Fall 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 3 // To The Point // 3TP2
Diversity Involves Us All
...all actors in the educational arena will have to play their roles well, from those above the Extension director or administrator level to agents on the firing line...Those setting policy and making decisions about Extension will also reflect the diversity of our nation.
Extension is an educational agency established to serve "people"-all people! The ideas and concerns addressed by Gear should be an integral part of the program development process for the entire Cooperative Extension System. The inclusion of diversity into the program development process shouldn't be left with any one office or administrator, such as the EEO/AA officer. It involves everyone at the universities, including those not employed by Extension.
During 1992-93, ranking administrators will be receiving inservice training on diversity and how it affects the implementation of educational programs. These training conferences include five-day sessions for state Extension directors and administrators in Vermont and Mississippi and an Invitational Forum on Public Service for presidents and chancellors of land grant universities, to be conducted by the National Extension Leadership Development Program. If we're to address the real problems and concerns, however, all actors in the educational arena will have to play their roles well, from those above the Extension director or administrator level to agents on the firing line where programs are made meaningful to clientele.
It's easy to see one's own cultural biases or interests as "ideals" or "the way things should be." It's not as easy to put oneself in the place of another person and develop some understanding or appreciation of what the other has to offer. We must learn to act as though all human beings are important and should be respected for their differences regardless of ethnicity or any other characteristic that makes them different.
Unfortunately, we don't always place the same value on those who are different as we do those who are like us-not even life itself. To illustrate this point, when a tragedy is reported on the evening news, we listen intensely until hearing the last names of the victims, the section of town they're from, race, or some other indicator that tells us "we're not involved." Our level of hurt, concern for human suffering, and destruction of property isn't always as high as when those involved in the tragedy are from our own cultural group, race, or religion. This in no way implies that people from one group lack compassion for others; but usually, there's no lingering sense of loss.
If Extension is to truly address the needs of both traditional and diverse audiences, this commitment must be communicated at all levels and made a part of each job description and plan of work-regardless of the discipline, initiative, or program area. It's not only wise for Extension to pay more attention to the needs of diverse audiences because it's the right thing to do, but because of the impact it will have on continued financial support for our programs. We may not have as many former "4-H State Winners" or others "steeped in Extension" in the state legislatures and Congress in the future as we've had in the past. Those setting policy and making decisions about Extension will also reflect the diversity of our nation.
The diverse talents and resources within our land grant system must be fully used to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse clientele. Among the most significant of these resources are the 1890 land grant universities in 16 states. Other institutions may wish to draw on the diversity of faculty and staff found on those campuses. Extension programs at the 1890 institutions, while limited in many aspects, are very people- oriented organizations with a demonstrated ability to involve diverse audiences in the planning and delivery of innovative programs. The multi-ethnic composition of the staffs at the 1890 institutions strengthens their ability to be flexible in designing and implementing programs that cross disciplinary lines to reach diverse audiences. The strengths of these institutions were addressed in the recently published strategic plan, "Setting the Pace in a Time of Change."
If we're to reap the benefits of the diversity in our nation, then we must all learn to appreciate and tolerate our differences. Yet, at the same time, we must be aware of the vastness of our similarities as they relate to goals, ambitions, opportunities, and a desire for respect as human beings with equal value.