gaudiano, D-4th, said. “It would be nice to have a bigger pool of people to start going through the process.”

The task force had just begun its work of fostering inclusiveness in town when four of its eight members resigned, some citing safety concerns, because of a social media backlash against the group’s chairman, Tara Figueroa. Figueroa was publicly criticized for comments she had made in July comparing Blue Lives Matter signs with Confederate flags.

A screenshot of the comment, posted in February, led to demands for her resignation as the task force leader, and calls to disband the task force altogether.

Figueroa, who remains a member of the committee, said she hoped for as large an applicant pool as possible.

“What we had set out to do was get more community engagement and getting more people from the community to participate,” she said. “We want diversity of thought.”

The council at its April 5 meeting voted mostly along party lines to repopulate the task force with four new volunteers. Republicans proposed several amendments, including adding a permanent police department representative to the panel and suspending the task force until Figueroa was replaced. Those measures were voted down.

A message seeking comment from the council’s GOP members was returned by Deputy Minority Leader Lori Rosasco-Schwartz, R-3rd, who was unavailable Wednesday but agreed to comment at a later date.

The remaining committee members lamented the fact that the group, which met only three times before the social media explosion, had been forced to pause its work.

“The committee was just so new to begin with, and I feel like the work we embarked on was productive and useful,” Figueroa said. “From what I’ve seen, and the comments to the town council, it seems that overwhelmingly people in Trumbull have said we want to make our town stronger by fostering more inclusivity.”

Fellow committee member Jonathan Tropp agreed, saying he hoped candidate selection could move quickly.

“My hope is that the town council will find four terrific people to join us and we get back to work,” he said. “Some people in town were wary about this committee, and I’m looking forward to showing them the benefits that we can bring.”

One benefit the task force can bring is giving a voice to those in town who have historically been marginalized, Figueroa said.

“There’s so much we can talk about, like fostering a sense of belonging for everyone in town,” she said. “People want to be heard and we need a dialog to do that, regardless of your position.”

The recent conviction of former Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin, seen by many as a watershed moment in social justice in the United States, could have been an opportunity to have a frank discussion on race, she said.

“I was saddened by the fact that we weren’t able to provide a safe space for that discussion,” she said.

Council member Joy Colon, D-4th, agreed. She said the task force had formed in 2020 following the summer-long protests after Chauvin killed George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. The verdict was a natural topic, she said.

“In a way, I think we came full circle,” Colon said. “EDIT was formed as a direct reflection of the time, and it continues to be an ever-necessary group for our community. We saw the verdict. (The jury) delivered accountability, but not justice. The work isn’t done, but we all can do it together.”

But as the group moves forward, Gaudiano said, residents should be prepared for frank talk on sensitive topics.

“Equity and inclusion work by nature is difficult and uncomfortable,” she said. “There are really great things they can do foster community, and there are also going to be harder conversations as well.”