Survey reveals homeless greater concern than racism

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The city of Santee held a two-part Diversity, Equity and Inclusion workshop on Nov. 2. First, BW Research President Josh Williams and project manager Sarah Lehmann reported results of a resident survey dedicated to uncovering how residents feel about racism and diversity in the community. Then, RDM Management Founder Richard Marks presented workplace-style diversity, equity and inclusion training that asked attendees, mostly city employees, to consider topics like microaggressions and unconscious biases.

The resident survey, Williams said, was conducted in two segments by phone, text and email.

“First, we did a representative survey where we recruited people who represent the adult population of Santee by age, ethnicity… then we also had another survey that allowed anyone to participate which included open-ended questions like ‘What can the city of Santee do to improve your quality of life’ as well as closed-ended questions,” Williams said.

When resident Dean Velasco asked how many people participated in each segment of the survey, Williams said 556 participated in the representative , or recruited, portion and about 437 participated in the independent or volunteer portion.

The survey had four focus areas: quality of life, community values and diversity, resident experiences with discrimination, and city programs and services.

“What we found is residents are overall very satisfied with their quality of life in Santee. In general, Santee residents feel very safe in their neighborhood… Not an insignificant amount of residents said racism and discrimination are top-of-mind issues,” Lehmannn said.

About one in 20 residents said addressing racism and discrimination would improve their quality of life, however over three times as many said addressing the increasing homeless population was a higher concern, along with reducing traffic, slowing growth and improving roads.

Data gathered in the Community Values section of the survey revealed residents generally feel safe in the community.

“Residents were asked their top two favorite things about living in Santee and the top two were the location in the city and knowing their neighbors. Again, traffic and homelessness took the top two concerns but 10 percent surveyed said racism and discrimination is one of their main concerns about living in Santee,” Lehmannn said.

When the firm dug in to more specific questions with the Resident Experiences section of the survey, over a third of residents directly said they believe that discrimination and racism are an issue in the community.

“Not an insignificant amount of residents report being on the receiving end of discrimination and of those behaviors, racial and ethnically motivated discrimination was the most common type,” Lehmannn said.

About 30-40% of residents agreed that biased acts, discrimination and racist behaviors are an issue in the community. One in four have witnessed acts of discrimination, one in 10 have witnessed and experienced acts of discrimination and one in 30 have personally experienced discrimination and been on the receiving end of discrimination or acts of bias.

Surveyed on City Programs and Services, most residents said they believe it is the city’s responsibility to ensure equality and equity in the community. Specifically, they have a higher interest in cultural events and a lower interest in meetings, dialogues and workshops.

“About three in four residents place priority on provision of services to respond to incidents of discrimination,” Lehmannn said.

Data appears to reveal that residents are not always aware of city offerings.

Just one in four residents are aware of meeting invocations and the Community Oriented Policing Committee and fewer than 24% of residents indicated they’re aware of job postings and outreach for ethnic and racial minorities, advertising for minority and women-owned business, and cultural information on the city’s website and social media pages.

“If we look at all the data, key takeaways are that racism and discrimination are areas of concern for Santee residents, many residents have personally witnessed or experienced discrimination, there is a role the city can play in supporting greater equality,” Lehmannn said in summary.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are,” Marks said by way of introducing the second half of the workshop.”

Diversity, he said, is the range of human differences. Those differences include, but are not limited to personality, age, life experience, race and ethnicity, socio-economic class, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, ability and religion.

Inclusion requires action, he said, actively and intentionally valuing multiple layers of human differences.

“Would you believe that tall men make better CEOs than shorter men? That a man is a more effective leader than a woman? Most wouldn’t, but statistics tell us a different story. In corporate America, 33% of Fortune 500 CEOs are six feet or taller and less than 5% of Fortune CEOs are women,” Marks said.

Where giving everyone a seat at the table is a form of equality, equity refers to proportional representation, such as providing a shorter person with an adjustable chair or providing a ramp for a person in a wheelchair to sit alongside others at that same table, Marks said, then went on to discuss unconscious bias.

“Let’s look at some of the unconscious bias we refer to every single day,” Marks said, and listed different biases for attendees: the affinity bias or a tendency to warm to people like ourselves, the halo effect in which people assume everything about a person is good because they like them, perception bias in which the tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups makes it impossible to form an objective judgement about individual group members, confirmation bias in which people seek information that confirms preexisting beliefs, and group think, or when people try too hard to fit into a particular group and ultimately lose part of their identities.

“Research shows we are biologically hard-wired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and share our interests,” Marks said, and segued into explaining how subtle microaggressions can crop up.

Marks explained the three forms of microaggressions: deliberate micro-assault, such as making a racist comment and then claiming it was a joke, micro-insults like calling something ‘gay’ to imply it is foolish, and micro-invalidations that imply a microaggression was really not a big deal.

He then went on to discuss emotional intelligence, the way in which people manage behavior, navigate social complexities and make personal decisions that achieve positive results.

“What are your areas of opportunities? Most people look at others to fix themselves and the last place they look is internally. I’m asking you to assess: where might be your areas of opportunity? How are you applying the construct of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” Marks asked.

Mayor John Minto said he learned that the only way to break cycles is to admit when he has ‘messed up’ because everyone is a work in progress.

“Perspective is everything, from the way we’re raised to the way we grow up to the way we perceive fear,” City Council Member Rob McNelis said.

Passing the microphone around, participants piped up with what they had learned: about equality, to look at things from a world perspective, to tune in to unconscious biases.

“We’re all trying to live our lives the best we can,” COMPOC representative David Shorey said.

City Manager Marlene Best said she appreciated both portions of the workshop as they represent both the community and workplace side of the situation.

“I appreciate, from the survey, that the majority of people think the city of Santee should solve the problems and as a community we have a lot to do. But, I’ve also seen that it’s not just the city as an organization that needs to make a change because that forces people to make a change that isn’t authentic to them. So, we need to help move that forward but we can’t be the only engine pushing the train up the hill,” Best said.

Elected officials did not say what they plan to do in response to the survey.

Survey reveals homeless greater concern than racism

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