Ethnic diversity hard to find in rural communities

Diversity is lacking in small Kansas towns.

Many of these communities have populations that are at least 90 percent white, according to U.S. Census data. This is not a far cry from the percentages for Kansas and the country as a whole. The 2012 Census reported that Kansas had a population which was 87.2 percent white and the U.S. reported populations of 77.9 percent white.

While these small communities do not differ greatly from state and national percentages, the situation does not appear to be improving for Kansas. A March 2014 Census report showed a loss of nearly 27,000 people to other states with international migration to the state totaling only 17,000. For an ethnic breakdown of 15 small Kansas towns, check out the infographic below.

Click image to view larger.

Click image to view larger.

Small town acceptance
With the lack of ethnic diversity in small towns across the state, acceptance of ethnic minority groups can be an issue in these communities.

Brett Akagi, KU Media Coordinator and Content Strategist, grew up in the southwest Kansas town of Ulysses. Ulysses, population 6,200, has a primarily Hispanic population. As a Japanese-American, Akagi said he did not consider himself different.

“My parents didn’t want us to think we were ethnically different from everybody else,” Akagi said. “We lived in Ulysses, Kan., and that’s what we knew. We weren’t the Japanese family from Ulysses, Kan.”

During his career as a photographer for various TV stations, Akagi traveled a lot, including trips to many small towns. Akagi recalled one particular instance of racism at a small town diner in northeast Kansas.

“We went to go grab some lunch and I’m sitting there with the reporter and I don’t say anything and my reporter said ‘Hey, we’re hungry for lunch. What do you got?’” Akagi said. “This gal starts laying out the menu and she looks at me and she goes ‘Did you understand that?’ looking right at me and I said ‘I sure did, ma’am’ and her eyes got really big and she was like ‘Oh my gosh, I didn’t think you were from around here.’”

Akagi was able to laugh this instance off and said he doesn’t get offended by moments like these, especially in small towns where they don’t see much ethnic diversity.

Bridging the gap
Kelsi Shannon, a KU junior majoring in social work, is from Meade, Kan. Meade is one of many small towns with a primarily white population, but said those of ethnic minority groups were accepted in her hometown. She said her hometown’s football program has helped with this.

“Growing up where I did, football was extremely important to not only the high schoolers but our whole town,” Shannon said. “We had Hispanic and African American players on our team and they were just like the other players. They all united as one and didn’t see those people for their skin color.”

Increasing diversity
With the lack of diversity prevalent in many areas across the country, organizations like the National Diversity Council are working to improve the situation. According to the NDC website, its vision is to “advance diversity and inclusion by transforming our work places and communities into inclusive environments where individuals are valued for their talents and empowered to reach their fullest potential.”

National Diversity Council Founder and CEO Dennis Kennedy said limited job availability, housing opportunities, social networks and cultural services have increased the homogeneity of small towns, but he thinks this trend could be reversed. However, this is not something that will happen overnight.

“These communities need to brand themselves as minority-friendly,” Kennedy said. “They need to show potential newcomers that they are willing to accept difference. Community leaders must seek partnerships with businesses that value diversity in order to bring in more diverse talent. Minorities need to feel respected and accepted as part of the community.”


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