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DMC Special Report: Social justice

If you don’t continue to grow, you’re going to erode.
— UMR Chancellor Stephen Lehmkule

Growth and change are integral parts to revitalizing a community and city. However, those are also the two things that many members of our community are most apprehensive of, and ironically are two of the main elements comprising DMC.

In short, some changes may be beneficial while others detrimental.

Dr. Molly Dingel, a professor of sociology at University of Minnesota Rochester, described how you “can’t neatly classify growth as positive or negative." She said there will always be pros and cons associated with expansion.

"There is going to be growth." The focus, Dingel said, should be: "How do we handle that; how do we meet the challenges that arise and capitalize on the positive things?”

As some in Rochester are more wary and others more welcoming of DMC it is timely to ask the question: How will DMC impact Rochester and its community?

Typically, hot topics such as transportation, housing and the economy rise to the surface of discussions. However, one sector that may not receive as much face time, yet is a crucial component of the conversation, and connects the previously mentioned topics, is social justice.

Photo: UMR classroom / The Med City Beat


According to Lehmkule, a “high quality K-12 education system is going to be one of the reasons people will want to move to Rochester.”

Without a good public school system, education leaders told us, it will be difficult to attract employees and their families to the area.

"We can use the new opportunity of DMC … and we can innovate and change," said Rochester School Board member Dan O’Neil. "The status quo isn’t going to cut it forever." 

While it appears that bolstering the education system will support the progress of DMC, it is also important to be cautious of the forthcoming challenges the education system will face. Education is intricately linked to many social issues which, if resolved, can tackle some of the problems education faces.

O'Neil articulated two problems, space and transportation, and how tackling one can provide a solution to another. First, as Rochester's population grows, more space will be needed to accommodate services, such as full-time kindergarten or students who are drawn to a particular school facility.

"The thing we need to activate as a community to make DMC work is transportation," said O'Neil.


Most transportation systems, particularly public and school buses, operate only on a Monday-Friday basis. However, if transportation was made more accessible by offering services on the weekend, then alternative schedules could be developed so students could attend weekend classes.

This helps resolves the need for more space, if an alternative schedule model can be implemented. O'Neil said there may be some challenges with the proposition of weekend education, but it is not an unattainable feat.

There are already similar models in other programs, such as the Alternative Learning Center in Hawthorne and CTECH in RCTC.

In the meantime, Rochester Public Schools, has grown by more than 1,000 students over the past four years, and with an enrollment of about 17,400 students, is now the seventh-largest district in the state.

Dr. Brenda Lewis, the district's assistant superintendent, said the district will likely need to build another school in the near future. She stressed that it is also important to be mindful that as the district grows in numbers, it also grows in diversity.

"We want to continue to retain and recruit staff that look like our students that are in all of our classrooms," she said. "That's really a challenge that we are embracing ... to be ever responding to the changing demographics of Rochester."


Chancellor Lehmkhule and Dr. Dingel echoed similar sentiments in identifying different cultures, languages, ethnicities, and learning styles under the umbrella of diversity, as changes the education system will have to adapt to.

Lehmkhule commented on how the education model tends to adopt a “cookie cutter” approach. When considering the current diversity and how it will continue to grow with changing population dynamics, it is not a very mindful model, he said.

Starting by addressing the grassroots problems is how social change can be affected in light of DMC. Social awareness and mindfulness in conjunction with directing efforts to infrastructure problems, such as transportation, are the prerequisites for a strong scaffold on which DMC can advance.

If focus is solely on DMC changes and “we’re not socially conscious, it’s going to exacerbate the problems,” noted O'Neil. Social justice and DMC are inextricably linked, improvements in one helps the other and harms in one also impact the other.


In order to bolster DMC, thriving arts and entertainment programs will also be necessary. Stephen Troutman, a former IBM consultant, avid community member and former DMC community connector, illuminated the importance of arts and enrichment education.

He described a Mayo Clinic study which surveyed patients, finding that “patients only spend about 30 percent of time in the clinic, so the birth of the DMC is how do we make this a place people want to come to for that other 70 percent, and that’s where enrichment education comes in.”

One example to illustrate, by Chrisanne Pieper, an adult enrichment coordinator for Hawthorne, is the Road’s Scholar Program. This program has three one-week courses, open to patients and caregivers, with two classes titled “What do to in Medicine” and another on “Complementary and Alternative Medicine.”

