09.25.19

Riding the roller coaster of diversity, equity and inclusion

Many people of color report not feeling included in Boulder County, despite the area’s reputation as a progressive stronghold. Several large institutions have recognized this is an issue, to the point where many are prioritizing efforts to become more diverse, inclusive and equitable.

Boulder County government has several initiatives focused on this topic. The Boulder Valley School District is making equity a chief focus area of its next strategic plan, still stumped by the vast disparities in academic outcomes between its students of color and their peers.

Carmen Ramirez has seen this cycle of awareness and focus ramp up across our county before, only to fizzle out.

“It’s kind of like a roller coaster,” said Ramirez, manager of Community and Neighborhood Resources for the City of Longmont. “We go all the way up, we invest, and then it’s lost. If we don’t have a steady commitment to sustain, we won’t build capacity."

Some minorities in the City of Boulder experience a persistent lack of inclusion, due to the majority population’s overall lack of exposure to diversity, their microaggressions and the city’s unaffordability, according to a 2017 Community Assessment of Boulder as a Safe and Inclusive Community. Leaders therefore struggle to make Boulder the welcoming, inclusive community it wants to be.

One Boulder resident, quoted anonymously in the assessment, put it this way: “The reality for people that are here: it’s not as welcoming a community. For people of color — or for people who look or act different — going into public places, restaurants, shopping, there is a reality that you might be treated differently."

The City of Boulder has focused on diversity efforts for more than 10 years. They’ve done diversity training for all staff in the past. But it hasn’t seemed to make much difference, said Aimee Kane, the city’s Program and Project Manager.

These days Boulder is trying to be more intentional in how it talks about and engages with the community, Kane said. It’s working with Government Advancing Racial Equity to help city staff understand the impacts of structural racism and implicit bias, in three areas: the procurement process, workforce equity and community engagement.

Ultimately, the city will create a racial equity plan and then ask the community if they think it will work. The city is also working with partner organizations to help them learn what the city is learning.

“The hope is that we’re all rowing in the same direction and we’re not doing separate things,” she said. “There’s a lot of good work going on in this space, but there’s a lot of three steps forward, two steps back.”

by Chris Barge