Brookings tackling diversity issues through focus groups gathering multiple points of view

The Brookings Inclusive Collaborative
The Brookings Inclusive Collaborative includes the following individuals from this photo taken in February 2020: first row, from left, Stefanie Torres Chan, Twin City Fan; Becky Kuehl, SDSU; Louis Whitehead, LGW Investments LLC; Matt Rhodes, Brookings Human Rights Commission and the Brookings Register; Maristela Rovai, SDSU Extension; and Sarah Hauge, Brookings Economic Development Corporation; on stairs, from left, Kas Williams, SDSU and Brookings Human Rights Commission; Lisa Plummer, Brookings School District; Molly Enz, SDSU; Kelli Chromey, SDSU; Christi Garst-Santos, SDSU; and Dawn Petterson, Brookings Economic Development Corporation. Not pictured are Kelsey Doom, Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce; Al Heuton, Brookings Economic Development Corporation and Vision Brookings; Angela Lammers, Cetera Services LLC; and Sara Mehltretter Drury, Wabash College.

A collaborative grant partnership taking a comprehensive look at workplace diversity and inclusion in the community of Brookings has launched the first of many focus groups aimed at gathering multiple viewpoints on the issues.

After a five-month delay caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Brookings Inclusive Collaborative is convening focus groups of business leaders, human resources managers, culturally diverse employees, faith-based community leaders, K-12 educators and Brookings residents to gather views, attitudes, beliefs and experiences connected to workplace cultural diversity and inclusion. Project leaders hope to use the focus groups and public deliberation to draw solutions from community organizations and businesses most impacted by workforce cultural diversity.

The project is made possible through a $193,256 Community Innovation Grant from the Bush Foundation, and planning began more than a year before recent national events including the Minneapolis death of George Floyd focused attention on racial inequities.

Co-principal investigator Molly Krueger Enz, professor of French and coordinator of global studies at SDSU, said that the grant project is more important now than ever.

“There is a critical need to understand and bridge cultural differences,” Enz said. We hope that the Brookings Inclusive Collaborative will provide a communitywide dialogue about issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in order to bring about positive and lasting change.”

The Brookings Inclusive Collaborative is led by Rebecca Kuehl, an associate professor in SDSU’s School of Communication and Journalism. Kelli Chromey, assistant professor of communication in SDSU’s School of Communication and Journalism, also serves as co-principal investigator. Other team members include representatives from SDSU, Brookings School District, Brookings Economic Development Corporation, Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce, Vision Brookings and the Brookings Human Rights Commission.

The initiative aims to identify community strengths and challenges for enhancing cultural diversity and inclusion, generate community-powered solutions and encourage people to become more engaged with other community stakeholders, said Kuehl, who also serves as coordinator of the SDSU women, gender and sexuality studies program.

“It’s difficult to talk about diversity and inclusion, and as a communication and public deliberation expert, I wanted to bring that expertise into our community,” Kuehl said. “I wanted to see what community change could come from bringing everyone into one proverbial room to just sit down and talk in a structured and direct manner.”

Once the focus groups are completed, program leaders will host a second-stage public deliberation event to bring different stakeholders together to discuss and decide on approaches to change. In the third stage, program leaders will host a post-deliberation event with community, business and education leaders. The insight gained during the process could inspire communities beyond Brookings that are struggling with how to talk about workplace cultural diversity and inclusion.

Al Heuton, executive director of the Brookings Economic Development Corporation, said that as Brookings grows, it is important that the city obtains a more complete understanding of the needs of an expanding diverse population.

“Developing our community’s diverse culture is an essential component of our workforce supply strategy and will create many future opportunities in identifying and recruiting new entrepreneurial talent, future business owners, scientists and engineers,” Heuton said.

Kuehl said the project’s impetus was her experience of seeing colleagues who identify with historically marginalized groups move from Brookings to other opportunities. She thought about key community organizations engaged in cultivating diversity and inclusion and decided it was important to widen the group participating in these community conversations.

Community members interested in participating in this fall’s focus groups, can email rebecca.kuehl@sdstate.edu or send a message through the Brookings Inclusive Collaborative Facebook page.

About the Bush Foundation
The Bush Foundation invests in great ideas and the people who power them in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native nations that share the same geography. Established in 1953 by 3M executive Archibald Bush and his wife, Edyth, the Bush Foundation supports organizations and people who think bigger and think differently about what is possible in their communities. The Bush Foundation works to inspire and support creative problem-solving—within and across sectors—to make the region better for everyone.