Week 10: Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission

August 17th, 2012

Stephanie Larios ’13: Julian Fellow in Civil Rights

I cannot believe my internship has come to an end! I spent this last week conducting more research and adding to the document on the history of the CRCRC. Seeing as I could not finish the section on the past twelve years of the CRCRC, I printed off various articles that should help the future intern as he/she works on the project.

On my last day, the staff gathered in the small meeting room for a little goodbye present which consisted of muffins and juice as well as a thank you card. But really, I feel like I was the one who should be thanking them. The CRCRC and its staff has increased my passion for social justice and more importantly provided me with insight into various careers that would enable me to actively fight against discrimination. For this, I am incredibly grateful. I am also very grateful for the extraordinary opportunity Cornell College presented to me. This has been an experience that I will always remember. Thank you Cornell and Jeanette, Stefanie, Janet, Darryl, and Karl of the CRCRC.

Week 9: Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission

August 8th, 2012

Stephanie Larios ’13: Julian Fellow in Civil Rights

Since I missed last week’s blog, I will just combine the two weeks here! On July 24th I had the opportunity to go with Stefanie who was conducting interviews at a local trucking company as part of her investigation. We interviewed about 6 people in regards to a man who felt his employment had been terminated on the basis of his race. In order to remain consistent and to make any variations in answers evident, each person was asked the same set of questions and each person, overall, provided the same answers. Coming out of the interviews, it appeared that the man was terminated due to a poor attitude, consistently behaving as though he knew everything, often instigating altercations between older members who had been working as truckers for years. All of the individuals that were interviewed agreed that the complainant was a good worker, but just had a very bossy, intolerable attitude. However, interviews are not enough to close a case.

In addition to the interviews, Stefanie also received a very large stack of papers from the company that provided her with information on terminations, resignations, and complaints from or about these former employees over the last two years. It was my responsibility to transfer all of this data into an excel file where Stefanie could note any discrepancies. Upon my own analysis, there were a few differences in treatment. However, as the company did not provide any information regarding the employees’ race, I was unable to make any conclusions of discrimination. We will just have to wait and see what Stefanie finds out when she requests for this information.

Last week, Janet presented me with a case where the complainant felt she was being discriminated against based on her sex, resulting in her receiving fewer overtime hours as well as fewer opportunities for overtime hours than her male counterparts. Seeing as there were only two female employees with this company, it was a bit difficult to feel confident about comparing the mean hours between the men and women. Even so, I spent the majority of last week crunching numbers, seeing if there were any patterns that suggested that the women were averaging a number of overtime hours that was less than the men. This was a bit difficult as there was just so much data! It was daunting and really overwhelming! Even so, I could not identify any clear patterns. At times the women received more hours, other instances less, and sometimes the same amount. In ways, I somewhat felt like I let this woman down as there was only a limited number of things I could do with the data. There is a chance that this woman’s claim was valid, but given the information provided, I just could not find any support which is a bit frustrating. However, the investigators seem to be accustomed to such situations and the need for close analysis. For many of the cases that are presented to the CRCRC, the discrimination is so discrete that it can be easily overlooked.

On a more social aspect of my fellowship here in Cedar Rapids, I was able to catch a glimpse of RAGBRAI. The concert and “resting grounds” for the ride took place a block away from the CRCRC and was easily viewed from my 9th floor window. Thinking about it now, I should have just stayed here in the office, propped open a window, and listened to the concert for free. RAGBRAI also went through Mount Vernon which was neat but also slightly annoying. With my apartment being where it is, hundreds of bikes were surrounding my apartment, with riders lounging about. It took me 10 minutes to walk through downtown to get my caffeine fix! I took some pictures and I would love to share them, but I am having a really hard time posting them! I will hopefully be able to put them up by next week.

