I read with interest the results of the survey conducted by Coral Bay Community Council. As a social scientist, I wholeheartedly applaud the effort to collect systematic data on community needs in the wake of Irmaria.
However, I simultaneously have some reservations about the survey. Most importantly, the results are presented in the absence of contextual information including the method used to collect the data or the respondents themselves. Such information is critical to evaluating how representative the results are of the Coral Bay community, and therefore, what they in fact mean.
One piece of contextual information presented with the results suggests that caution needs to be exercised in interpreting what the results mean and to whom they apply. Specially, the ages of the survey respondents suggests that the results are not representative of Coral Bay. Nearly 75 percent of the respondents in the total sample were over the age of 55 (and this drops to just below 70 percent in the full-time resident sample). I find it hard to believe that Coral Bay consists mostly of people over the age of 55. Even if we assume this to be true, however, it strains all reason to believe that the proportion of adults 18 to 34 years old living in Coral Bay is approximately 3 percent of its total population.
The fact that so little of the younger adult age group is represented in the sample is troubling on many levels.
– First, it is residents in this age group that are most likely to experience other catastrophic hurricanes in their lifetime. It is to their needs in the future that perhaps most attention should be focused.
– Second, the impact of such a disaster for families in their childbearing years and individuals at the height of their employment years is likely to be exponentially more disruptive than for those who are retired or near retirement.
– Finally, whether those of us over 55 like it or not, this age group is the future of Coral Bay. Their needs deserve to be front and center in such a community assessment.
Unfortunately, the survey itself demonstrates a lack of appreciation for what the storms might mean for families with young children. For example, not one question or response category deals with the issue of finding safe, affordable, high quality child care after the storms. Further, in the one response category where concerns about education can be raised, educational facilities are lumped with community facilities.
Equally important to understanding the overall results, exclusion of this age group may make the overall sample unrepresentative of the proportion of the individuals in Coral Bay who are of Caribbean descent. Within the 18 to 34 year old age group in particular one is likely to find a higher proportion of such individuals, especially since the storms sent many young adult (mostly white) state-siders who moved to Coral Bay to work in the tourism industry away. (Recall too that the affordable housing available in Calabash Boom caused many young long-time residents to move to Coral Bay from other parts of St. John.)
But this issue really begs the bigger question: Why did the survey not include questions about ethnicity, place of birth, length of residence in the V.I., etc.? CBCC breaks out the data by full-time residents versus others based on the assumption that needs may differ by group. Clearly post-storm needs and experiences are also likely differ for subgroups of the population drawn along these other lines. At best, the omission of such questions reflects an unfortunate oversight. At worst, such an omission reflects an attempt to whitewash (pun intended) the fact that there is not really one unified “Coral Bay” but different Coral Bays based on what groups, defined by such characteristics, one belongs to.
As a resident of Coral Bay, the segregation of these worlds is palpable and omnipresent.
As I always tell my students: “Bad data in, bad data out.” Using results such as these which are based on an unrepresentative sample to plan actions for Coral Bay would be at best misleading, and at worst, harmful. I urge CBCC to think very carefully about the limitations of their results and only draw conclusions from them that are warranted in the context of these limitations.
In the future, CBCC and other community organizations might want to avail themselves of the expert resources available at UVI to conduct such research to assure more meaningful results.
Most importantly, I implore CBCC and any other community organizations to think very carefully about whose needs and experiences should inform the recovery efforts. Certainly, there is a diverse set of needs in Coral Bay and STJ generally that need to be considered. However, in my mind, any discussion of such needs must start with the needs of young adult Virgin Islanders who are, or intend to be, raising their children in the VI; residents whose extended families live on STJ; and those for whom this is the only home they have ever really known.
They are, by far, the stakeholders with truly the most to lose if the recovery efforts are not inclusive of them and most vulnerable to the impacts of future storms.
Lyz Jaeger is an associate professor of social science at the University of the Virgin Islands and a resident of Coral Bay