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‘Experiencing Woodbridge’ Committee Introduces Survey Results

May 4, 2023
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‘Experiencing Woodbridge’ Committee Introduces Survey Results

The Woodbridge ad hoc committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) on April 26 shared and discussed the results of last year’s survey, “Experiencing Woodbridge,” in a community get-together in the JCC auditorium.

What shone through was that while diversity may be increasing in the still predominantly white town, equity and inclusion, at least from a minority perspective – continue to lag.  The survey also invited respondents to look at diversity not only from a racial perspective, but included gender identity, disabilities, religious and socio-economic differences.

Steven Lawrence, a member of the committee who spearheaded the survey, presented a brief synopsis of responses, followed by lively conversation of the 25 or so in attendance.

Lawrence said they received 634 responses, which represents about 22% of all households.  About one in three respondents are home to at least one person of color (2/3 are exclusively white); close to 1 in 4 have at least one immigrant and one in three have a family member with a disability.  One in five reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ.

The results, though reflective of official demographic data, cannot be interpreted as being representative of the community, Lawrence said.  Even so, the responses received can be considered “suggestive of trends.”

By and large, Woodbridge residents are comfortable participating in town events, and are comfortable engaging with town and school employees and in everyday life, he said.  However, one in four reported feeling “somewhat or very” uncomfortable when engaging with town or Amity school leadership, including school board members.  Persons of color and low-income households are most likely to report feeling uncomfortable when engaging with officials.

Despite a general sense of comfort, one in six of the respondents said they experienced discrimination.  Close to half of those experiences were based on ethnic or racial identity.  Examples:  a person of color jogging along the streets was met with suspicion; a person of color at the dog park was greeted with “welcome to Woodbridge,” even though they grew up here.  (Would a white person be addressed the same way?)

Most notably, one in five indicated feeling excluded based on economic factors.  A person living in the town’s commercial district – also sometimes called The Flats, although that itself is considered discriminatory – feel that people from “upper Woodbridge” look down on them.

Political affiliation was also cited as a discriminatory issue, with Republicans feeling excluded from the life of the town, which at least one respondent felt is being run by “virtually all Democrats or left-leaning independents.”

“We have real goodwill in this community,” Lawrence told the Board of Selectmen when he presented the results of the survey back at its November 2022 meeting.  “But there is a subset that isn’t feeling as comfortable.  Maybe it needs to be made feel more welcomed more intentionally than has been the case.”

The response among the group that came out for “Experiencing Woodbridge” had differing reactions on the issues that were brought up in the survey.

One Town Hall employee was surprised to hear that people were uneasy engaging with officials.  She had always considered it a welcoming place.  Another was surprised at the socioeconomic differences that could contribute to microaggressions.  “I was blind to that,” he said.

Another found the results “sobering, but not surprising.”  They talked about the importance of continuing the conversations, especially in a town like Woodbridge where neighbors sometimes barely know each other.  And they all agreed that getting involved helped them find connection.

Robert Reed, who is Black and a member of the ad-hoc committee, said Blacks need to be more involved in the town.  He admitted that he himself was working hard for many years and traveling for work which prevented him from getting involved in the town he called home.  “But now I am here,” he said.

More minority people willing to get involved in groups at all levels, that is what is needed to galvanize change, he said.  “Over time we will have more representation.”

Mica Cardozo, a former Selectman, remembered when growing up he did not want to drive through Woodbridge because he and his friends were concerned about racial profiling.  Ironically, he now serves on the Police Commission.

Participants encouraged the ad hoc committee to continue creating opportunities for conversation.  “We have a richer community when we have a diverse community,” said Steven Lawrence in closing.  And, referring to the shared experience of dealing with the sometimes destructive work of pesky woodpeckers, “we all have woodpeckers on our house.”

This is an opinion not necessarily endorsed by the Woodbridge Town News.

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