Dee Sabol said it would be disappointing to see the takeaway from a recent survey be that a high percentage of residents believe Rochester is welcoming.
The Diversity Council executive director said the full results show that how welcoming the city is considered depends on a person’s position. For people with low incomes or who identify as transgender, the city is seen as far less welcoming than it is to others, according to the survey conducted by Polco’s National Research Center.
“I think this has always been meant to be a tool, a tool to get a current snapshot,” she said Monday during a Rochester City Council study session to review the survey.
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Chao Mwatela, who became the city’s first diversity, equity and inclusion director last month, said that’s the goal of the survey conducted in the fall, alongside community discussions held by the Diversity Council.
City Administrator Alison Zelms agreed, adding that the findings, as well as the creation of Mwatela’s position, are instead to build on past city work regarding equity and diversity.
“It’s really a continuation, and there’s been a lot of work that has happened,” she said.
The survey and community conversations, which also addressed COVID-19 pandemic concerns, were funded with nearly $30,000 in funds the city received through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
On Monday, Zelms said the efforts fit nicely into other work that is happening in the community, using the opportunity to introduce a new effort that is emerging with Destination Medical Center’s Economic Development Agency.
Patrick Seeb, the DMC EDA executive director, said the organization recently received confirmation that it will receive a McKnight Foundation grant to fund efforts at addressing diversity-related economic opportunities, housing and engagement.
He said, like city efforts, it will add to what’s being done throughout the community.
“The transformative work that we are all doing only happens because there are so many threads to it,” he said.
Council member Molly Dennis said more work is likely needed. She said the study findings reviewed Monday were informative but failed to go far enough.
“The people who are struggling might not be represented as much,” she said of the results, adding that it’s hard to fill out surveys while looking for work or facing other hardships.
Mwatela had pointed out that 12% of the survey responses came from people who are non-white, while 20.6% of the city is non-white.
Erin Caldwell, vice president of Research for Polco’s National Research Center, said those factors were taken into consideration in the final report, which offer “weighted” responses based on how frequently some groups, whether by age, race or other demographic, respond to surveys.
She said the goal is to give a glimpse at the broader community through a study of the data.
With a 16% return from 3,600 randomly selected households contacted by mail, she said the margin of is 4 percentage points, which she considered a “good” representation of the community, but not “great.”
Jenna Bowman, the city’s communications and engagement manager, said city staff is working to find ways to make sure more residents are engaged, as well as finding paths to build trust among a variety of underrepresented groups.
She said the survey results, which highlight who responded and who didn’t, will help that effort.
“It’s digging into it and saying, ‘Who are we not hearing from?’ ” she said, adding to the message that work continues to move forward.