Cultural Diversity in USDA's Land-Grant System

Article excerpt

In 1998 the Change Agent States for Diversity Consortium (CASD) was established to build the capacity of the Cooperative Extension System and its research and university partners to function inclusively and effectively in a multicultural world, setting standards and implementing a vision for healthy, thriving, and productive communities.

"Organizationally, diversity must be integrated into everything we do," says Linda Couchon, a diversity specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chemung County. "At the same time we have to take the opportunity to think about diversity as an issue and content area requiring new competencies, expanded perspectives, and creative processes. Much of the journey is about internal work, such as becoming aware of the cultural assumptions we bring to our own organization and to the programs we offer."

Couchon says that knowing the right questions to ask is key to raising awareness. Is the content of a parenting program designed for white parents relevant to a primarily black audience? Is it respectful to Native Americans to hold meetings in a church? Are all staff members in an office equally aware of the unspoken cultural norms upon which promotions are based?

"People need to spend time thinking about these," she says, "as well as getting to know and building trust with members of the diverse audiences they serve."

CASD is a partnership of Cooperative Extension Systems in seven states: North Dakota, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and New York. Each has a Diversity Catalyst Team to lead and model institutional change toward becoming a multicultural extension organization. Couchon coordinates New York's 16-member team. Recent Catalyst Team programs have addressed topics as varied as creating a respectful workplace, marketing with diversity in mind, promoting environmental rights, exploring cultural perspectives on parenting, understanding Native American land claims, and applying tools to assist in compliance with affirmative action regulations. …

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