ST. GEORGE — During a time when social norms are strained, St. George residents band together. Still, there are subtle reminders that the diverse color of our skin sometimes separates us rather than includes everyone in daily life.
Although relatively new to the city, Dixie State University professor Tasha Toy –assistant vice president and the director for the campus Multicultural & Inclusion Center – has found being diverse in a largely Caucasian community can have its mountains to climb.
After applying for a position at Dixie State, Toy jumped at the opportunity much to her family’s concerns. She said there is an ongoing stigma that people of color are not welcomed in Utah.
“It’s perception versus reality,” Toy said. “My husband is Afro-Asian and for the most part we do get looked at when we go into certain locations, but we also have people welcome us with open arms and ask us questions. They make us feel at ease with what we are doing and where we are coming from.”
As St. George grows, social norms will change as well, Toy added.
“It’s a teachable moment for all,” she said. “Some people struggle with it depending on their age, older people are more reserve but young people realize things change and St. George is changing.”
In the change, Toy said, the city is going to look different and function differently.
“Especially with St. George being a prime location of most of the growth in the state, it is imperative that commerce considers what that looks like,” Toy said. “They have procedures in place to respect all of their customers … however, are they actually practicing them?”
Small things need to change which perpetuates the dilemma like not staring people down when they come into a store, asking them to inspect their bags or following them through the store, she said.
“It is about how to treat the human and not the color of their skin,” Toy added. “In a time when more and more brick and mortar stores are closing, they do not have the luxury of being selective or unresponsive on how they are treating their customers when they come through the door.”
Although not a new phenomenon that people of color are singled out in a store and followed by security, it is how they are included in the workplace that also has Toy’s focus.
“This is extremely important,” she said. “Our (population) numbers are going to continue to grow for the next five years and growth is not going to be homogeneous like it used to be. It is going to be more people of color with more diverse perspectives.”
Don Willie, president and CEO of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, is struck with Toy’s strength and considers her a “gem” for the community.
“What Dr. Toy is talking about happens in the evolution of the economy,” Willie said.
Willie agrees that diversity cuts across many demographics that include race, religion, different thoughts and business practices.
“Any of these things can be scary,” Willie added. “But, how exciting is it that we are bringing new ways of thinking and doing business to St. George. We are going to see more innovation in our economy because of the increase in diversity.”
Although as a business community we share many things, Willie said, it is the new thoughts that will drive continued growth in Southern Utah.
“This topic deserves extensive dialogue,” Willie added, “This is the future. Not only racial diversity, but you cannot avoid other things coming into your culture and your community. The best thing we can do is celebrate this and not fear diversity.”
Both Willie and Toy said by embracing the change in faces at the store, in business and their employees it lifts us all up. “It is about community, this is what it is all about,” Willie said.
“It is best for local businesses to have a diverse group of employees,” Toy said. “Look around and do you see the change in diversity taking place in your staff.”
Many employers, Toy added, would say no but her response is consistent, where are you posting the job, who are you telling about the job opening.
“Do you just post an opening online and let it sit, or do you actively use your resources of black commerce groups, the NAACP, are you posting various places to bring people in. It is then an ‘if-then statement, ‘ ” Toy said.
Employment shortages could be inevitable if people of color are excluded from the workforce.
“Do you resign yourself and throw up your hands and its done,” she said. “Or do you, as a business owner, ask how do you make an impact on our community knowing that a change is coming.”
The two pillars of change, Toy said is education and being at the forefront of the action in what Southern Utah is becoming.
In today’s social media-driven world, Toy said, life is centered on me, mine and not we or ours.
“We don’t think of our fellow many anymore,” Toy said. “We think how can we get ahead by any means necessary and at any cost.”
When asked if there are answers to these problems, Toy’s response is mixed.
“When it comes to people’s businesses they need to be welcoming of all individuals with the idea in order to thrive and survive … their clientele and employees are going to change,” she said. “When you talk about commerce, people talk with their feet.”
If any business continually sees the same people coming through the door, she added, why is not the mix larger.
“As we grow, people vote with their feet,” Toy said. “People can go online and get things in two days or I can find someone else locally who will treat me like I want to be treated.”
There is a trickle-down effect whether caucasian or black. One person tells someone who tells someone else about their experience.
It will take little steps, she added, to change people’s perception of how to interact with different cultures.
“We are so quick to dismiss a bad experience,” Toy said. “No. Now that you know it you need to act upon it. It is the truth and now what do you do with that information. It is about being sure-footed and sharing your thoughts with business management to be succinct and to make your concerns known.”
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