Week 7: Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission

July 25th, 2012

Stephanie Larios ’13: Julian Fellow in Civil Rights

I spent all of last week at the front desk. The experience was pretty neat and enjoyable as I was able to answer calls and talk to individuals whenever they came in inquiring about what they needed to do when they felt they had been discriminated against. In cases where I was not sure how to respond, I simply asked Janet, who was kind enough to help. I also presented the staff with the idea of placing advertisements for the CRCRC in the programs of Hairspray which is playing at Theater Cedar Rapids. They loved it, so I modified a former advertisement of which we printed and delivered about 1500. A former staff member of the CRCRC saw the production this past weeked and found the advertisement in the program to be really effective.

On Wednesday I was able to sit in on a commission meeting and, let me say, I am very grateful for the experience. All 11 commissioners were present. As there were two new commissioners, they all introduced themselves. It was intriguing to hear about the various backgrounds of each commissioner as well as the several organizations each one was involved with. The meeting lasted approximately an hour with the matter of education within the community being discussed.

On Saturday I assisted Stefanie with outreach at a Kernel’s game during an ADA celebration. I am not a huge fan of baseball, but for the time I was there, I had fun. We simply worked a booth and disbributed coloring books and crayons, pamplets entitled “Know Your Rights” and “How to File” as well as other goodies like notepads and magnets. I managed to get a picture with Captain Crunch! Best moment of the night: seeing Captain Crunch pitching and trying to clap his hands. This mascot had the shortest arms.

Week 6: Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission

July 18th, 2012

Stephanie Larios ’13: Julian Fellow in Civil Rights

The investigators of the Civil Rights Commission strongly remind me of Cornell students in that there is more to them than meets the eye. Not only are they all committed to civil and human rights, but they have many interests and hobbies that exceed their profession and line of expertise. Just the other day I found out that Janet loved musicals and had just recently participated in TCR’s Wedding Singer. We have been geeking out about it, talking about past experiences with theater and so forth. Next week we are planning to see Hairspray which is fantastic and interestingly enough, ties in well with my internship at the CRCRC, since the show pertains to the issue of racism and integration.

This past week I have continued my research for the CRCRC History document I am working on. In turn, since Jeanette is gone for the week in San Diego, I have also spent the past few days working the front desk. My responsibilities include answering calls and inquiries, adapting documents, certifying and sending out mail, and helping out the investigators wherever needed. The job does not sound all that exciting, but some of the calls and stories I have heard and read are very startling. At one point I had a phone call where a woman asked if the saying of the word n***** followed by a very explicit act constituted as a hate crime. I really had no idea how to respond; I had to transfer the call to an investigator.

Living in Mount Vernon this summer, I was introduced to my first Heritage Days Festival which was located in downtown MV. While it was a bit hot and rainy, the festival was pretty enjoyable: unhealthy fair food, the ability to drink out on the streets, what wasn’t to love? Corn dogs and steak skewers were my best friends this past weekend. My fellowship at the CRCRC has proved not only educational but has given me the chance to experience some Mount Vernon culture not provided during the school year.

Week 5: Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission

July 10th, 2012

Stephanie Larios ’13: Julian Fellow in Civil Rights

This week I sat in on a training pertaining to the Fair Housing Act and accommodations. Throughout this training I realized just how confused I am on career paths. I had always had the intention of going to medical or PA school, which is why I chose to major in Biology at Cornell. Then I came across Ethnic Studies as a second major and realized how incredibly interested I am on matters of social injustice. My fellowship with the CRCRC has revealed to me the various ways in which I can actively combat the many injustices that occur in society, particularly to those of a protected class. The more I hear and read about cases of harassment and discrimination, the more disgusted I become and the more I want to help and implement change. Becoming a lawyer in civil and human rights is turning into a more viable option each day I am here in the office. So the big question remains: What do I do after college? Do I continue on to PA school? Do I apply for a graduate program in microbiology/virology? Do I go on to law school? If only we could do it all! Even so, I am grateful to Cornell and this fellowship for shedding light on interests that I did not even know I had.

