A woman with a history of public service in New York City has been appointed Vermont’s first executive director of racial equity, where she will “identify and address systemic racial disparities and support the state’s efforts to expand and bring diversity to Vermont’s overall population,” according to a press release from Gov. Phil Scott.
Xusana Davis’ previous positions include director of health and housing strategic initiatives for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and director of the New York City Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
In a statement, Scott said Davis’ leadership and experience are a “perfect fit” for the position.
“In this role, she will be critical to our work to ensure state government is demonstrating a full commitment to equal opportunity and treatment for all Vermonters, our visitors and our employees. This is an important step forward in our efforts to improve state government and strengthen our communities, both socially and economically, through real equality that values diversity,” Scott said.
In a statement released from the state, Davis described herself as “honored” to have the position.
“I look forward to the opportunity to work collaboratively with all branches of government to make Vermont more accessible to all, regardless of ethnicity or place of origin,” she said.
Rebecca Kelley, communications director for Scott’s administration, said Friday Davis would not be available for interviews until closer to when she starts her new position at the end of next month.
Kelley said the Legislature had created the position of director of racial equity in 2018.
Candidates for the position were recommended to Scott by a five-member Racial Equity Advisory Panel. Scott, Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, the members of the Human Rights Commission, the senators on the Committee on Committees and Vermont Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber each chose one member of the panel.
Kelley said the panel had found a number of qualified candidates.
“The governor, what he talks about is the ‘four C’s.’ He looks for, in every candidate, competence — What is their competency, their experience for the position itself? — character and integrity; showing a commitment to public service to the position that they’re going to be undertaking; and chemistry with the overall team that they’re going to be working with,” Kelley said.
Asked if the position was created in response to national issues of racial equity, Kelley said she was reluctant to speak for the members of the Legislature, but said Scott and legislators have been looking for ways Vermont can be more inclusive and welcoming.
“From the administration’s standpoint, as the governor works to recruit more people to Vermont, he’s put an emphasis on also ensuring we are recruiting more of a diverse population,” she said.
Davis will oversee a “comprehensive organizational review” of the three branches of state government to weed out systemic racism. Also, she will look for existing policies and procedures that could inadvertently allow racial disparities.
Davis will work with state agencies to address fairness and diversity policies, look at reporting, gathering and analyzing race-based data to determine the nature and scope of racial discrimination, develop training to improve inclusion and develop performance measures.
The position is overseen by the Office of the Secretary of Administration.
Davis has a Juris Doctor with a concentration in International Human Rights Law from New York Law School, where she also directed a civil liberties education program for low-income and minority youth.