Senator Barrios Speaks at UMB

Gin Dumcius

The Ryan Lounge, where more than a week ago racial and community tensions ran high at a forum on a professor’s arrest by campus police, stood nearly empty to greet a state senator discussing diversity in a civil society.

Introduced by Madison Thompson, director of affirmative action at UMass Boston and chair of the Council for the Promotion of Diversity and Civility, as the first in a series of outside speakers, State Senator Jarret Barrios launched right into his monologue, pausing only to look out onto the harbor, and calling UMass Boston “quite a gem of a university,” and “something more of my colleagues should come down and see.”

Having taken the microphone out of its place to allow himself greater freedom to move about, Barrios told the small crowd the world was becoming more diverse, “whether George Bush likes it or not.” He stated he was promoting a civil society, at a time when society was trending towards separate solitude, such as mansions in suburban areas away from everybody.

This, according to him, is why he is a proponent of the subway, and a member of the MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transport Authority) Caucus in the state legislature, since the subway is “great place” for people to get together and experience diversity.

But school is the “most important place social engineering happens,” he says, citing UMass Boston as an example. Barrios apparently has a personal connection to UMB, since his sister attends the university. Barrios is also set to receive the Chancellor’s Medal for Distinguished Service for his work in the Latino community at the commencement ceremony May 31 at the Bayside Expo Center. As Barrios is the first Latino elected to the state senate, Provost Paul Fonteyn, who has been in Massachusetts seven months and was present at the forum, was prompted to call the Bay State “a little behind in the times” in that regard.

During the question and answer period, Barrios assailed Governor Mitt Romney and his plans for the state. “My belief is if the governor were serious in actually making these improvements, it would be in the form of discussion” with people who know something about their work, he said, “beyond political posturing.”

Barrios stated that some of the reforms were sensible, such as those concerning the Metropolitan District Commission, but criticized Romney for his 25% cuts to police and fire departments, and the closings of three state hospitals, when on the campaign trail, Romney had named public safety as one of his priorities. Barrios, chairman of the Committee on Public Safety and vice chairman of the Committee of Health Care, stopped short of calling Romney “duplicitous.”

Tensions between the Democrat-dominated legislature and Romney have risen to bitter extremes in recent weeks, with Romney calling the legislators obstructionist bearers of the status quo, and the legislators accusing Romney of not actually balancing the budget, with $900 billion unaccounted for.

Barrios encouraged those there to write to their legislators, and to make sure they were registered to vote. Marches and rallies, like the one planned for April 29, do not do a whole lot of good, he stated, since legislators cannot tell who is from which district, echoing Congressman Barney Frank’s sentiment made weeks ago when he, too dropped by the campus for a talk on the war on Iraq.

Senator Barrios represents Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Charlestown, Revere, Allston-Brighton, Saugus, and Somerville.