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Home / HER take on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: A conversation with Stefanie Munsterman-Scriven
When someone in Cedar Rapids files a complaint about discrimination or sexual harassment, the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission investigates the claim. It enforces the municipal code of the City of Cedar Rapids, which prohibits discrimination against those in protected classes.
In 2021, a total of 38 claims were filed with the commission, up from 29 in 2020.
“We each have the power to make a more inclusive community,” said the commission’s executive director, Stefanie Munsterman-Scriven. And that’s exactly what she aims to do through her work.
But the job is not for the faint of heart. “We hear distressing things. There is discrimination in our community,” Munsterman-Scriven said. Examples of complaints include landlords who are unwilling to accommodate individuals with disabilities and employers choosing to hire candidates based on race rather than job experience. Munsterman-Scriven said each complaint is treated with great care because of the impact these issues can have on people’s lives. “It can be traumatic for them,” she said.
That’s why Munsterman-Scriven says it’s stressful to think about what would happen without the commission. “The fact that this job has to exist in order to promote equality makes it challenging,” she said. But she also gets to do rewarding work in the community, like educating people about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). It’s what she calls the “proactive” part of her job, rather than the “reactive,” which is responding to complaints.
Recently she spoke to students at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids about DEI and belonging in general. Opportunities like that one keep her motivated and remind her why she chose to do this work. “I was so impressed with their wisdom and understanding of the interconnectedness of the world,” she said.
She’s also spoken to rotary clubs, nonprofit boards and even a kindergarten class. Of course, the conversations are a bit different depending on the audience, but she said DEI is a relevant topic for everyone. “No matter who I’m speaking to, it’s important in every aspect of life,” she said.
For those who are motivated to create a more inclusive community – and perhaps even help reduce the number of complaints filed – Munsterman-Scriven said educating yourself is the first step. The Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission's website lists resources, like relevant podcasts and books. And if you’re exploring ways to diversify your workplace, board or committee, Munsterman-Scriven said it’s important to build authentic relationships in the community. One way to do this is to get outside of your own bubble. “Don’t just keep going to the same events; there are so many ways to meet people who are different from us,” she said.
Also, don’t advertise job or volunteer opportunities in the same places over and over again. Munsterman-Scriven recommends reaching out to organizations that have established networks that might be different from your own. And don’t forget that diversity can also refer to age, religion, gender identity, and more. “Any time we start thinking about recruiting, we should consider who we’re missing and how to connect with those people.”
The main goal when thinking about DEI, according to Munsterman-Scriven, is to allow everyone to have a positive impact on their community. “Everyone should be treated with dignity and have the right to co-create our society,” she said. And the effort to become more inclusive doesn’t necessarily need to involve grandiose gestures. “One person talking to one person can make a difference,” she said.
Quotes on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
1. “The time is always right to do what is right.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
2. “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” – Mother Teresa
3. “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” – Maya Angelou
Books on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
1. So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
2. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
3. The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson