Survey finds no clear fix to achieving racial diversity in Westmoreland County
Westmoreland County residents agree that racial diversity is important, but they aren’t sure what they would be willing to do to achieve it, according to a recently completed study.
“People value diversity. They think it’s a really good thing. They know the county is only so welcoming of diversity, but they’re not sure that they really want to change,” said David Droppa, associate professor at Seton Hill University and head of the study’s research team.
More than 95.2 percent of county residents are white.
“Confronting the Challenge of Diversity in Westmoreland County” is the result of a two-year partnership among Paige Community Coordinators, Seton Hill University and Westmoreland Community Action.
The study was partially funded by a $4,000 grant by Vibrant Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization established to encourage diversity in the Pittsburgh region’s workforce. In 2013, project organizers met with various focus groups to help craft the questions asked in the survey.
Of the 1,026 people surveyed, 92.7 percent were white, 5.7 percent were black, and people of other ethnicities made up 1.6 percent.
The study showed a gap between how white and minority residents view discrimination in the county. For example, 62.2 percent of minority respondents said discrimination is a “continuing problem,” compared with 49.6 percent of whites who responded.
Both groups agreed that Westmoreland County is not “welcoming” to racial minorities, according to the study.
The county’s rich history, usually considered a strength, may contribute to its lack of diversity, said Carlotta Paige of Latrobe, who initiated and authored the study.
“We have communities with a very rich cultural heritage,” she said. “They don’t want change. They don’t want to let anybody in.”
The study’s findings were not surprising, said Paige, the former president of the Greensburg-Jeannette NAACP.
Though 95.8 of minority respondents and 86.8 percent of white respondents agreed that improving race relations is important, there was much less agreement about how to do it. The study suggested eight strategies, few of which received strong support.
The most popular options involved encouraging early childhood education about people of color, supported by 53.8 percent of whites surveyed and 62.5 percent of minority respondents, and enrichment programs for children, supported by 53.6 percent of whites and 60.2 of minorities.
“No one is born racist,” Paige said.
Anyone could respond to the online survey for the study. The majority of respondents — 73 percent — were women. Most were wealthier and better-educated than the average county resident.
Because those surveyed are not representative of all county residents, it probably doesn’t give a complete picture of racial perceptions here, Droppa said.
Those who responded were more likely to be interested in diversity. A more representative survey likely would show a greater gap between the perceptions of white and black residents, Droppa said.
County residents don’t often talk about prejudice, Paige said.
“There’s either apathy, or there’s ambivalence,” she said.
Tay Waltenbaugh, CEO of Westmoreland Community Action, said he hopes the study will spark more conversation about race and discrimination. He said the county would be better off if residents were more welcoming to a diverse population.
“I think that’s part of our job, to make people feel uncomfortable,” he said. “Because you get those in-depth conversations.”
Organizers plan to present and discuss the study results to local organizations over the next few months, Waltenbaugh said.
The full 20-page report can be found online at http://westmorelandca.org/Main/links.htm.
Jacob Tierney is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6646 or [email protected].