League of Women Voters wants racial equity data for Amherst

  • A view of Main Street in downtown Amherst on Saturday afternoon, March 14, 2020. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Monday, March 22, 2021

AMHERST — When the Amherst League of Women Voters formed a task force compiling data about racial equity in town for employment, housing, health, policing and government, its members anticipated identifying trends so the organization could promote social justice goals for the community.

Instead, despite accessing more than a dozen national, state, regional and local information sources on those issues, the task force learned that getting specifics of how well Amherst is promoting and achieving equity is nearly impossible, and that the college student population overwhelms the demographic statistics.

In a report titled “Indicators of Racial Equity and Justice for Amherst,” released in advance of a virtual forum on the same topics later this month, the league is calling on the town to provide better public records on various matters, such as the racial and ethnic diversity of town staff and municipal boards and committees, and the race and ethnicity of the residents and visitors who police interact with, along with the specific reasons for those interactions.

Marcie Sclove, chairwoman of the Racial Justice Task Force, said the league is pushing for town government to develop a strategic plan to address the problems identified through the research.

“Systemic racism shows in the lack of data,” Sclove said.

League members hope the forum will be an important way to move the town forward, Sclove said. Titled “Working Toward Racial Equity: A Round Table and Dialogue,” it is scheduled for March 23 at 6:30 p.m. and brings together six local groups working on racial justice.

“We’re trying to help convene and move along the wonderful work being done on racial issues,” Sclove said.

The groups are Amherst Regional High School’s People of Color United, the Interfaith Opportunities Network, the Jewish Community of Amherst, the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations, also known as N’COBRA, the Racial Equity Task Force and Reparations for Amherst.

More dynamic conversation than often happens in meetings should be part of this forum, she said.

Registration is required and can be done at: us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUqd-2orzMvGNWVhhvJKezqOjaJpM6yYZaZ.

Meanwhile, the league’s report asks that town officials work on compiling quantitative and qualitative data related to racial equity.

“Quantitative data provide metrics for assessing progress, while qualitative data, such as focus groups and interviews with residents and social service agencies, provide the context and deeper understanding of racial equity and injustice in Amherst,” the report states.

In addition, the report suggests tackling certain topics, such as whether the supply of housing is adequate to meet the needs of people of all races and incomes, developing a strategic action plan for improving racial and ethnic diversity of town staff, and having racial identity recorded for all “arrests, citations, and traffic stops,” adding that “the racial identity must be confirmed and, if necessary changed, by the person being cited.”