SLU Study Finds Racial Equity Tools Can Affect Public Policy

In the wake of Michael Brown’s death in 2014, and again after the murder of George Floyd in 2020, cities and counties across the United States pledged to do more to address systemic racism.

Many have used tools to help them view policy changes through a racial equity lens and how they might affect minority communities. Now, a new study from the University of St. Louis notes that two of these tools, Government Alliance on Race and Equity and PolicyLink, appear to have led governments to adopt policies that could help reverse some of the effects of centuries of racism.

Sidney Watson, a law professor at SLU and director of the Law School‘s Center for Health Law Studies, said cities and counties’ decision to use the tools shows they take racial equity seriously.

“Making the decision to work with a racial equity tool is a city or county level commitment to getting the job done around racial equity,” she said. “It’s both a symbolic point, but also to bend down and roll up your sleeves and get the job done.”

The researchers focused on these specific tools because information about the cities and counties that used them was more readily available. They found at least 107 jurisdictions using the tools, some starting as early as 2000. A review of some policy decisions – raising the minimum wage and declaring racism a public health emergency – found a link between the use of the tools and the adoption of these policies.

“We found that a number of jurisdictions working with GARE and / or PolicyLink were prioritizing and enacting laws and policies to address systemic racism,” the report’s authors wrote. “Yet the link between working with [these tools] and these changes were still not explicitly clear.

Ruqaiijah Yearby, executive director of SLU’s Institute for Healing Justice and Equity and author of the study, said the two years of research she had conducted affirmed that using the tools was an ongoing process.

“You have to be intentional about it, keep evaluating and really try to work to integrate it into whatever you do,” she said. “It’s not just about focusing on changing policies in your community. It also means improving what you do in your relationships in government. “

The most important benefit, Yearby added, is the ability of the tools to engage governments in difficult conversations about race and racial equity.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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