Community View of Diversity

After spending a semester speaking with members of the minority groups in Knox County, it became apparent that in order to fully understand diversity in this community, the opinions of the majority group would need to be voiced as well. Like many other members of the larger community, Jim Murray, Branch President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Knox County, does not see the area as diverse in the generally acceptable sense of the word.

Now from a racial standpoint, I don't know that Knox County is really diverse. It's historically been an agricultural, rural community. And typically that's, at least in this part of the country is usually a white, European background.

The diversity that the members of the larger Knox County community see has less to do with race or ethnicity, and deals more with occupation, education, and the separation that exists between the newcomers and long time residents of the community.

"Agriculture runs through families' blood" states long time resident and farmer Susan Brinker. Knox County has historically been a farm-based community. As a result, there was a strong and supportive network of farmers who shared similar concerns, needs, and perhaps most importantly, values. As nearby cities, like Columbus, expand, many people are trying to escape to smaller, more rural communities. These newcomers do not typically fit into the community of long-time residents. Many long-time residents like Dennis Shinaberry find this frustrating and at times, disheartening:

What's a community? Knowing everybody, your neighbors, church picnics. Fifteen years ago I could drive five miles around here and know everybody. Now I can't go half a mile. There's this guy building a house down the road. I feel like I should stop and help him, but people just don't do that anymore. We alienate each other. Values have changed. City people don't have the same values. They come here to be left alone. It's a conflict of interest

The recent influx of people has affected almost every aspect of their lives. Susan Brinker humourously notes;

Things have changed since a lot of people have been moving in from Columbus. I'll tell you, you don't go into the grocery store with hog manure on your shoes anymore.

This separation caused by these two conflicting lifestyles is what many long time residents see as an important aspect of diversity. Change is difficult for people who have always been accustomed to one specific way of life. Another factor which widens this division is socioeconomic status. The rift between incoming professionals and the deeply rooted working class of farmers and factory workers creates "cliques", as Lela Hathaway states: "In Knox County, everyone talks to each other, but when it comes to social settings, things are different. [The professionals] wouldn't invite us to a party or anything like that," Hathaway continued.

Another factor that points to differences in the community, and often overlaps with economic divisions, is education. "I think that people with a college education sit above the rest of us. Their appearance and their experiences have been so different," Hathaway explains. A college education is not necessarily assumed in the farming communities of Knox County as it is for many professional families. This basic ideological difference is one more factor which makes merging these groups of people difficult.

Knox County is faced with a challenge that can be seen in most rural communities that lie close to expanding cities. With increasingly diverse groups of people moving into these areas from the cities, long time residents are confronted with changes that they are not necessarily ready to face. This is not only a problem for the majority community, but one faced by the minority groups as well. It will be interesting to see if these differing lifestyles will become more compatible as time passes.

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