This morning, the House Committee on Government Operations took testimony on H. 196. This legislation, proposed by Representative Kevin “Coach” Christie of Hartford (and co-sponsored by 36 other House Reps), would create two additional full-time equivalent (FTE) positions to support the work of the Executive Director of Racial Equity in the Administration. The positions as outlined in the bill are a policy & research analyst and an outreach & education coordinator. VPIRG adamantly supports this initiative to better resource this vital work.
Since the office was founded in 2018, Xusana Davis, the Executive Director of Racial Equity, has done an incredible amount of good for the public interest of this state. She has been a visionary leader, participating across and beyond state government to understand and address racial inequity and injustice in Vermont. Beyond that, she has deftly navigated the challenges of this work during a pandemic while also substantially broadening her mandate.
In testimony, Davis described three work streams that would be better enabled through further staffing and resources:
- Committee work. Right now, the office interacts with over a dozen committees related to racial equity work, which necessarily spans across sectors because systemic racism pervades the whole system. Davis put it right when she said, “Racial equity has a role in every topic.”
- Training of state employees, but also beyond the public sector. Importantly, this is ongoing, rather than “one-off” work that we all, as Vermonters, must engage in. Better resourcing the expertise, research, and community engagement capacity of the office will allow these conversations to continue in a truly constructive way.
- Data analysis. The data we do have clearly shows the pervasiveness of systemic racism throughout Vermont society – from COVID-19 infection rates to traffic stops, and from vile harassment of elected women of color to school discipline. But more disaggregated race data is needed across Vermont to better target the solutions to these problems.
This is by no means the end-all, be-all of the needed public investment in racial equity. But it represents progress. It both will enable crucial work to be done and sends a clear signal that Vermonters will continue to grapple with how we can make our state more equitable and just for all, centering the voices of those who our society and government has excluded from the conversation for generations.
We look forward to continuing this conversation in our state, and to the work ahead.