Tuesday night’s diversity training workshop offered the potential to challenge biases and assumptions about race and class, but left many who attended feeling as though it lacked an adequate discussion of diversity. This event, which skirted diversity and focused on instead on development and gentrification, made me question the validity of structured diversity training in an academic setting. Understanding that people come from different experiences is important, but without engaging with individuals, and not using the ever-generalized “community” as a substitute, this was all that we were able to do.
In the first exercise of the workshop, we took on the role of either a developer, planner, community association, or economic development organization to negotiate a development. The case study touched upon the process of development, but did not provide much insight about the people, or even the generalized community that was involved. With the lack of information, we were only able to engage in a superficial exchange, without much in the way of conflict. The spoken and unspoken structures within cities that are unique to an area do cause conflict, and we as planners must recognize these structures in order to work with people to make plans successful. Not being exposed to these conflicts does little for our growth as professionals.
In the final exercise of the event, we watched a video of a dispute that took place in San Francisco between a group of white young men, described as “techies” and kids in the community, the majority of whom were people of color. Both groups wanted to use a soccer field, and the video showed a pointed way in which gentrifiers push out existing communities, literally in this case. While this video lacked any semblance of nuance, it gave us some space to recognize that there are social structures at play that go beyond this snapshot. The fact that this was the closest that we got to discussing race and class relations in a diversity training workshop was difficult to take, and difficult to learn from, again without knowing the complicated histories that led to the moment that we observed.
While the workshop generalized communities, perhaps eliciting the desire to know more about the people involved was an intention of the workshop. As planners we aspire to understand cities and neighborhoods, but if we are able to recognize that there is more to a situation than what we see from a brief interaction, be it at a community meeting or on a soccer field, then maybe we will take a greater step toward fostering understanding between diverse groups. This however would have been better achieved by bringing in our experiences and preconceptions to provide a means to achieve cultural competency, rather than simply touching upon vague notions of diversity and communities.