Week 4: Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission

July 3rd, 2012

Stephanie Larios ’13: Julian Fellow in Civil Rights

This past week I was reminded of just how incredibly hot and humid it gets during the summer months here in the Mount Vernon/Cedar Rapids area. Every day I step out of my MV apartment or the office building I work at, I feel as though I am walking into a sauna! I finally managed to go out and distribute the ads I created as part of our outreach campaign for Marion and, while exciting, the experience was just too hot! I am really hoping it cools down at some point.

While I know this information is somewhat delayed (I really should have mentioned it in my first post), the office building I work at is located in Downtown Cedar Rapids. The Civil Rights Commission is on the 9th floor and my office overlooks the Cedar River and City Hall, or as one Investigator calls it, the building with the chicken statue (it is really supposed to be fire, but from this distance, it really looks like a hen; I will provide some pictures next week). Now, working downtown is pretty neat, but is also an inconvenience. Why? Parking! You have to pay for parking everywhere, even if you work for the city, which quickly adds up. One work day’s worth of parking is anywhere from 5 to 6 dollars. Rather than pay, I park about 10 minutes away walking distance. Not only do I save money, but I get some exercise, which is well worth the trade-off. However, as mentioned with the severity of the heat, it is becoming extremely tempting to just pay the 5 dollars.

Along with working on Marion outreach, I have also played historian this past week and will likey continue to do so throughout my time here at the CRCRC. My research is to be an addition to the work completed by a former law intern. Looking at the document she created, I am in utter astonishment. The amount of work that went into the project is quite impressive. The only backdraw for me is that, though it is well organized, I now have to make my work flow with hers, which, as I am sure many Cornell students know, can be quite challenging when trying to co-author a paper. I have been left with the task of writing on the history of the CRCRC from the year 2000 to the present day. I believe the CRCRC wants to have this document published at some point in the future, making it all well worth the effort.

Week 3: Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission

June 27th, 2012

Stephanie Larios ’13: Julian Fellow in Civil Rights

This week I had the opportunity to see one of our investigators present as part of outreach for the CRC. Approximately 100 realtors were present at a lunch conference where Stefanie presented on the Fair Housing Act. It was intriguing to see how attentive those at the conference were. After all, they all wanted to avoid a potential lawsuit while still being able to make a profit. Of the 40+ slides that where shown, the sections that received the most attention and made me the most frustrated with the audience were service/companion animals versus pets and exemptions. Stefanie was clearly explaining that a service/companion animal was not the same as a pet, and as such, an individual based on their need for the animal, could not be charged a pet fee or refused tenancy or residency. Several of the realtors just did not understand, and if they did understand, they tried to find a scenario where they could get around it and as one realtor said, technically discriminate. This proved to be just one other reminder of how much work has left to be done in eliminating discrimination, especially when individuals feel that discrimination has a better payout.

Other than this outing, I have spent most of my time in the office. As part of outreach, I have created some postcards that are going to be sent to the residents of Marion. So we are looking at about 16,000 postcards. I have never created a postcard before and I have never used Microsoft Publisher or been introduced to the program. I literally just went for it and it is working out fairly well. I have also been contacting various printing companies to get quotes and been doing some basic calculations on total cost . . . it is not going to be cheap. My goal is to complete this project before I leave this summer, assuming the staff wants to continue on with the project which will likely be decided on next staff meeting of next week. Hopefully it all works out!

Week 2: Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission

June 19th, 2012

Stephanie Larios ’13: Julian Fellow in Civil Rights

One thing that has definitely drawn my attention this week is the matter of time management and how Cornell has helped me in completing tasks quickly and efficiently. After all, Cornell students are experts at getting things done right away; once we get our assignment we head straight to the library. Or we take a two hour break and then head straight to the library. There have been several moments here at the CRC where I have completed the task and then asked, now what? Coming from Cornell, 7 hours a day seems like quite a bit of time to complete an assortment of work. However, for the CRC staff, the work never ends. There are always new complaints that come in and further investigations that need to be made. I was fortunate enough to witness a resolution made with a particular case.

