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Help sustain diversity in New Mexico

NAACP Albuquerque will sponsor a Civil Rights and Diversity Conference with the theme Together We Advance on Friday and Saturday at the Hotel Cascada Urban Resort. The general public is invited to attend and hear policy makers and local activists (I will be a panel moderator) provide context to issues that are at the center of the electoral campaigns, such as criminal justice and policing reform, ballot access and get-out-the-vote efforts, and the extension of Medicaid and other aspects of the Affordable Care Act.

Race, racism and race relations are indisputably intertwined with the conference themes of civil rights and diversity. These are topics of national and local urgency.

Demographically, New Mexico is a majority-minority state; according to the Census Bureau as of 2014-15, 58 percent of the population is Latina/o, Native American, African American or Asian American.

New Mexico has one of the smaller percentages among the 50 states of African Americans, less than 3 percent, and has the largest percentage of Latinos at 46 percent. Albuquerque is one of the top five or six cities with the highest percentage of Native Americans/Alaska Natives.

The racial shifts are apparent in the schools; in 2010, 70 percent of the students in Albuquerque Public Schools were students of color. The University of New Mexico is a Hispanic-serving institution, and in 2014 41 percent of the graduate and undergraduate students identified as Hispanic.

In terms of diversity issues, there are many bright spots.

The state has had several Hispanic governors, including the first Hispanic woman governor in the nation, and its Legislature and judiciary, including the Supreme Court, are among the most diverse in the nation.

UNM’s Health Sciences Center is a national leader in creating a diverse health workforce with innovative initiatives such as its combined BA/MD degree and other pipeline programs.

Today 52 percent of the medical school students are students of color or mixed race as are 37 percent of the doctoral students in pharmacy and 20 percent of the students in the relatively smaller doctoral program in nursing.

New Mexico has also been a leader in inclusive public policy.

For example, the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Also the framers of the state’s Constitution provided protection for the extensive use of Spanish.

Many of New Mexico’s families and communities are bilingual, speaking Spanish or Vietnamese or other languages of recent immigrants but also keeping alive at least eight different Native American languages.

While New Mexico has made strides in cultivating its considerable human and social capital, we could also point to many indicators of structural and systemic inequality and to policy and economic decisions that create barriers for communities of color.

Indeed, we could begin by noting that Albuquerque lacks a comprehensive study of racial disparities in education, business, banking, employment and civil and criminal justice. Other communities, such as Dane County in Wisconsin, have produced such reports with baseline data relating to racial justice.

One dimension of civil rights and diversity addresses discrimination and disparities. However, recent scholarship offers other compelling rationales for undertaking the admittedly difficult work of diversity.

Writing in Scientific American, Katherine Phillips, vice dean of the Columbia Business School, concludes that social diversity (race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation) promotes hard work and creativity and makes us smarter; diverse groups prepare better, anticipate alternative viewpoints and reach better results.

Lisa Randall, the Harvard physicist, has recently written that her work on dark energy provides insights into the empathy one derives from working in racially diverse groups. Science and diversity are hard, requiring that we step out of our frames of reference.

Albuquerque seeks to be an innovation leader. Being a leader on civil rights and diversity is the springboard for creativity and productivity. Come, share and join this important conversation at the NAACP Conference.

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