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Residents give IC average score on diversity acceptance

BY HOLLY HINES | JULY 16, 2009 7:15 AM

Roughly one-third of Johnson County residents rated their home county “average” to “very poor” at embracing diversity.

The 300 respondents surveyed — over the phone and online — gave Johnson County a 3.79 out of 5 in a diversity rating, according to Cedar Rapids-based Vernon Research Group.

“We have a lot of opportunity for improvement,” said Hazel Pegues, the executive director of Diversity Focus, a local nonprofit organization promoting diversity awareness.

The organization presented results of the study — the first of its kind in Iowa — to the public Wednesday at the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.

In 2005, local business owners and institutions created Diversity Focus as a response to high turnover rates among employees from other states — and abroad — at several Iowa City and Linn County establishments.



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Researchers — who collected data between Sept. 15 and Oct. 29, 2008 — focused on three areas: defining “diversity,” discovering where perceived discrimination occurred most frequently, and the overall rating residents gave their counties.

They found some concerning responses, including the definition of diversity itself, which the majority defined as differences in ethnicity. Most did not consider factors such as religion, sexual orientation, and age. At only 2 percent, disability received the least recognition.

And in Johnson County, 22 percent of respondents felt discrimination occurred primarily in the workplace.

During the hourlong presentation, the organization showed quotations from respondents, whose opinions varied widely.

“This has been a dominantly ‘majority’-based community, and because of this and their biases, it comes through in business, schools, and law enforcement,” one subject noted.

Another countered with the city’s reputation as a college town: “We have so many ethnic groups here … if there’s a problem, it is taken care of.”

However, officials were most concerned with the dissatisfied respondents’ views. People from diverse backgrounds are unlikely to move to Johnson County in the shadow of these results, Pegues said.

Low diversity tolerance has an adverse effect on businesses in the area, the original issue Diversity Focus set out to address, she said.

Since its creation, the group has provided several activities to support diversity. One of them is the Spanish Conversation Circle, Pegues said. The weekly event — where attendees can enjoy Spanish bingo, scrabble, and informal conversation — is held alternately in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids.

Outside the diversity group’s efforts, increased awareness and education in the entire community are needed to improve Johnson County’s diversity rating, said Stefanie Bowers, the director of the Human Rights Commission in Iowa City.

As a follow-up, the study is set to be replicated three years from now. Officials are striving for a better score next time.

“Our goal is a 5.0,” Peques said.


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