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Majority Of Gov. Sununu's Diversity And Inclusion Council Resigns

Gov. Chris Sununu stands behind a podium in a blue suit with an American flag to his right.
Josh Rogers / NHPR

Over half of Gov. Chris Sununu’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion resigned on Tuesday, condemning the governor's decision to sign into law a set of regulations limiting certain kinds of teaching on racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression. Those provisions were included as a part of the state budget, which Sununu signed last week.  

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Many members had raised concerns about the new law, along with businesses and school districts that say it will hamper implicit bias training and frank discussion of race and racism. The 17-member council has met since 2018 to gather information about the experience of people of color in New Hampshire and advise the state on how to combat discrimination and improve diversity and inclusion.

In a letter sent to Sununu, 10 members wrote: "We feel obligated to inform you that — contrary to your recent public statements — systemic racism does in fact exist here in New Hampshire. You appointed us to explore these issues, and we have reported our findings to you in detail every step of the way."

"We collectively see no path forward with this legislation in place," the letter concluded.

Sharon Harris, one of those who resigned, said the council shared its concerns about the new regulations with Sununu and asked to meet with him about it but never heard back. She said those who had left the council still believed in its original mission.

“We’re ready to move forward in this work; we’re strongly committed to this work,” she said. “But if we got a governor and a legislature that doesn't believe in this work, then how can we continue in this initiative?" 

The new law prohibits schools and public entities from teaching that any group is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, even if unconsciously. It mirrors a Trump-era executive order that banned the teaching of “divisive concepts,” which served as a model for Republican-led legislatures across the country.

The law’s language is vague but opens schools up to the possibility of lawsuits. Devon Chafee, executive director of the ACLU of New Hampshire and one of the members who resigned, said the law empowers anyone opposed to discussion of equity, race, or racism.

“Schools and other public entities are starting to engage in self-censorship because of this provision, and because of their concerns that they may be faced with a lawsuit,” she said.

Council chairwoman Ahni Malachi, who directs the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights, disagreed. 

“Despite some misinformation out there, the new language placed as a budget amendment does not place a limit on the important discussions to be had across the state, and this new language took out the phrase ‘divisive concepts’ as it worked its way through the legislative process,” she wrote in a statement to press. 

Sununu’s office dismissed the collective resignations as political.

"It is unfortunate that the ACLU has tried to insert politics into an otherwise fruitful mission in addressing many issues of race and discrimination in our state," Sununu said, via a spokesperson. "These politically-charged actions will not deter the Council from advancing the good work they’ve accomplished and help move forward New Hampshire’s efforts around messaging, training programs and diversity in the workplace."

Several members who resigned on Tuesday say that the ACLU did not initiate the resignations, including Dottie Morris, associate vice president for institutional diversity and equity at Keene State College.

“[It] was a wide range of people who resigned with their own minds and own hearts and souls, and not connected to the ACLU,” she said in an interview with NHPR. “And they have to answer to themselves and their own conscience and it wasn't political.”

Most of the members now remaining on the council are members of the Sununu administration. Sununu's office said it has already started "filling these vacancies with representatives from all walks of life."

Sarah Gibson joined NHPR's newsroom in 2018. She reports on education and demographics.

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