Panel to hold more community conversations

Evan Miller, chair of the Goshen Community Relations Commission, gives an update to city council Tuesday.

GOSHEN — The director of the Community Relations Commission says the panel plans to host a series of conversations like one organized in spring with the help of Goshen Community Schools.

Evan Miller, who chairs the commission aimed at fostering diversity and tolerance, gave an annual report Tuesday to Goshen City Council. It’s been a challenging year for the group, which experienced some turnover and restructuring since the beginning of 2018, but he said the April 25 event at Goshen High School was a highlight of 2019 so far.

He said about 110 people participated in small-table discussions at the “Growing Goshen Together” event, the first of its kind under his leadership. Participants joined brief talks, musical-chairs style, which were aided by interpreters.

Discussions were prompted by questions posted at the tables including “where do you feel at home in Goshen?” and “where is there still room for bridge-building?” Miller said the responses were eye-opening.

“One person said, ‘I’ve lived here for 40 years, and outside of my own home, there’s no place I really feel at home,’” he said. “And that kind of breaks my heart to hear that, and I think it’s something that we all care about and want people in Goshen to feel at home.”

Common themes

A few common themes arose during the conversations, such as good education and safety being identified as assets and priorities. Among ways to strengthen the community, participants suggested language learning and ensuring diversity among elected officials and teachers.

Participants also answered a series of questions at the outset of the event, about their perceptions of Goshen. A report published after the event shows that a majority of Latino and black respondents said they experienced racial discrimination and a majority of female respondents reported experiencing gender discrimination.

Overall, nearly everyone said it was very important for Goshen to welcome diversity, but only 40 percent named Goshen as very welcoming to diversity. Most people said they believe the community is somewhat welcoming, but noted that certain kinds of diversity might be more welcome than others.

Council members remarked that they were impressed with the turnout for a first-time event, and that they heard largely positive feedback.

“It was almost 100 percent,” Councilwoman Julia King said. “Maybe 98 percent of people said they would participate in something like that again, which I think just demonstrates kind of a thirst and enthusiasm for that kind of community conversation.”

Miller said planners are working on a series of four to eight talks this fall, which may each focus on specific topics.

Potential topics identified at the April talks include the police, housing needs, employment and how institutions and businesses can better serve marginalized groups, according to the report.

“I think the community conversations are a great opportunity for the city to really bring people together,” Miller said. “Very strong interest from the participants in seeing more of these. They really want to be involved in them and also see more people involved in them.”

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