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Diversity: Small steps instead of a giant leap

Herald editorial board

Grand Forks still doesn't have a diversity commission. The backers behind the idea have left town, momentum has subsided and, without that leadership, we don't suspect anything will be happening in the near future.

Sunday, a front-page report in the Herald noted that without activists pushing for creation of a commission, it is unclear who would lead the push for such a group.

Yet proponents still exist, and they tell stories about discrimination. For example, Michelle Rydz, director of the High Plains Fair Housing Center, said she knows of many cases of housing discrimination in the region, including one local landlord who fired a management company in part because it had rented to immigrants. She also reported cases of "steering" — or encouraging minority renters to go elsewhere, "where there's more people like you."

That's discrimination and it shouldn't be tolerated. But what would a city-backed diversity commission do about it?

The idea floated two years ago was to create a nine-member commission, made up of members with diverse backgrounds, including gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status, education and ability.

At the time, we opined that it would be important to include political diversity as well; such a commission runs the risk of its entire body leaning in one political direction. We still feel that way.

Also, leaders behind the push two years ago said it would not be a punitive body, but instead be a place to file complaints. That is worrisome, because the commission would be subject to open meetings laws. Whereas it wouldn't technically be a punitive board, it could be devastating for a landlord who has been falsely accused and then publicly humiliated.

What would it cost, and who would pay the bill?

And some feel these places already exist in the community, including the High Plains Fair Housing Center.

We do feel diversity should continue to be on the front burner in the Grand Cities. Immigrants and minorities have a strong presence here. They're needed, too, since the region is in the midst of a worker shortage. We welcome them.

However, a nine-member commission seems too much, and the lukewarm response to it two years ago probably is proof that there isn't enough interest to make that a reality.

But we would back a push for a smaller group, funded by modest city dollars, to serve as a clearinghouse for all diversity issues — from discussing issues to creating events that celebrate immigrants in the city.

As much as we think racism and discrimination are subsiding, it hasn't gone away. Rydz highlighted examples of housing discrimination and earlier this year, a woman made national headlines with a rant against immigrants in a Fargo parking lot.

Last week, racist graffiti was even found at the Air Force Academy prep school in Colorado, prompting a wonderful speech about racism from the academy's superintendent.

So yes, there is still a need for better diversity training and awareness, but it's best to take small steps to accomplish the goal than to leap and again miss the mark.

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