Rep. Shelia Stubbs discusses criminal justice reform with La Follette

Representative Shelia Stubbs stands for a group photo with La Follette School staff and students.
The Elevating Equity in Policymaking series connects students with policy experts engaging in equity work.

In February, Representative Shelia Stubbs joined the La Follette School to discuss criminal justice reform as part of the school’s Elevating Equity in Policymaking series. Rep. Stubbs was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2018, making her the first African American to represent Dane County in the Wisconsin State Legislature and breaking 170 years of history. She represents Madison’s west and south sides and the village of Shorewood Hills, as well as the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Edgewood College, and Madison College’s Goodman South campus (District 77). Before her election to the State Assembly, Rep. Stubbs served on the Dane County board for 16 years.

MPA student and La Follette School Student Association (LSSA) diversity and inclusion officer Dominique Villaseñor facilitated the discussion with La Follette students and staff. Rep. Stubbs shared how her career path led her to politics and the barriers she has faced along the way – from being profiled while canvassing door to door to shattering ceilings in pursuit of giving voice to her constituents and demonstrating how race plays a role in access to services. She also emphasized the importance of advocacy, collaboration, and allyship when fighting to preserve valuable community resources, such as her work to save a bus line that served south Madison.

Representative Shelia Stubbs presents to La Follette School students.
During her visit, Rep. Stubbs shared how her career path led her to politics and the barriers she has faced along the way.

During her time on the Dane County Board, where she served for 16 years, Rep. Stubbs led efforts to implement the first restorative justice community court program in Dane County. The no-judge model is the first of its kind in the country and allows for the community to decide the best outcomes based on each individual situation. The District Attorney serves as the criminal justice partner who finalizes the approval of the participants. According to Rep. Stubbs, the system’s emphasis on rehabilitation and reentry holds people accountable while saving money. She also created the Tamara D. Grigsby Office of Equity and Inclusion in Dane County and provided funding for a Dane County expungement clinic. As Dane County Board Supervisor, she pressed to conduct an analysis of racial disparities in the county, an exercise that highlighted many areas for improvement.

“Rep. Stubbs’ visit reminded me of the reason why I decided to come to La Follette: to provide more equitable evidence-based policymaking approaches for women to be successful in STEM education and careers,” said Villaseñor. “Her resilience and commitment to reducing the disparities in BIPOC communities are clearly shown in her work as the Dane County Board Supervisor. I truly admire her bravery to stand up for what is right and to advocate for the people she represents.”

Representative Shelia Stubbs and Dominique Villaseñor sit in front of a banner with the La Follette School logo.
Dominique Villaseñor, a diversity and inclusion officer for the La Follette School Student Association, facilitated the discussion.

Rep. Stubbs frequently works to find compromise in her job as a legislator, especially as a member of the minority caucus. An important part of her job has been showing that racial disparities are not only problems for communities of color; they affect everyone negatively. She emphasized that inequity should be a State of Wisconsin issue, not just an issue for the communities that are most affected. Working on the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) for Dane County gave the problem the attention it needed, she said, but difficult conversations were still needed to confront racial disparities and make real change.

The Elevating Equity in Policymaking series connects students with policy experts engaging in equity work. It was started by La Follette School students in the summer of 2020.

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