Lehmkule and Pieper both mentioned how DMC was born to be an attractive location to entice patients to come for the whole experience, not just health care. Enrichment education provides an interactive incentive to keep people coming back and wanting more.

Law enforcement

Another potential misconception regarding DMC and public services is that crime rates will spike and services will be overburdened. Police Chief Roger Peterson dispelled some of those notions by clarifying how the rate itself is actually dropping.

Raw numbers of crime may go up, he said, but that is characteristic of population growth.

"Only 6 percent of offenders, not 6 percent of the population, are responsible for 60 percent of crimes," said Peterson. "If we can focus on that population we can make a significant difference in crime rate.”

In terms of services, population growth in general puts a strain on service, not something exclusive to the DMC. Chief Peterson said “population density drives police and public service demands.”

He said the department is implementing new predictive technologies that will enable them to intervene in crime prior to its occurrence. Also, plans for precinct stations are in motion to address the needs of people on the outer perimeter as growth expands the city.

Ultimately, Peterson said the best opportunity for the future is finding ways to prevent crime, rather than just reacting to it. But he said that will require a community-wide effort, in which different organizations work together to solve common factors that lead to crime — like illiteracy, poverty and addiction.

"The fact is the police department doesn't have officers out there working on those issues," he said. "We're responding to the consequences of the issues, but the more effective a community is in addressing those issues, the more effective we will be in addressing crime."

Social Services

Ensuring that sufficient social services are maintained and provided to the community at large is an important factor for a city’s expansion and prosperity.

And the best way to gain insight on DMC’s impact on social services is through the perspective of nonprofit organizations.

Jerome Ferson, president and CEO of United Way of Olmsted County, shed some light on how DMC “gives us the advantage to be thoughtful and intentional about growth."

"It is a plan, not just haphazard," said Ferson. "We have the opportunity to structure and craft it to be a place we love and enjoy.”

He discussed how it will draw in additional revenue, increase market confidence, and how there is an inextricable linkage between a healthy community and a robust economy.

“DMC serves as a basis to have optimism about our economy and allows us to focus our attention on things other communities don’t have the luxury to focus on and improve, such as reducing inequities in poverty, educational and health outcomes," said Ferson. "We have a great opportunity.”

Photo: Salvation Army / The Med City Beat

Dave Ferber, director of community engagement at the Rochester Salvation Army, also looks forward to how DMC may attract a wealthier donor base to assist in providing additional monetary resources for operations and services as demand increases.  

However, these benefits don’t come without some concerns and consequences. Ferber provided a recent example of how the Center Street Hotel gave residents a 30-day eviction notice to clear out the building as renovations had been underway for the past year.

"What happens if that happens to Park Towers or other housing units in Rochester that see the potential for profit, and rightly so as it’s a business for them, but it’s also a home for people," he questioned. "There’s not a lot of affordable housing in Rochester … DMC’s primary impact is going to be on housing.”

When prompted about how DMC might displace services, Ferber explained what he calls a chicken and egg problem. “If DMC displaces people that we serve, where will they go? And if it displaces us, will they be able to find and access us?"

With more than 200 individuals living in low-income housing and many more dependent on services provided by organizations such as the Salvation Army, these are relevant concerns to consider.

One of the challenges with addressing issues such as affordable housing is incentive. Cindy Norgard, director of social services at the Salvation Army, explained how it costs developers just as much to build low-income housing as opposed to other housing facilities that would be profitable.

That being said, Ferson mentioned how it’s important to keep the pace of growth in mind when determining the impact that DMC will have.

"If [growth] happens gradually over a long period of time the infrastructure will be easily adaptable," said Ferson. "If it happens all in year five, it will put some pressure" on the nonprofit community.

Non-white population (%) in Rochester

Source: U.S. Census (*projected)

Ferson said it’s important to ensure that minority groups are represented on committees so there is a holistic representation of the community in the planning aspects yet to come.

“Part of engagement and social justice is not the outcomes but actually being involved and engaged in the development and execution of the plan. It’s important to embrace diversity of thought, background, and religion, but it’s got to be at the front end, not all at the back end.”

He views the role of his organization as continuously reminding the community of the larger community. That way, he said, we won't get so focused on DMC that we lose sight of the rest of the population.

"Because when a bright, shiny object comes flashing by, we tend to focus on it and it’s all you can see," he said. "Everything else tends to fade into the background.”

Nitya Chandiramani is a student at the University of Minnesota Rochester. She wants to pursue a career in health-care innovation and administration. 

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