Michelle Mayorga ’03, an ethnicity, race and migration major, wanted to find out more about how race affects policy in New Haven. So after a little searching, she found that there was an open seat on the city’s Affirmative Action Commission — and quickly won herself an appointment.

The commission, which has been in existence for about 20 years, oversees the implementation of the city’s affirmative action plan. The plan seeks to address “the disparity between what the city looked like and what the work force looked like,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. Specifically, he said, the focus has been on diversifying public safety offices that traditionally comprised white males, such as the fire and police departments.

The members of the commission also hope to “demystify hiring processes” for minorities and plan to begin looking at the racial and ethnic makeup of city payrolls, said Theodore Brooks, a member of the commission. Commissioners meet with the heads of city offices and discuss ways to diversify their work forces.

“I think there’s been a lot of good effort breaking into professions that are traditionally white ethnic,” DeStefano said.

But the problem is far from being solved. According to a survey conducted in 2002, the number of white males employed in full-time positions for the city is more than double that of any other ethnic or gender group. Whites make up about two-fifths of New Haven’s population, only slightly more than blacks.

And DeStefano said that problems in hiring can make affirmative action infeasible. In areas such as education, the city is so short on staff that it cannot afford to pick and choose.

Despite the disparity in the racial makeup of city offices, some still do not feel that affirmative action is necessary.

“Things seem to have improved enough in this country that affirmative action at this point is a form of reverse discrimination,” Christian Schaub ’05 said.

But Brooks disagreed with that sentiment.

“People think that because we’ve come so far there’s not much further to go,” Brooks said, adding that there is a “problem in diversity in hiring everywhere.”

DeStefano said that although “there’s been good movement in the right direction,” the commission still has a lot of work to do.

Mayorga said she is optimistic that the commission can further diversify the city’s work force.

“It will be interesting,” she said, but “it will take a lot of time.”