Exploratory Committee Meeting Recap

CHAMBERSBURG – Another meeting of the Special Exploratory Committee charged by the Chambersburg Borough Council on the possibility of adopting a LGBTQ non discrimination ordinance and local Human Relations Committee to enforce such code, took place last evening with five guest testifiers, all in support of such a law. 

The first speaker to address the committee, consisting of council members Kathy Leedy, Michael Herbert and Heath Talhelm was Wesley Fugate, Ph.D., and the recently elected President of Wilson College. Dr. Fugate immediately claimed the college has a difficult time recruiting diverse candidates and students based on conversations with hiring authorities and his own experience filling positions. He did not give  specifics on why this was problem however – just that there were questions about the climate.

He also spoke of a new Presidents Commission of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion he’s established and how, while our community can be welcoming, we have to do more to make diverse students and faculty feel welcome and said this was important for the “knowledge based” economies. 

Dr. Fugate spoke of his own feelings as a gay man and that Chambersburg must have laws so that if there might be an unwelcoming incident, a law would be in place to deal with it. He said there were disparaging comments made in the local paper about him being gay when he was hired that some felt were threatening, and that he was encouraged to take legal action at that time, though he never saw the comments himself. He decided to ignore the comments and said he has felt comfortable in the community since then.

He also said he has heard from LGBTQ+ students who felt like they had to hide who they were. And as an example of an actual rights violation he said a gay faculty member told him a local hospital had forced them to leave their partner when visiting hours at the hospital were over despite allowing heterosexual partners to stay.

When pressed by Kathy Leedy about diverse students experiences he said some said they were pulled over by police when they felt they would not have been if they were white, or otherwise felt they were treated differently at times. But when asked about students who chose not to finish school at Wilson, if it was due to this, he had no statistics on how many this might be or if it was due solely to discrimination issues. He was also not aware of any particular issues of diverse students having problems in any places of employment in the community.

He finished by discussing the importance of attracting the increasing numbers of diverse minority students which are moving to the majority in the coming years and talked about the emphasis of diversity, equity and inclusion in all facets of Wilson education and hiring. He said he thought a nondiscrimination ordinance and human relations commission was important even if there were no real discrimination, if just for perception.

Next were Megan Shreve, CEO of South Central Community Action Program (SCCAP) and Drs. Robert Hewitt PhD Social Work and Nicole Hewitt PhD Administation and Leadership Studies who conduct Human Service Trainer and Consultant workshops in addition to teaching. All three conducted focus groups in the Spring for the Comprehensive Plan planning for the Borough of Chambersburg, which included items on equity and racism and other related issues and were brought in to discuss what they learned in conducting this analysis.

Ms. Shreve said that black and brown voices were important to share in the focus groups and they hired Drs. Robert and Nicole Hewitt to specifically do this focus group and to analyze the data as they had expertise in facilitating this. She said there was a steering committee that pulled together the people that were chosen for the focus group which consisted of SCCAP, Building our Pride in Chambersburg, Community in Christ Church and John Wesley Ame Zion Church.

Next Drs. Robert and Nicole Hewitt gave a presentation of the focus group work they did and how their analysis of the responses of the 27 people they engaged could be used to answer some of the questions for the exploratory committee on discrimination issues in the borough. They described the make-up of the minority group and some demographic information all of which was contained in reports they had given the committee.

They described how they conducted the focus group and the three questions they started with:

1.What would you tell a friend or family member about the most positive things about living in Chambersburg?
2. What things about life in Chambersburg are challenging, inadequate, or inequitable ?
3. What are most critical things that borough’s comprehensive plan should address ?

They summarized the information they thought was most important for this group and of the six categories of challenges and needs that emerged from the focus group, they presented four: Diversity and Equity, Economic Opportunity and Redevelopment, Housing, and Racism and Disparity.

They then went on to share some of the comments that came from the group in these areas. There were comments on diversity of business ownership, different employment positions, and perceived differences of treatment both in employment and in treatment by police.

All the information was pretty general and matched their focus on systemic racism with no obvious civil rights violations committed by individuals.

There was also some comments on housing, both in getting and in density differences in different parts of town and between school buildings. A lot of the problems were related to lack of being heard but no examples were given of actual violations of civil rights in housing.

They then went on to talk about the analysis of this data on got into a very philosophical discussion about about frustrations of minorities not being heard or getting their needs met, the lack of diverse representation among teachers, etc.. They described how a Human Relations Commission could be used to address these issues. They described the HRC as problem solvers in a very different manner from how the HRC group was described in its function by the council when they announced this initiative.

The committee was given a more detailed report than what was presented during this meeting for more information. 

Finally Pastor Scott Bowerman spoke and said he was there representing the group Racial Reconciliation Franklin County. Bowerman described his Racial Reconciliation group as based in Christianity and gave a short sermon on the sin of racism. He talked about people who are different from him and how his group listens to testimonies of these people being discriminated against,  but gave no examples of specific civil rights violations and spoke in generalities how it is like this all over the country. He spoke of his support for a non-discrimination ordinance and Human Relations Commission.

The next meeting will be held July 28th with two guests from the PA Youth Congress.