Diversity in Government

DUBUQUE – In a large ballroom late on a Sunday night, the Loras College Student Union holds their bi-weekly meeting.

The Union is up and running after a semester-long restructuring process.

The change implemented new committees and chairs that now have a greater ability to directly impact student needs. In fact, the Diversity Chair is in the process of building new focus groups on campus.

“I realized how many flaws there are in our system, even on campus, and I wanted to better that,” says Whitney Klein, a junior at Loras.

She knew the initial questions that would come up when she took the position.

“I’m white so people are like, ‘Why would she be the one to represent [the] Diversity Chair?'”

Klein says coming to Loras was a “culture shock”: she actually grew up in a town where white was the minority.

She’s here to change the culture around diversity.

“I’m passionate about diversity and I wanted to…create more inclusion through the student body.”

24 hours later, in a packed meeting room across town, Dubuque’s six City Council members sit down to discuss their agenda. Three of them come from minority groups in the community.

For a group so small, diversity is crucial.

It’s what Lynn Sutton, who became Dubuque’s first black City Council member back in 2011, knows better than just about anyone else.

I asked her a question that has no clear answer: is diversity improved by reserving certain seats in a government body for minority groups, or is diversity improved by opening up positions to any demographic and simply working to empower voters to elect a diverse government?

“As far as reserving certain seats, it would be good if that was appointed that way because then it’s a targeted effort,” said Sutton. “Every race has a different viewpoint, but they all come together as one.”

Others, on the other hand, such as current City Councilman Luis Del Toro, hold the opposite view, and for reasons that are just as valid.

“If you start to [reserve seats for minorities], I think you start to alienate certain demographics…because even though they might be someone who could be a great leader for our community, they may not have the opportunity if a certain seat is set aside for a certain demographic or gender.”

Del Toro, who is currently a minority on the council, continued, “I think you always have to trust the citizens to be the best judges of character in being able to make that decision [of who is elected]…We have to be willing to look at the individuals as a whole…because at the end of the day, regardless of what our demographic or gender is, we’re still representing the people.”

While the question of how to best improve diversity may never have a clear cut answer, its importance is agreed on by all.

Speaking on Loras’s Student Union implementing a Diversity Chair, Sutton said, “It is very important because…now, [minorities] have someone there they can identify with…Overall, it brings that sense of culture outside the campus and [helps] plug students more into what is happening in the community.”

And in the community, activists like Klein, Sutton, and Del Toro, are filled with passion for change. It’s their goal to improve diversity in any way possible.

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