As mentioned last week, when a case is labeled as having Probable Cause, a conciliation is attempted. This last week I was able to sit in on a conciliation, and let me say, the experience was intriguing. The complainant made a case of discrimination on the basis of age and disability, the complainant being diagnosed with cancer. Both the respondent and complainant were represented by a lawyer in order to come to an agreement on a settlement. The respondent was very animate about not going to court, being a well-known company, thus leading them to agree upon a settlement of more than $40,000!

Along with gaining better insite as to what exactly comprises an investigation, I have spent a majority of this week working on outreach to the community. With this, I have created an advertisement that will be dispersed in the Marion area informing the community on the existence and workings of the CRC. I have also written the main article for the CRC newsletter which will come out next month. I am also working on a project that will provide the CRC with a visual on how the basis and area of discrimination of cases have changed over the years. For example, through the graphs I have created, one can see that a majority of the cases were filed/closed in the area of employment in 2006 whereas a majority of the cases were in the area of housing in 2007. This data can suggest a variety of notions, showing that maybe not enough outreach was done by the CRC in that particular area or discrimination is more prevalent in a particular area, etc. Whatever the case, it hopefully proves useful to the CRC.

Week 1: Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission

June 12th, 2012

Stephanie Larios ’13: Julian Fellow in Civil Rights

This week has proven to be incredibly informative, serving as a reminder that discrimination is still a prevalent issue within modern day society. The work of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission entails providing educational outreach to the community on the issue of discrimination, investigating claims, and enforcing local civil rights laws in employment, public accommodations, housing, credit, and education.
Over the course of the week, I have spent the majority of my time reading various documents and articles; the CRC believes wholeheartedly in the need to educate oneself to remove ignorance; ignorance is not an excuse for poor actions. These readings have ranged anywhere from the wage gap between men and women and women of color to discrimination in housing. Yet, of these reading, the cases themselves have proven the most intriguing.
The process for investigating a claim of discrimination is a long, but rewarding one. There are three investigators at the CRC along with the executive director Karl, all of which are incredibly involved within the community and hold high merit. Each investigator handles about 20 cases at a time as they are worked on throughout the year. A case can take anywhere from a few months to a year, and given the extensive nature of investigations, it is of no surprise that EVERYTHING is recorded or documented! Among the first steps is notification; the complainant (the one “accusing”) and respondent are notified of the claim of discrimination that has been made. The respondent must then write a response/answer to the complaint with documentation which is then sent to the complainant who is required to submit a written rebuttal. Following a formal complaint, an investigator is assigned the case, conducting a neutral fact-finding inquiry, requesting additional documentation and/or interviewing witnesses as needed. For many of these cases, there is no direct evidence that suggests blatant discrimination. After all, many forms of discrimination can prove to be quite subtle when compared to the discriminatory acts of the modern Civil Rights Movement.
In these alleged incidents of discrimination, the evidence must show that the complainant belongs to a protected class (one cannot be discriminated against based on his or her age, race or color, religion or creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, physical disability, mental disability, marital status, or familial status), that he or she has endured an adverse action, and that the adverse action was based on the complainant’s protected class status. After the investigation has been completed and the evidence gathered, the investigator will make a recommendation of Probable Cause (enough proof to suggest discrimination) or No Probable Cause. The case is reviewed by the Executive Director as well as a Civil Rights Commissioner. When a case is labeled as having Probable Cause, a conciliation between the complainant and respondent is attempted. However, when conciliation is not possible, the case is brought to Public Hearing where an Administrative Law Judge gives the final verdict.
Each day I learn something new at the CRC, spending hours upon hours simply reading over documents. I was fortunate to have some variation where I was permitted to write the main article for the July issue of the CRC newsletter. With this said, I would recommend that any future Fellow for Civil Rights at the CRC be independent, curious, and willing to take the initiative to find the material necessary to educate themselves. There are only 5 permanent employees here at the Commission, allowing for an intimate learning environment not unlike Cornell. All are open to questions as they wish to see you take all you can from your experience.

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