Durango residents claim plenty of identities: climber, skier, biker and neighbor.
But a group of residents want to dig deeper this week by asking residents in a racial or sexual minority how their skin color or sexual orientation affects their experience living in the city.
The city’s Community Relations Commission will host a listening session to elicit “experiences with diversity and discrimination,” said Lexie Stetson-Lee, an appointed member of the commission.
The meeting has no set structure, she said – it’s designed to offer people who may not feel accepted in the community a safe space to talk about their personal experiences. Of the almost 19,000 people in Durango, about 80% identify as white, according to the United States census.
“A lot of individuals who identify with the majority do not see or understand there are problems with discrimination in this town,” Stetson-Lee said. “It’s a privilege to ignore it.”
The volunteer board is scheduled to meet at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Durango City Hall and plans to host at least three other listening sessions in 2020. The Community Relations Commission plans to distill what it hears from community members into a report for the Durango City Council, said Suzanne Sitter, a city staff liaison to the volunteer board.
“We want to be realistic with what the commission can do. People would love us to solve a lot of problems,” she said. “We’re letting people know we’re out there, we’re listening.”
The Community Relations Commission, formed by City Council in 2012, has sought feedback from the community since at least 2015 when it issued a survey to residents, Sitter said.
Results showed “a lot of people who identified as transgender or queer felt that tourists to the town were not as welcoming (as business owners and residents),” Stetson-Lee said. Native American and black students at Fort Lewis College each reported discomfort and discrimination on campus and in Durango, she said.
A spokeswoman for the college did not immediately respond to a request to speak with student organizations.
The Community Relations Commission plans to host listening sessions in different spaces around Durango, potentially including coffee shops or the Durango Public Library. Different spaces may draw different crowds, Stetson-Lee said.
The city also plans to have at least one facilitator at each listening session, she said. The informal meetings are not the solution to racial and sexual tension in Durango – it’s just another step toward addressing inherent biases in the community.
“We have faith in humanity and an expectation that when people are truly listened to, when they get out what they need to say, that that itself can promote care and respect,” Stetson-Lee said.
firstname.lastname@example.orgAn earlier version of this story misspelled Suzanne Sitter’s last name.