Although associate professor Jason Shelton is not teaching classes this semester, serving as Arlington’s Unity Council chair is like a full-time job.
Between never-ending meetings, emails and conversations, Shelton said he is constantly looking for data the council can use to examine the city’s equity strategies.
Arlington’s City Council unanimously approved the Unity Council’s creation on June 23. The Unity Council was charged to study citywide equity strategies, gather community input, create an equity plan and report findings to the City Council by February.
The council’s formation follows a summer of worldwide protests and calls for racial justice sparked by the death of George Floyd on May 25.
Shelton, Center for African American Studies director, said after spending years researching and calling attention to racial inequality, it’s an honor to be a part of the council.
“The mayor and city council in your own city come calling and saying ‘Hey can you help us do this?’ You’re not going to say no on that,” he said.
Five subcommittees on the council cover education, policing, health, housing and economic disparities. In its second public meeting, Shelton presented equity data covering each subcommittees’ focus area.
Finding equity data isn’t as simple as looking it up and printing it, Shelton said. U.S. census data layered with other factors is needed for analysis of housing and poverty. Other data, such as the police’s use of force, comes from the Arlington Police Department’s published report.
One statistic in the presentation ranked Arlington 11th out of the top 100 largest U.S. cities for its diversity in 2017. Shelton said that was surprising to find, especially compared to cities like Miami and Los Angeles.
In 2018, Arlington’s population consisted of 39.1% white, 29.2% Hispanic or Latino, 22% Black, 6.9% Asian or Pacific Islander, 0.3% Native American and 2.5% more than one race.
In the 2018 Annual Use of Force Report, Arlington police used force on Black citizens 46.1% of the time and white citizens 28.5%. In the 2019 Annual Report for Motor Vehicle Contacts, Black citizens were stopped 37% of the time while white citizens were stopped 31%.
Economics senior Akram Abbadi said most of the data in Shelton’s presentation didn’t surprise him, especially the police statistics.
Abbadi, who serves as president of UTA’s NAACP chapter, felt the council was a perfect opportunity to make an impact within the community. Growing up in different areas around the world, Abbadi said he was exposed to different cultures and can bring a unique perspective to the group.
“It gives me a really big sense of responsibility,” he said. “I have this responsibility, this obligation to be an advocate for social justice and change.”
When he first joined, Abbadi figured their recommendations would be more administrative. After hearing presentations from equity advocates in other cities, he realized change also needs to happen legislatively. In order for there to be lasting change, policy needs to be improved, he said.
Student Body President Blaize Lafleur, who hopes to one day serve in public office, said joining the council was an opportunity she didn’t want to pass up. Being able to advocate on behalf of the Student Body and voice the concerns of a younger generation means a lot, she said.
“You can’t make decisions for a group of people that you’re not a part of,” Lafleur said in regards to young adult representation.
Lafleur is a member of the education and workforce subcommittee. One data table that stood out to her from Shelton’s presentation covered Arlington Independent School District’s student success in all grades and subjects between 2018 and 2019.
In the table, Asian students recorded the highest success at 73%, white citizens at 62%, Hispanics at 40% and Black citizens at 36%.
After seeing the presented data, Lafleur realized the problems people make fun of through stereotypes actually affect the community. It shows how the public education system is failing Black and Hispanic kids, she said.
With a city as diverse as Arlington, Lafleur said it’s not enough to tout diversity without working to help all its communities.
“We need to be cognizant of the people that are different from us so that we can better learn what they need to excel,” she said.