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Falmouth diversity officer pushes 'culture of care' over cancel culture

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Jacquelyn Hartman is Falmouth's first officer of diversity, equity and inclusion.

"This generation really has so much to offer," Jacquelyn Hartman tells CAI's Morning Edition. "But something that scared me was wondering if the workplace was ready to listen to them."

Falmouth voters last year approved the creation of a new role for the town and schools: officer of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Jacquelyn Hartman took the job in October.

She coordinates training around inclusion and anti-racism awareness, and advises the town of Falmouth and its schools on how best to welcome underrepresented people into the workplace.

Hartman reports to the town manager and schools superintendent.

She spoke to Morning Edition's Patrick Flanary about her first 90 days in the role, and her plans to incorporate more equal opportunity this year.

Patrick Flanary: Give me your definition of diversity, and what people are missing about it.

Jacquelyn Hartman: When it comes to diversity work, I think people don't realize how much it encompasses them regardless of their socioeconomic status, their race, their gender. And when we talk about inclusion work, it's really about creating that sense of belonging.

PF: How do we do that effectively in a county that is 92% white?

JH: A lot of the diversity work right now is centered around race. And we can see a lot of the systems that have been put in place and decisions that have been made have been historically by white men in the United States. There is a lot of diversity here on Cape Cod. There are a lot of groups that have been marginalized. And so they can understand what it feels like not to be included.

This is really difficult work, and it's uncomfortable and unfamiliar. And when we talk about cancel culture, it isolates people and doesn't bring them into the conversation. So I think that can be a really dangerous way to approach people that you might disagree with.

PF: Are you saying cancel culture is potentially dangerous?

JH: I think it is potentially dangerous because it separates people from the conversation, it separates people from others. It's a symptom of living in a society that typically handles things with punitive measures. We do that same thing to people when we exclude them by putting them in this cancel-culture prison. But it doesn't actually solve the problem.

PF: What about this role in particular spoke to you?

JH: I was working as an ELL [English Language Learner] teacher and was doing the advocacy component in my daily job. And something that I realized was that this generation really has so much to offer. But something that scared me was wondering if the workplace was ready to listen to them.

PF: What have you identified as something that should be tackled immediately?

JH: I'm working on a few different things. I want to be collecting a lot of data. I'm doing exit interviews and people are reaching out to me to talk about their experiences. That to me is really big. I think we need to be honest about what the current environment is, what we could do better. And I'm going to be looking at some of the policies for both the town and the schools. And then I really want to bring restorative practices to Falmouth. There are groups already doing it. They call it the Culture of Care, where you really are listening to one another.

PF: Some might argue that you can't restore justice practices if they never existed.

JH: I think it's really difficult for us to imagine what justice truly looks like, because we haven't lived in a world that has true justice. There are so many people who have paved the way for DEI to now become the new goal, and really highlighting belonging.

PF: What are you demanding of yourself over this next year?

JH: Because this role is new I don't want to tie myself down to anything within a year. The work is long-term, and it has to be sustainable. There has to be a real mindset shift.

PF: Inequality — what's at the root of it?

JH: When I talk about racism, it is at a societal level. It is systemic. Because I am a woman of color, I think that there is a level of trust that's established almost immediately. I have experienced my own share of times where I really did not feel like I belonged. We have to be comfortable talking about race because that's the only way we're going to be able to see another person's perspective. We can do this together. And people can feel like they are a part of what makes Falmouth such a beautiful place to be. That's the goal, is hoping that everyone feels that way.