I was raised in River Falls and I am now raising my family here. I am incredibly grateful and thankful that I have the opportunity to raise my children in a safe community with ample opportunities.
However, as a community member and social worker, I have had one continued disappointment with River Falls -- our lack of diversity and our tendency to assume the dominant culture is what all of our community members are most comfortable with. For this reason, I am appreciative of the intentional decision that River Falls Public Library did not approve a Christmas-based display.
In 2007, our community utilized a program through the National League of Cities to post signs announcing we were “building an inclusive community.” I challenge this claim as I have not seen obvious signs of this over the last 12 years. A quick dive into our makeup and one sees that 94.7% (census.gov) of individuals identify as white. Another search through city websites demonstrates the lack of diversity our city boasts when it comes to any positions of power. The following are positions filled by white males: Every principle in our school district, superintendent, police chief and every sergeant, City Council (minus one white female) and half of the School Board (the other half is made up of white females).
The sameness is robbing youth of learning to be comfortable around those who are unlike them – a critical life skill in this day and age. Leigh Morrison points out in a 2019 article that when we are surrounded only by those like us, we become “so accustomed to certain values and communication styles” that when we interact with those who hold different values or communicate differently, we don’t know how to make sense of it (http://www.theinclusionsolution.me/a-point-of-view-growing-up-without-diversity-is-missing-out-education-polarization/).
Additionally, new generations crave diversity and are bored by sameness. Joe Cortright completed the City Observatory Study (http://cityobservatory.org/admin/), which looked at cities that are successfully integrating diverse races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. He is quoted as saying: “We know there’s a generational shift in attitudes about urban living, and we know people really value engagement and diversity” (https://www.curbed.com/2018/8/21/17759380/segregation-diversity-neighborhoods-mixed-income). If River Falls doesn’t work towards diversifying, I fear that our community, that has so much to offer, will become irrelevant and will fade away. There is abundant research available on effective ways to build diversity. I believe it is the responsibility of city leaders and of us as community members to become seriously committed to the claim that we are building an inclusive community.