Hampton Grapples With Racial Controversy At Diversity Council Listening Session

Apr 11, 2019

Hampton residents talk diversity at a state listening session Wednesday night.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

At a state listening session on diversity last night, Hampton residents said communities like theirs need more resources to confront issues of prejudice.

The event was held amid ongoing controversy over allegations of racist bullying in a local elementary school.

Governor Chris Sununu’s council on diversity and inclusion has now held 15 of these listening sessions around the state. They’re collecting recommendations for a report due later this year on how New Hampshire can become more welcoming to people of all identities.

People at the Hampton event said teachers and other community leaders need more structured help – and funding – to learn how to talk with young people and other adults about issues of race, gender, religion, disability and more.

Others said more widespread conversations like the one Wednesday night would also help create change.

Meg O’Connor is an attorney from Hampton. She said schools and other institutions should have a framework of procedures and personnel for when complaints come up.

“So what are the proactive steps that we’re taking? And it takes a person that’s going to be willing to unpeel those layers, can sit in the discomfort, and maybe just close our mouths and listen,” O’Connor said.

John Cochrane said he’s seen firsthand ways in which the state’s public education system could do that. Cochrane, who’s white, says his daughter, a third-grader who’s black, was bullied about her race by classmates. And he says school administrators didn’t do enough to respond.

“I think the biggest gap is there needs to be an avenue for parents to have somebody that they can report to that’s a third party, that’s not in the chain of command,” he says.

The Cochranes have transferred their daughter to a private school, and want the Hampton school district to cover their tuition costs. The school board is due to rule on that request soon.