Council on Diversity and Inclusion Wants to Create Dialogue in N.H.

Feb 8, 2018

Credit NHPR Staff

Governor Chris Sununu announced in December a new advisory council focusing on diversity and inclusion.

The council will present the governor with recommendations on how New Hampshire can improve equity in the state, including on issues of race, gender, age and disability.

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley spoke with Rogers Johnson who will chair the council.


 (Editor's note: this transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.)

Can you first tell us what's on the council agenda? What's first?

Well, the first thing for our original meeting is really to lay out the groundwork on how the council is to operate, exactly what are charges from the governor. But more importantly to make sure that the people of the state will see what it is that's going to be our focus, how we're going to go about conducting our business, and in many ways making sure that the public knows that we want to hear from them--something that in this state really hasn't happened before, having the people themselves have a voice in what takes place within the state.

I know the council plans to lead listening sessions around the state, right? You're talking about going in various regions, and as you say, kind of convening the public.

Correct.

What's going to happen at those listening sessions? What would they look like?

Well, it's going to be just that. It's an approach where the council will sit back and listen to what those individuals who think they have been wronged on how they feel about what is taking place. From there we can begin to draw evidence on which to effect change in the most efficacious fashion for the people.

What kind of issues do you see in the state regarding diversity and inclusion?

Well, what it comes down to is is how do we deal with actual race in the state? Or do we deal with it? How do we deal with sexual orientation? How do we deal with say immigration issues? How do we deal with the things that have divided us for so long, that have just simmered under the surface level that we haven't really addressed? We're going to address those issues in a way that we hope will lead to, again, we hope permanent solutions. Understand this, those solutions in and of themselves will lead to a better both education and economic approach to this state. This is all about really making the state more accessible and desirous for individuals to want to come here, because we become a more inclusive environment.

So this isn't just necessarily talking about policies and what government can do on a legal basis. You're talking about culture?

In many ways yes. But the key here is is to make sure that we all examine the culture in which we exist. How do we go about treating one another? How do we get along with individuals who don't look like ourselves, who may not practice the same religion, who may not have the same sexual orientation that we're used to? How do we deal with change? But more importantly how do we accept change? Here's the difference now. In the past, individuals were taught to be tolerant. I can tell you right now that I could tolerate you and still hate you. But if I accept you for who you are, where you've come from, it's much more difficult for me to hate you. That's what we're trying to approach.

It's interesting to me that when you say you're having listening sessions, you're not just saying you want people to come and speak. You want to encourage dialogue. You want conversations here.

Yes. My whole effort here is to make sure that there is a dialogue, to make sure that people understand that this isn't going to be a one off. We're not going to have this conversation and we're never going to hear from you again, because we'll be back to the various districts, because we want to make sure that everyone is heard. But it's got to be a dialogue between all of us.

What do you expect or what you anticipate will come out of this?

Hopefully we will have a more diverse and inclusive state. People are going to be a little bit uncomfortable here. But that's okay, because in order to solve this problem individuals need to feel a bit uncomfortable. In so doing, what I hope to do, what we hope to do is open people's eyes as to what someone else who doesn't look like you thinks about certain issues, and so that you're more cognitive of that thought process. In so doing again, what we have is a situation where people have become more [accepting] to other individuals. Now for other companies outside the state, they will see that this state is becoming more diverse and more inclusive, hence a desire to be here. That improves the economic situation in the state of New Hampshire more so than our surrounding states. We're going to be doing with diversity and inclusion instruction to numerous organizations all across the state including, the university systems, police forces, selectmen, endeavoring to touch everyone who actually interacts with the public on a daily basis.