The Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) approved its new 2015-18 Strategic Plan that aims to stop and remedy illegal discrimination through three key initiatives: educating Hoosiers on civil rights issues, providing efficient service to Indiana residents and conducting studies to understand civil rights issues statewide.
The agency investigates complaints of discrimination to find evidence of discrimination, then works to enforce civil rights law through fines and injunctions as necessary. They also seek to educate organizations, companies, landlords, associations and individuals on their rights and responsibilities under Indiana civil rights laws, according to the ICRC website.
ICRC Deputy Director of External Affairs Brad Meadows said that there is a large focus on education in the new plan. Meadows said it is important to educate the people who are discriminated against, as well as the people who might discriminate. The Strategic Plan notes that the agency has anecdotal evidence that many Hoosiers don’t know what the ICRC does. However the ICRC hopes to change this with the education initiative.
The agency is taking a new approach to finding the causes of discrimination with a testing system. Meadows said the ICRC is the first agency in the state and likely the country to take this approach. He said that this new method has been shown to yield the best results in finding the cause of discrimination. As part of the test, representatives from ICRC can pose as renters to survey the state of housing discrimination throughout Indiana.
ICRC works with local human rights groups in the state’s largest cities. Meadows said it is a challenge to monitor human rights in rural areas because there isn’t usually a local civil rights organization to work with. However, he said that the ICRC does reach out to rural areas to try to educate them and bring them up to speed on civil rights law and to make them think more about diversity in their homogenous area. The agency works with community partners like public libraries to bring the community together to learn about civil rights.
In rural communities, Meadows said the ICRC focuses on educating people about the law and that the ICRC is there for people who have been discriminated against. He said diversity doesn’t exempt a community from discrimination. The agency is focusing on educating urban areas about the law as well as about the history of civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.
Meadows said Indiana has come a long since the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan, but acknowledged that there is still a long way to go in communities both rural and urban. He said legal education could help cut discrimination tremendously.
“Regardless of the make-up of the community, we find that they are not wanting to break the law. More than anything, those people aren’t discriminating against people [on purpose.,]” Meadows said. “We hope that the law, deters them.”
He said that a main thing that employers and businesses should know is that discrimination will eventually effect their bottom line. He said it is important to somewhat closely reflect the community’s diversity to make customers and employees feel welcome and safe in the environment. However, he said that there should not be affirmative action style hiring based on meeting a diversity quota.
Race isn’t the only discrimination issue that the ICRC deals with. There are other types like religious, sex and disability discrimination. Meadows said that race and disability are top two most common issues the agency deals with today.
“Our ultimate goal is to bring an end to discrimination. We know the work has changed since the commission was created in 1961. The issues are different, but the ultimate goal is still the same,” Meadows said. “We want to make sure that everyone in the state has an equal opportunity at enjoying their life.”
Meadows said, essentially, the agency wants to put itself out of a job one day.
“We hope to get to a point, one day, when our agency has done such a good job that agencies like this are no longer needed,” Meadows said. “Until then we are going to work as hard as we can and travel throughout the state doing all we can from an education perspective.”