Why The Former Vice Chair Of Gov. Sununu's Diversity Council Resigned
After the passage of a new state budget that put restrictions on teaching and trainings on topics like structural racism and sexism, more than half the members of Gov. Chris Sununu’s Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion announced their resignations Tuesday. Dr. Dottie Morris, former vice chair of the council, spoke with All Things Considered host Peter Biello about her decision to step down, and what this means for the future of New Hampshire.
Peter Biello: More than half of the members of Governor Chris Sununu's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion announced their resignations [on Tuesday]. This follows the passage of a new state budget that put restrictions on teaching and trainings on topics like structural racism and sexism. In the resignation letter to Sununu, the Diversity Council members say the new state policy goes directly against the council's stated purpose to combat discrimination and advance diversity and inclusion. Dr. Dottie Morris is the Associate Vice President for Institutional Diversity and Equity at Keene State College and former vice chair of the council. She resigned along with nine other members today. Thank you very much for speaking with me.
Dottie Morris: Thank you very much for having me.
Peter Biello: Dottie, you and other members of the committee have been expressing concerns about this policy for some time. What were those concerns and what came of your efforts to express them to the governor?
Dottie Morris: Yes, the main concern was the impact that this measure would have on some of the work that had already been put into place based on some of the work that we had done over the years. And we were concerned that it would interfere with the capacity for organizations to to carry out some of that work, especially as it relates to training and education, because in our listening sessions throughout the state, it was very clear that there was a need to provide additional information, have some conversations within communities, within organizations about issues of equity and diversity. So we were just concerned about the impact that this would have on that progress on where we felt like we needed to go as a state in order to heal from some of the wounds that people were telling us that they were experiencing.
Peter Biello: And when you expressed concerns about the language, both the language that appeared in the House and then later the language in the Senate, was there a response? Was there a back and forth between you and the governor?
Dottie Morris: No, there was not a back and forth. And I think that that was the part that was kind of disappointing because we saw ourselves as an advisory group. And so we thought that we could work with the governor in order to come up with a, you know, resolution of some sort, once again, on behalf of the citizens of New Hampshire.
Peter Biello: And now the governor has signed the budget making this law. What do you think this is going to mean for the future of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in New Hampshire?
Dottie Morris: Well, I think there's enough confusion around it, Peter, that it's enough to make people think twice before they speak. And I think that that's the sad part. You know, even in my own heart, I had to sit a long time with myself to figure out what to do. And I'm not angry. I just feel so sad that we might be potentially missing an opportunity to allow us to work through, like I said, some of the pain from the past in order to have a brighter future.
Peter Biello: You resigned your seat on the Advisory Council along with nine others. I won't ask you to speak for the other nine folks, but why did you decide to leave? And especially given - you could leave and make a statement like this or you could stay on the council and continue to to push back against these or similar efforts. Why did you decide to leave as opposed to stay on the council and continue to push back?
Dottie Morris: One of the things I want to make just clear [is] that the work will not stop. It'll have to be through another avenue. So, I just want to put that on there. So, if there will be continued work in this area, continue to push back on some of this, it'll be through other avenues and avenues that could be potentially even more effective. The reason that, in searching my heart is, and then why I stepped down was the more we tried to approach to advise, it went unacknowledged in a way that it didn't feel like this was an effective way to make some of those changes.
Peter Biello: The governor says the resignations are a political move by the ACLU. What's your response to that?
Dottie Morris: I mean, I read that I was just really confused. That was just such a, I don't know, it's such a leap. I don't know how... I'm speechless. Let me just put it that way. Because the people who resigned, as you can see, was a wide range of people who resigned with their own minds and own hearts and souls, and not connected to the ACLU. And they have to answer to themselves and their own conscience and it wasn't political. It was about what is best for the people of New Hampshire, the people that entrusted us, again, with their stories and expected us to take action. And if you notice that of the people who resigned, several of us represent some of those identities, those underrepresented identities. So, we didn't do this for political reasons. We did it because we felt that we had to take an action to demonstrate that we would not let certain voices be silenced.
Peter Biello: You and your colleagues mention the hundreds of hours you spent speaking with New Hampshire residents about issues around diversity, equity and inclusion. From what you learned from those conversations in particular, what do you think the state should be doing to address these issues?
Dottie Morris: So, one of the things that we heard over, and over, and over again - it's consistent, you could look at the raw data on the website, it's there - was that people wanted people to be educated. They felt like a lot of the tensions that we have in the state, or a lot of the actions, were a product of people not knowing other people who were different from them. And it created this situation where people continue to other each other. And so most of the people who attended felt that we needed to have more conversations and opportunities to engage across our social identities in order for us to learn more about each other, in order for us to be able to care for each other in a way that's important for us to develop a kind of society that we all want to be proud to live in. And so that came over and over again. So, the opportunity to have some of the conversations, though they may be painful, that we have these cross-race, cross-gender, cross-sexual orientation. We have to have that opportunity to say certain things about what has taken place in the past and how it's having an impact on the way that we currently live, in order to plan for our future.
Peter Biello: The governor's office says he's already working on finding replacements to fill the seats that are now vacant. Have you given any thought to the kind of person you hope will fill your seat?
Dottie Morris: I really hope that it's someone who will continue to represent the voices of a wide range of people living in New Hampshire.