How welcoming are we? Survey says ‘not enough’

A new Welcoming Community Survey compiled by the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County shows Columbus is improving in its welcoming attitudes, but unevenly at best.

This is the third survey the Heritage Fund has organized — the first in 2004 and the second in 2010 — and the results are not unlike what was discovered in 2010, said Tracy Souza, Heritage Fund president and CEO.

“I believe the community genuinely wants to be welcoming,” Souza said of the 2018 survey results, which were released on Feb. 25. “But sometimes we don’t do a consistently great job of it. We’ve got work to do.”

The survey included responses from more than 1,770 people who completed the survey about access to information, inclusivity, friendliness and ability to get involved, entertainment, equal opportunity and fair treatment for all, and a sense of community.

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Key findings

Results showed overall improvement, though it was noted that Columbus as a whole is unevenly welcoming, particularly as it relates to those in lower socio-economic classes, racial and ethnic minorities and the LGBTQIA population.

All minority racial/ethnic groups rated community inclusion below average overall, though the Hispanic population noted levels of perceived inclusivity and equality higher than any other minority group.

Access to information continues to be an area where the community desires the most improvement. Community members noted a need for a common community calendar and access to community information in a timelier manner.

Those key findings indicate some progress has been made in the community, Souza said, including work by Su Casa and the LOVE group at IUPUC.

LOVE, or Latino-American Organization of Volunteers in Education, was founded in 2014. The student club helps promote and motivate Hispanic/Latino community members to succeed and continue higher education.

Souza also mentioned the local Chinese School in Columbus and the various ethnic groups through CAMEO, the Columbus Area Multi-Ethnic Organization, which includes associations for individuals of Chinese, Latin American, Korean, Middle Eastern and African American residents, among others.

Another group that formed through the welcoming efforts was the Columbus Young Professionals, a group of younger local residents who host events, network and do volunteer work throughout Columbus.

While the survey analysis, led by Anna F. Carmon, associate professor and director of the Communication Studies Program at IUPUC, showed that the community is improving in its diversity efforts, the results included comments from several survey respondents that being diverse is not the same as being inclusive.

“Improvements that have been made in diversity and inclusion are threatened by increasing polarization based on a wide range of factors such as socio-economic status, political association, culture and length of residency in Columbus,” the survey reported among its analysis conclusions. “…Many marginalized groups highlighted problems in the community,” according to the survey.

Some feel uncomfortable

Aida Ramirez, director of the Columbus Human Rights Commission, allowed that her office is the location where people communicate concerns and complaints.

“While we are certainly aware of the welcoming attitude in Columbus, we also see the other side,” she said. “It’s consistently what we see in our office every day.”

Ramirez said there are many people who come to Columbus to work, but they are not here to live or to be a part of the daily community fabric of events, such as serving on boards or volunteering on projects.

“They are spending their dollars here, and they spend their work hours here, but they don’t have the desire to relocate to Columbus,” she said. “We are not sure if that is about housing affordability, or wanting to keep their children in their current school system — there could be multiple, varied reasons.”

But in testimony in Indianapolis about Senate Bill 12, the hate crimes bill, it was mentioned that Cummins recruitment and retention efforts involve bringing talented individuals from around the world to Columbus, and some of those individuals do request being transferred out of Indiana, Ramirez said.

Many times, these feelings aren’t expressed or acknowledged, but Ramirez said some individuals feel just uncomfortable enough to feel that this area is not appealing for them to reside here.

Action areas

Among the themes that will guide improvement for the welcoming community initiative is working on community engagement, as the survey results indicated it is difficult for some people to actively participate in the Columbus community civically and socially.

Another area to be considered is entertainment, with survey respondents saying there is a great deal to do in Columbus, but the respondents felt the current entertainment offerings don’t appeal to them.

“Singles and individuals age 21 to 39 rated questions regarding entertainment the lowest,” the survey results showed. “Several community members indicated a desire for more performing arts and theater and large events that bring the whole community together.”

Survey respondents also pointed to a lack of a downtown grocery, something that is being worked on by the city currently, a continuing concern about drug abuse and addiction and related safety issues, transportation and insufficient safe and affordable housing.

Souza said a response seeking a city-wide community website was noted again in the survey results, as it has in past surveys. The results showed that community members are overwhelmed by the number of websites and social media options for information, and would find it helpful to have a central, comprehensive location for information about civic life, community initiatives and entertainment.

Over the next few months, Souza said the survey results and themes will be presented to Columbus community groups and city stakeholders. Funding for programming and initiatives addressing the themes of the survey will be considered through the Heritage Fund’s grants program, she said.

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The 2018 Welcoming Community survey was the third of its kind conducted in Columbus since 2004.

The original study in 2004 found that Columbus was perceived as welcoming by most people, but some demographic groups, including those outside the traditional mainstream, young people and newcomers, found this was not the case. A second survey was conducted in 2011 to see if perceptions had changed.

As a result of feedback from those surveys, the community now has the Columbus Young Professionals, CAMEO, Diversity Councils in the educational systems, The Commons, IUCA+D, Mill Race Center and the Fourth Street entertainment corridor, along with collective giving opportunities through the Women’s Giving Circle and the African American Fund of Bartholomew County.

More than $100,000 has been invested in the community through intentional grant-making to support welcoming community initiatives developed by local nonprofits.

Following a community scan in 2016 by the Heritage Fund Outreach Committee to identify areas of impact to address — identified as youth development, substance abuse, neighborhood revitalization, innovation, creativity and welcoming community, the Heritage Fund invested more than $2 million to support community-wide initiatives including more than $80,000 for welcoming community programming.

— Source: The Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County

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Those who wish to learn more about the survey may contact the Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County, at 812-376-7772.

The Heritage Fund’s website is