CONTACT: David Scherr, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-3189, Karen Richards, Executive Director, Vermont Human Rights Commission, (802) 828-2482
December 21, 2017
The Attorney General and the Vermont Human Rights Commission have released their Report on Act 54 – Racial Disparities in State Systems to the Joint Justice Legislative Oversight Committee. Section 3 of Act 54charges the Attorney General, together with the Human Rights Commission and interested stakeholders, with developing a strategy to address racial disparities within the state systems of education, labor and employment, access to housing, healthcare, and economic development.
Over 100 stakeholders turned out at three forums which were held between September and November in Montpelier, Brattleboro and Burlington. “The stakeholders were incredibly engaged in looking at these issues,” said Karen Richards, Executive Director of the Human Rights Commission. “The report reflects the concerns of affected communities and provides a number of ideas for how the State can address the issues.”
The over-arching theme was that in order for Vermont to successfully address and reduce racial disparities, it will need to change the underlying culture of our state with regard to race. The main suggestions for doing this were: 1) teach children from an integrated curriculum 1 that fairly represents both the contributions of People of Color (as well as indigenous people, women, people with disabilities, etc.) while fairly and accurately representing our history of oppression of these groups; 2) educate state employees about implicit bias, White Privilege, White Fragility and White Supremacy; and 3) increase the representation of People of Color in the state and school labor forces by focusing on recruitment, hiring and retention, as well as promotion of People of Color into positions of authority and responsibility on boards, commissions, etc.
“These suggestions should be part of a coordinated approach, because data shows that they exist across all state agencies and departments, affecting both employees of the state and the people those agencies serve,” Richards said. “In Vermont, the people in positions of power are all White. It is thus vitally important that the work be approached with the input and advice of People of Color.”
Attorney General TJ Donovan added: “This work is vital to an inclusive, just, and thriving Vermont. This report is an important first step in identifying priorities and a path forward. All of us who serve in state government have an obligation to work with the individuals effected by racial disparities and make this change a reality.”
Addressing these issues also furthers other state goals, the Report says. Because People of Color are the fastest growing demographic in the state, taking steps to be more inclusive in all aspects of our state systems will further economic growth in a time when our workforce is rapidly aging.
To this end, this Report recommends that the State prioritize initiatives to reduce and eliminate racial disparities across state systems much as Vermont has prioritized the opiate crisis. The adoption of indicators or benchmarks and performance measures by each state entity that can address existing disparities within that agency’s purview, and a coordinated approach to data collection, sharing and reporting will result in improved conditions over time.
“This report specifically does not address racial disparities in the criminal and juvenile justice systems,” Richards said. “Issues related to the criminal justice system are being discussed and analyzed by the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Advisory Panel created by Sec. 1 of Act 54. The work of that group is on-going.
1 Curriculum in which concepts are embedded rather than teaching about the contributions of White men and addressing others only during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, etc.
Last modified: January 4, 2018