BROOKINGS, S.D. (KELO)– This week, April 17-24, is Brookings Inclusive Collaborative week, a week to honor the work of the Brookings Inclusive Collaborative throughout the community.

To celebrate, the group has two Community Conversation sessions, one was on April 17 in-person and the other is April 24, from 1-3 p.m. online via Zoom.

Brookings Inclusive Collaborative is a community coalition consisting of South Dakota State University, Brookings Economic Development Corporation, Brookings Area Chamber of Commerce, Brookings Human Rights Commission and Vision Brookings.

The principle investigator for the team, Dr. Becky Kuehl, Associate Professor, Communication Studies, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program Coordinator at South Dakota State University, says that since February 2020, the group has been working together to plan community conversations. Kuehl has worked alongside co-principal investigator, Dr. Molly Enz, professor of French and coordinator of Global Studies at SDSU, to lead this grant project together.

During this week’s conversations, the group will be talking about individuals experiences with diversity in the workplace and different approaches to increasing inclusions in Brookings as a community, Kuehl says.

The first part of the meeting will look at the findings from their focus groups that were done last fall, Kuehl says. The team held 14 focus groups and we had 83 participants.

“They gave us a good sense of kind of what they had experienced in the community in terms of diversity,” Kuehl said.

Kuehl says to remember that diversity can include differences in age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, language, nation of origin or other different ways.

The last two-thirds of the conversation is focused on solutions and talking about different approaches to enhancing inclusion throughout the community Kuehl says.

The first event went great and had about 30 participants, Kuehl says.

“You know, we weren’t sure what to expect with COVID and masks and distancing but the Swiftel was a great location,” Kuehl said.

All of the tables were distanced and participants separated, Kuehl says. They had a trained facilitator at each table; the facilitators were both SDSU Communication and Journalism students and Brookings Inclusive Collaborative team members.

The second one is online to make it more accessible to everyone. They felt like the in-person element was important in order to talk about difficult issues, Kuehl says, but with the focus experiences in the fall, they found that a lot of people wanted to meet online rather than in-person and they wanted to be able to accommodate those people.

With the in-person conversation, Kuehl says they had a limited numbers of spots, but online will have unlimited spots available and everyone is welcomed.

Both of the conversations follow the same deliberative format, but they lengthened the in-person meeting because people tend to have a longer attention span in-person, Kuehl says. The length of the event was shortened in for the online format.

“We know living in a rural community…that it can be really difficult, I think, for us to grapple with cultural diversity and difference,” Kuehl said. “Sometimes folks may not feel that they have a lot of opportunities to interact with people who are different from them, but when we look at the definition of diversity and really see that it is a board range of kind of characteristics of people.”

Kuehl says she hopes that people realize that actually everyday, you are probably interacting with someone who is different from you.

After the community conversations, they will look at all the data from the events and will also be doing some follow-up focus groups to gain additional perspectives from those who couldn’t attend the event, Kuehl says. Then they will look at how they can implement some of these actions within the community.

Kuehl says there is still time to sign up for this Saturday’s event.