December 2001 // Volume 39 // Number 6 // Commentary // 6COM1
Achieving Diversity and Pluralism: Our (Sad) Separatist Model
How has the land grant college and university system met the challenge of diversity? Largely through a separatist model in which 1862, 1890, 1994, and HIS institutions serve their separate (and separated) targeted audiences. The Cooperative Extension System is unquestionably the finest educational infrastructure in the world. But how are we preparing for a future where there is no need for a divide-and-separate system? We're not. We must ask ourselves why. And we must do it together--1862's, 1890's, 1994's, and HSI's.
It is a sweeping but still sound generalization to say that the powerful people in the United States are those who are white, male, wealthy, straight, and Christian; who enjoy magazine-cover looks; and who are abled. Individuals who do not fall into these categories are often faced with challenges that can be disruptive to their success in life, whether through oppression, discrimination, public ridicule, or other forms of personal disgrace.
How has the land grant college and university system met this challenge to our identity and barrier to fulfilling our educational mandate? Largely through a separatist model.
Divide and Separate
1862 land grant colleges and universities have historically provided the core of educational leadership for this country, providing expertise in teaching, research, and service. 1890, 1994, and HSI programs were created for African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics because the country as a whole was not prepared to provide equity and equal access to all people. The 1890, 1994, and HSI schools are doing an outstanding job educating their target populations. That's the upside.
The downside is that 1862 institutions are thereby absolved from accepting responsibility to move diversity to the top of the educational agenda, both internally and externally.
1890's, 1994's, and HSI's are, indeed, part of the solution for reaching diverse populations. Their outstanding record proves that. But how can theyčalone--fully meet the challenge of preparing minorities for full participation in mainstream America?
The existence of and need for racially targeted programs such as 1890's, 1994's, and HSI's imply that minority populations are not "good enough" to belong to the 1862 core institutions. It smacks a little of "separate but equal," and we all know how that played out.
In a quite real way, then, I believe that minority programs are a mixed blessing and a halfway measure.
We face issues of diversity and pluralism in this country and in the land grant college and university system. Continuing to face them separately will not lead to success. At some point, that will exacerbate problems, not solve them.
This is not meant to be a broad indictment of 1862's. I am honored to work with diversity professionals such as Kathy Castania, Cornell University; Ann Schauber, Oregon State University; A. J. Dye, CSREES; and the authors of many of the articles in this issue of the Journal of Extension.
But in the area of diversity more work needs to be done--much more. We need to develop a common language whereby issues of diversity can be discussed in a non-threatening environment. Employees need to feel safe in bringing their whole selves to the table. We need leaders who are not afraid to move the issue of diversity to the front of the agenda. We need leaders who are willing to stand face-to-face with those who refuse to do the right thing or who insist that we take diversity slowly.
We need to do this together--1862's, 1890's, 1994's, and HSI's.
We need to examine why our core institutions are unwilling to fully embrace diversity, which encompasses more than race and gender. Why do some men feel they are better than women? Why do some of the affluent feel they are better than the less affluent? Why do some straights feel better than gays? Why do some Christians feel better than everybody? Why don't we seem to care more than we do?
We need to grapple with these questions together--1862's, 1890's, 1994's, and HSI's.
The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 created the Cooperative Extension System, unquestionably the finest educational infrastructure in the world. USDA has made a huge contribution to educating the American public. Yet is still hard for many to observe those who get the greatest opportunity move even further ahead while some others with fewer opportunities are left further behind.
It's been 87 years since the passage of the Smith-Lever Act. How are we preparing for a future where there is no need for a divide-and-separate system? We're not. We must ask ourselves why. And we must do it together--1862's, 1890's, 1994's, and HSI's.
Or is it already too late?