Indiana University Northwest
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Editorial

A Diverse Community: Recognizing our demographic facts as assets

Friday Oct 25, 2013


One Region is a membership organization of engaged citizens from Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties. Its Board of Directors is co-chaired by a member of the Board and one of the six chancellors and presidents in the three-county service region. Sharing a common commitment to building a more sustainable region for the next generation and for generations to come, One Region seeks to assure Northwest Indiana has a healthy environment, a healthy economy, and an unequaled quality of life. Each month we share our perspective on the contributions our campuses make to support One Region.

By William J. Lowe, Ph.D., Chancellor

Diversity took root in Northwest Indiana more than 100 years ago, when immigrants of many ethnicities arrived in this region and brought their cultures and traditions to their new communities. Today, our region’s character remains defined by the diversity of its people.

Northwest Indiana’s human tapestry has also resulted, too often, in residents defining themselves, and others, by their demographic differences, most often framed in terms of disparities and problems, such as unemployment, crime, poverty and lagging educational achievement. It is a way of thinking that can deepen the sense of separation among communities and groups.

It is historical moments like this year’s 50th anniversary of the March on Washington that provide us, as a nation and as citizens of Northwest Indiana, with the opportunity to reflect on where we have been and the quality of future that we want. Have our country and region progressed to become more welcoming and inclusive?

As Chancellor of one of Indiana’s most diverse publicly supported campuses, I believe Northwest Indiana is making strides in embracing our diversity as a regional asset that serves the interests of all of our citizens.

A good example of making our demographic facts a regional asset is found in Merrillville, one of Northwest Indiana’s most diverse towns, which has engaged the challenges and opportunities of diversity.

In 1990, Merrillville was 87 percent white. Today, the town is comprised of 13 percent Hispanics or Latinos, 40 percent whites, and 45 percent African Americans.

Likewise, during the last 16 years, Merrillville Community School Corporation (MCSC) has seen the number of students of color increase from approximately 30 to 80 percent.

Significant demographic shifts like this certainly create challenges for communities, but these shifts can also be economic and educational opportunities.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, for example, nearly 30 percent of African Americans in Merrillville have a college degree, compared to 23 percent of whites. Hispanics and Latinos are the largest percentage of families who earn more than $100,000. And African Americans have the highest mean household earnings at $60,661.

Further, from 2011 to 2012, MCSC students in grades 4 through 8 made significant improvements on Indiana’s state ISTEP-plus tests, increasing their English Language Arts (ELA) scores by an average of nearly 22 points, and their math scores by nearly 28 points.

In 2012, MCSC achieved a 90 percent graduation rate, nearly as successful as those of local high schools in Crown Point, Highland and Valparaiso.

MCSC is a Northwest Indiana success story that demonstrates how much can be achieved when we look beyond differences to see diversity as a strength. To close the achievement gap, the district emphasized reading and writing, prepared middle school students for college and careers, and helped struggling freshmen, enabling their students to graduate on time, with a foundation for success after high school.

The district’s commitment to ensuring the success of all students has led to national recognition; including the high school being named the only “A” rated minority-majority high school in Indiana.

These data suggest that when a community actively engages the challenges, demands and opportunities of changing demographics, the benefits of diversity that foster economic growth and an improved quality of life are realized.

Northwest Indiana has only to study the example of Merrillville schools to understand the very substantive rewards of being a welcoming, inclusive region that recognizes our demographic facts as assets.

The mission of the Urban League of Northwest Indiana is to transform demographic facts into assets, with community-based programming and resources that serve Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.

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