Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are at the heart of the vision held by the West Linn Alliance for Inclusive Community (WLAIC). This vision is one of a community where all people are welcome; all of our neighbors are safe from hate crimes, abuse, or harassment; and all West Linn residents can have equal opportunity to participate in and enjoy the quality of life here. The components of DEI are not merely three independent conditions; they are interrelated factors in a grander equation.
If diversity is to be a strength in West Linn, then we need to be inclusive. All individuals in our community need to be included in the conversations about our collective future. Inclusion implies an equal voice at the table. Inclusion is dependent on all individuals having equal access to the tremendous opportunities that life in West Linn has to offer. If people can’t access these opportunities, then they are, by definition excluded, not included. Equity is the key to real inclusion. Equity requires the elimination of barriers that prevent some groups of people from fully participating in our community.
Sometimes overlooked in our work is socio-economic status. Many people don’t think of poverty in West Linn as a real problem, and the poverty rate in West Linn is indeed low(4.3%) compared to the Oregon state poverty level of 14.9%. Poverty in West Linn cuts across racial lines, but racial minorities in our community are over-represented in the poverty statistics compared to their representation in the general population.
Some of the connections between poverty and equity are readily apparent, but others are more subtle. One facet of poverty is the need for occasional help with family food supply. Numerous food banks operate in West Linn, including the West Linn Food Pantry. A comprehensive list of organizations providing food assistance can be found on the West Linn Government website at https://westlinnoregon.gov/community/hunger-resources
The free and reduced meal program in the West Linn Wilsonville School District is also related to food poverty. This program provides daily meals to children attending public schools. Hungry children cannot learn and take full advantage of the educational opportunities offered by our public schools. The free and reduced meals program helps to remove this barrier to equity.
Other aspects of poverty are less apparent. Some free events offered around West Linn may only be available to those who have private transportation. Students without readily available transport may be excluded from certain after-school events.
State educational report cards for West Linn schools show that one of the largest academic performance gaps is related to socio-economic circumstances. Given the fact that racial minorities are over-represented in the West Linn poverty statistics, socio-economic status gaps will coincide with race-related gaps in performance.
WLAIC is examining the relationship in West Linn between poverty and equity with a goal of understanding how to adjust our own processes. WLAIC is also focusing on promoting effective government and school policies addressing equity barriers, including those related to poverty. Our goal is simple: ensure that policy and procedure are in place so that all of our citizens have an opportunity to fully participate in the community.
WLAIC will be reaching out to our membership and the community for help in further understanding how equity and poverty relate to each other in West Linn, and to discuss actions that can help eliminate this barrier to equity.