By Zachary Manning
Bath-DeWitt Connection Staff Reporter
DEWITT — The City of DeWitt has a clear lack of diversity and residents, city officials, school officials, and police have mixed reviews on why.
According to the 2010 census, about 95 percent of DeWitt’s population is white, 1.4 percent is black, 0.9 percent is Asian, and 0.4 percent is American Indian. DeWitt’s white population is above the national average of 72.4 percent. DeWitt’s black population is below the national average of 12.6 percent. The Asian population in DeWitt is below the national average of 4.8 percent. Also, the American Indian population in DeWitt is below the national average of 0.9 percent.
“DeWitt, as far as ethnic diversity, has a relatively low diversity rate. I am not sure why the diversity is not as evenly spread out as other communities,” said Daniel Coss, city administrator.
It is hard to pinpoint an exact cause for the low diversity rate, but some explanations could be that the city is small, there is a higher cost of living in DeWitt, the city is transitioning from agricultural to residential, and not a lot of people know a lot about DeWitt.
“In the early 1980’s it started making the change from agricultural to residential. It’s become more diverse since I moved here. We are a fairly new community, so as it matures, you will see diversity increase,” said Chief of Police, Bruce Ferguson.
“I think a lot of smaller towns tend to be like that,” said Cathy Ovenhouse, resident of DeWitt.
“The cost of living is higher here,” said Roger Somerville, resident of DeWitt.
DeWitt does have a little bit more diversity in the schools. According to the Superintendent of DeWitt Public Schools, John Deiter, the schools are approximately 85 percent white. DeWitt Public Schools did a study in 2012 to examine the perceptions of the staff and students in the district about diversity.
“We found in large that the staff and students are very open and accepting, but that we need to continue with training and awareness programs for our students and staff, so they have the skills to better communicate and interact with people from different backgrounds,” said Deiter.
DeWitt Public School officials believe that diversity in the schools has a lot of benefits. Not only will it allow them to be more aware of different cultures, but it will get them ready for the real world in which they will be exposed to a variety of different cultures.
“I think diversity provides a lot of benefits. When you look at it from a cultural standpoint and more awareness for students, it provides them a better understanding for working, living, and understanding people’s viewpoints,” said Jody McKean, principal of DeWitt High School.
“One of the things I think diversity brings is a richer educational environment. The conversations that you can have around things such as the Civil Rights Movement and oppression in our country or in other countries are greatly enhanced when you have students who may have had different experiences or bring a different perspective than a majority of our students,” said Deiter.
The schools have begun to promote diversity as well. DeWitt High School has started a positive school cultures committee. Also, DeWitt Public Schools offer exchange programs with other countries and other schools.
“We actively try to increase our diversity by making our schools safe and comfortable for all learners and we also offer several exchange opportunities with other countries and other schools,” said Deiter.
“We started a positive schools cultures committee. We can provide more information to our student body about cultural differences, socio-economical differences, and gender differences,” said McKean.
Like the schools, the City of DeWitt has also made efforts to promote diversity. The city offers unique recreational programs, diverse housing, and recruits diverse businesses.
“The City of DeWitt promotes diversity by offering recreational programs through our recreation authority, by recruiting diverse businesses to the downtown, and offering several different types of housing,” said Coss.
“We are trying to create housing and employment for diversity. It’s an ongoing basis,” said Ferguson.
One big thing DeWitt is doing in terms of attracting diversity is in hiring. The police force looks for diversity in hiring and schools look for diversity in their teachers, so that there is a new perspective on certain topics.
“I look for diversity in my hiring. I think schools look for diversity in their teachers. Our community will change as people find us,” said Ferguson.
Diversity brings a lot to a city. It brings a lot of culture into the community and that could make people open their eyes and realize that there are different cultures. It allows different perspectives to come into the community.
“I think it brings tolerance. People usually are fearful of individuals outside of their group, because they know nothing about them. We have to move away from values and more towards science in the way we organize our communities,” said Ronald Hall, professor of social work at Michigan State University.
“Diversity in a community ensures creative dialog and offers differing perspectives in the community,” said Coss.
There were a lot of mixed reviews on whether or not DeWitt should become more diverse. Residents were split, local officials were open to the idea, and school officials and the police force both like the idea.
“I just like the small town feel,” said Somerville.
“Adding more cultures always makes a community more interesting. Personally, I would welcome everybody,” said John McCarty, resident of DeWitt.
“I would like to see more diversity in the schools, because I think a diverse student and staff population is better reflective of the world our students will be entering when they leave DeWitt,” said Deiter.
As the city starts to progress business wise and economically, the more diverse the population should become.
“We’re more of a professional community and we don’t really have a manufacturing base in Clinton County. As we begin to mature, it will become more diverse,” said Ferguson.