Process to be Ongoing
The State of New Hampshire recently released the Governor Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, dated June 1st, 2018. The publication is a preliminary report. Governor Chris Sununu established the council on December 14, 2017. The council worked cooperatively with the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, the Civil Rights Unit of the New Hampshire Department of Justice and other “relevant state entities”. They were charged with reviewing and analyzing New Hampshire laws, regulations, and agency policies and procedures, and recommending changes or amendments, where necessary, to further combat discrimination and advance the ends of diversity and inclusion; identifying and recommending ways in which the State can support local and community efforts, through educational programs or otherwise; combating discrimination and advancing diversity and inclusion; identifying and recommending ways in which the State can partner with non-governmental organizations to combat discrimination and advance diversity and inclusion, and identifying and recommending revisions to RSA 354-A and the scope of the duties of the Commission for Human Rights to combat discrimination, advancing diversity and inclusion.
The council held its first meeting in February. The council began planning and holding community listening sessions in March. As of this date, according to the report, three listening sessions were conducted in the following locations: Durham, Portsmouth and Claremont. Attendance varied by location, from about 80 people in Durham to 20 in Claremont, not counting council members.
According to the report, a number of participants stated that they do not feel that NH is a “welcoming’ environment for all races, ethnicities, religions and identities while others expressed that they have had great personal experiences living in NH and described it as a great place to live, while acknowledging that not everyone in NH shared that experience.
Some participants liked the fact that neighbors trust and support one another, that they have easy access to politicians and that it is small enough that they can make a difference.
A number of participants from each session stated that the education curriculum is antiquated and lacks diversity and representation. Some noted that NH still lacks sufficient protection for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Others expressed that many residents do not understand the concept of whiteness and the role it plays in systems of oppression. Some individuals with disabilities stated that they are unable to secure gainful employment despite completion of vocational and training programs.
The council reported that it had been encouraged by some participants, especially City officials and community members from Claremont, “who have demonstrated a commendable commitment to self-reflection, self-critique, and self-improvement related to understanding systems of oppression, and how one’s place in dominant societal groups can insulate them from experiencing, understanding and acknowledging these systems.”
Local activists and residents in Claremont began to address the issue of diversity and racism following an incident in August of 2017 in which an 8-year biracial boy, playing with several teens, was reportedly pushed off a picnic table with a rope around his neck, injuring him in an alleged act of racism.
The council said it was encouraged that the listening sessions have provided a forum through which it can identify individuals and initiatives within geographic communities. The council will continue to conduct listening sessions in the summer and fall of this year.
Regarding improvements to methods and processes, the council analyzed its past listening sessions to identify ways to adapt its methods and procedures to maximize output and engagement going forward. Several council members identified a need to engage in more community-based groundwork prior to each sessions, a sentiment echoed by individuals and community organizations. A number of local organizations and initiatives, including the Racial Health Working Group in Claremont, have expressed interest in future collaboration with the council. The council said it would also seek opportunities to learn about ongoing community-based efforts to foster diversity and inclusion. And due to the nature of some topics, the council now recognizes that it needs to be more deliberate about identifying other, more confidential ways to meet and engage with the public and various communities. This may include developing an online submission process and facilitating more individualized discussions with specific groups.
Over the course of the next year, the council will make recommendations to the Governor’s office as required by Executive Order 2017-09. However, the council identified two areas of concerns that it wishes to raise now, adding gender identity as a prohibited basis of discrimination in employment, housing and places of public accommodation. Secondly, the council said that visibility and acknowledgement are prerequisites for all individuals and communities to feel included and valued in society as a whole. “Our society will be stronger and more cohesive if we work to celebrate and recognize the full history of the identities, cultures, religious holidays and milestone events that affect and define all communities throughout the State,” wrote the members.