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Melanie Harrington, President and CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh (Courier File Photo)

(Greensburg, PA) –  A report released August 24  shares the results of a study launched in April 2013 on racial and ethnic diversity in Westmoreland County.  The premise of the report is that Westmoreland County faces some challenges not just with cultural competence and the understanding of differences and change, but the imperative to accept diversity in all its forms as an asset and not a threat.

According to Melanie Harrington, President and CEO of Vibrant Pittsburgh, “diversity is here and it’s coming and if Westmoreland County and the region are going to be competitive with other regions around the country and the globe, we have to be capable of engaging a diversity of people and more diverse communities”.

The report, Confronting the Challenges of Diversity in Westmoreland County, is the product of a collaboration between Paige Community Coordinators (PCC), Seton Hill University and Westmoreland Community Action (WCA), the sponsoring agency.  A research team that consisted of five volunteer faculty members from Seton Hill University and a representative from PCC and WCA conducted focus groups and launched a digital survey which asked questions about perceptions, personal experience and race relations.  The survey was available to all Westmoreland County residents.  David Droppa, research team leader from Seton Hill, stated, “The University was happy to take part in the project because it considers itself an integral part of the community and wanted to contribute to a project that will help strengthen the economic and cultural fabric of the county.”

Vibrant Pittsburgh’s Mini Grant Program provided the initial funding, while Westmoreland Community Action and members of the Guiding Coalition, a group of broad-based community stakeholders convened to give guidance and input, also supported the project.  The results are being shared in the form of a video with an accompanying report/brochure at a reception at the Community Foundation of Westmoreland County on Tuesday, August 25th from 4-6 PM.  Tay Waltenbaugh, CEO of the sponsoring agency, said, “We hope that sharing these study results will initiate a series of discussions that will help address the challenges around the issue of diversity we face here in Westmoreland County.”

One thousand two hundred and six (1,206) people filled out the survey.  Those responding were 92.7% White and 7.3% minority.  Of the minority respondents compared with all respondents to this question, 5.7% said they were Black/African-American, 1% American Indian or Alaskan native, .1% Chinese, and .2% other Asian.  There was a higher percent of minority respondents to the survey than the total percent of the minority residents in the County (7.3% compared with 4.9%).  The mean age was 50 for both white and minority respondents and 73% were female and 27% male. A higher percent of survey respondents were female than the County population (51.9%). Overall 92.6% of respondents live in the County and 81.1% work here. Because the survey was voluntary, the respondents would not be expected to mirror the composition of the county, and indeed, the respondents to this survey were disproportionately minority, more highly educated, more female, with higher annual incomes, and more are registered Democratic than the population of the county. There was also a higher percent of minority business owners than for the county as a whole.

The study is the first of its kind in Westmoreland County and its findings are no surprise considering other data regarding diversity that has been reported in Southwestern Pennsylvania and the region. Carlotta Paige, who conceived and coordinated the project, believes “the study is a good first step in identifying challenges around bias and cultural competence and other issues that could affect the growth of diversity in Westmoreland County.  Perhaps this report will encourage interest in facing our differences and actions that will make the County more welcoming and understanding of difference.”

Although the report does not interpret the data, it simply reports it, there are some matters on which there are notable points of agreement:

•       families do and would benefit from being in a community with people who are different from them;

•       interacting and forming relationships with diverse populations help bring people together; and

•       improving race relations is important.

The complete report, Confronting the Challenge of Diversity in Westmoreland County, will be available on-line at www.WestmorelandCA.org under Links and Downloads, setonhill.edu/psychology and vibrantpittsburgh.org.

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