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Building bridges

by Anthea Ayebaze | Oct 10, 2016

Posted March 13 - Manchester is preparing to build bridges in northeast Indiana.

In October 2014, the Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership (NEIRP) launched a project to identify and clearly articulate the distinctive strengths of our 11-county region. Called “Our Story,” the consultant-led process engaged more than 850 individuals in 23 in-person workshops and an online workshop and resulted in a messaging platform that is being used to market and promote the region.

The process identified storylines that were easily and quickly embraced, but also some disagreements about who we are. The most significant area of disagreement was around inclusion. We agreed that people in northeast Indiana are warm and welcoming – the personification of Hoosier hospitality – but differed on whether this is synonymous with being inclusive.

The project summary included this caution:

The region may be mistaking Midwestern values and helpfulness for being inclusive, which was revealed as a blind spot. A divide exists between how welcoming the region thinks it is, and how welcomed people actually feel.

The debate and discussion across the region during the workshops pointed consistently to the need for the region to improve on the concept of inclusiveness. This is critical in order to bring more people together, attract new talent, and inspire the growth required to leave a legacy for future generations.

Manchester has a long tradition and well-established competence in helping individuals and groups move from understanding to appreciation of difference. For more than 20 years, for example, we’ve offered Safe Zone training to help students, faculty and staff understand issues around sexual orientation. The four-hour training program covers vocabulary, building appreciation of what it is to be LGBTQ in today’s society, the consequences of being a largely invisible minority, myths and research about sexual orientation and gender identity, and how to support those who seek empathy, understanding and allies.

This training, as well as other workshops in conflict transformation, celebrating diversity, tackling racism and listening across cultures will be part of the programming offered through our new Intercultural Center to regional businesses, organizations and individuals, helping northeast Indiana bridge from friendly to welcoming, from tolerant to affirming of differences.