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Toward One Wausau: Working together on diversity issues

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‘Toward One Wausau’ begins dialogue  to work together on diversity issues

Talking openly and listening earnestly about issues of community diversity and social justice is the aim of a program that launched October 26 with a public dialogue in Wausau.

“Toward One Wausau: A Dialogue on Community Diversity” aims to help people start the conversations, often difficult, that will help find common ground for action on addressing diversity issues in a constructive way.

“Wausau is becoming much more culturally diverse. But along with that diversity comes some perceptions – and misconceptions – about people of different ethnicities,” said Maysee Herr, a UW-Stevens Point professor and member of the One Wausau organizing committee. “We’ve also seen racial divisions in the Wausau area. The recent conviction of a teen in the homicide of another youth has laid bare some of these tensions,” she said.

“Toward One Wausau will use well-established methods of deliberative dialogue to engage Wausau-area residents in a series of community conversations,” said WIPPS Director Eric Giordano. “This will help people come to reasoned public judgment about the problems of racial and ethnic tensions and to find potential solutions.”

The first community listening session in October brought together engaged citizens from across the community. A short survey to gauge community perceptions on diversity is available online until February 7. “We invite all Wausau area residents to take this quick survey, which will help us greatly as we are now in the information gathering stage of the project, “ Giordano said.

Click here to view the survey, which is totally anonymous.

Starting in the spring, Toward One Wausau will hold a series of public deliberations across the community to achieve broad and diverse participation.

Using a small-group setting, with people sitting around each other, participants will begin by sharing individual stories of what community means to them. “We want to provide a safe space to share concerns about recent or past events that concern them, and that will be addressed in a constructive way,” Giordano, said.

The public dialogues will deal with perceptions, attitudes and the existence of discrimination, implicit and explicit, in the community. A report on results of the dialogues will be announced by June, with the next steps addressing action items for change.

This grassroots effort of many people, including community and city leaders, concerned citizens from many socioeconomic backgrounds, members of the Wausau Police Department and Marathon County Sheriff’s department, minority groups and school district staff and leaders have come together for one purpose – to move toward a vision of  “One Wausau” that works for people regardless of race or ethnic background.

Click here to read a recent opinion-page article on Toward One Wausau. To listen to a recent WPR Route 51 broadcast that featured personal stories of Toward One Wausau Committee members, click here.

Toward One Wausau received national exposure in USA Today’s “I am American” series. Executive Committee member Maysee Herr was featured for her work as a Toward One Wausau organizer and leader.

Toward One Wausau is just in the beginning stages. It will be an ongoing process of encouraging dialogue and understanding of people from many different backgrounds.

We welcome your thoughts. For more information on Toward One Wausau, email info@wipps.org or call 715-261-6368.

Sponsors for Toward One Wausau are WIPPS, Wausau Daily Herald and Wisconsin Public Radio.