August 5, 2020
Las Vegas, N.M. – New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed Highlands University social work professor Ben Bencomo to serve on her new Racial Justice Council.
In a July 31 statement, Lujan Grisham said the advisory group is tasked with counseling the administration and monitoring state institutions, holding them accountable for taking action to end systemic racism and ensure that all persons receive fair and equal treatment and opportunities.
The governor announced her intent to establish the Racial Justice Council in the wake of protests around the globe following the death of George Floyd May 25, 2020. Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer.
“As I said at the outset of this overdue global movement for racial justice, we must not let the passion of the moment fade,” Lujan Grisham said when announcing the Racial Justice Council. “In New Mexico, our multicultural heritage is both an opportunity to move forward and a mandate to reflect on where we’ve come from as a means of shaping an equitable future for all.”
Bencomo said that as a social worker and social work educator, he seeks to better understand social justice concerns and has a strong commitment to addressing those concerns.
“With our students, we often stress the importance of making the connection between what they see with their clients and the various macro-level systems that impact their clients, from education to health care to criminal justice,” Bencomo said. “This opportunity to be a part of examining social justice concerns related to racial justice in New Mexico allows for exactly this type of macro-level social work practice.”
Bencomo said he often challenges students in his classroom to engage in “courageous discussions” with others.
“These courageous conversations involve confronting uncomfortable realities in a way that seeks to understand diverse perspectives and work together toward finding possible solutions,” Bencomo said. “My hope for my service on this state Racial Justice Council is to engage in courageous conversations with the diverse members of the council to learn from their experience and expertise.
“We need to work together to try to find possible solutions for racial inequities present in our New Mexico communities. I am encouraged by Governor Lujan Grisham’s commitment to examining issues of inequality in our state and I look forward to helping further the conversation that brings about systemic changes that better serve our diverse population,” Bencomo said.
Bencomo said that Highlands University has a strong commitment to serving an ethnically, culturally and economically diverse student body.
“This commitment resonates strongly with me as an alumnus and member of the faculty. My hope is that through involvement in this important initiative put forth by our governor, we can improve the quality of lives for the students, families and communities we serve,” Bencomo said.
Bencomo said he also hopes that insight obtained through serving on the governor’s Racial Justice Council will benefit the learning taking place in social work classes at Highlands.
“I can see this Racial Justice Council experience influencing my classroom through my students gaining a better understanding of the realities of the lives of New Mexico’s diverse people and how public policy changes can impact their lives,” Bencomo said.
Bencomo said he responded to the governor’s call in June for people interested in addressing racial justice in New Mexico. The Racial Justice Council is expected to begin meeting in the coming weeks.