Racial, ethnic and gender disparities persist across various aspects of life, such as income, education, healthcare, food security, home ownership, and broadband access. These disparities significantly affect life expectancy, safety, and overall well-being for individuals and families. Skin color and ethnic identity often serve as predictors of life outcomes, with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) consistently lagging their White counterparts. Similar predictors exist based on religious affiliation, language, and abilities. To forge a more equitable future, it is crucial to address these systemic disparities and create a path where marginalized individuals can achieve the same quality of life standards as those belonging to dominant groups.
Closing the DEIDEI DEI stands for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, which refers to a set of principles, practices, and policies that promote and value differences in race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and other characteristics, while striving to create fair and equitable opportunities and outcomes for all individuals (Gill et al., 2018). Gap
Communities narrowing DiversityDiversity Differences among people with respect to age, socio-economic status, ethnicity, gender, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practices, and other human differences (Deen, Huskey & Parker, 2015)., EquityEquity Equity refers to the policies, practices, attitudes, and cultural messages that are representative of all members of society, such that each member has access to resources that eliminate differential outcomes by group identity (Niblett, 2017)., and InclusionInclusion A state of being valued, respected and supported. Inclusion authentically puts the concept and practice of diversity into action by creating an equitable environment where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are harnessed (Hudson, 2011; Baltimore Racial Justice, 2016). (DEI) gaps can advance quality of life for all their members. When those struggling to survive in the community thrive, the whole community benefits as trust increases and community assets (social, human, financial, built, political, cultural, natural) are advanced. However, choosing to maintain the “status quo” ensures a downward spiral in which divides continue, or more likely, increase inequities and continue to create burdens that all bear.
How is the Cooperative Extension System Responding?
The Cooperative Extension System (CES) leverages its 100+ year history through county Extension offices to address the needs of individuals and communities. This network effectively connects local needs with university resources, establishing CES as a trusted local resource. CES staff, positioned as collaborators and partners, use dialogue to build trust, facilitate honest conversations and dismantle layers of silence that impede progress. CES works with communities to organize and facilitate relevant dialogues, educational programs, and applied research, among diverse groups, enabling informed decisions on removing barriers and creating new opportunities.
Through a foundation of trust, CES employs multi-disciplined approaches to close the digital divide, provide health guidance, assist socially disadvantaged farmers, mentor youth for economic independence, empower communities to identify assets, and build capacity among disadvantaged groups to express their voices. Examples include: Coming Together for Racial Understanding, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in 4-H, Heir Property Network, True Leaders in Equity Institute, 4-H Tech Changemakers, Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, 1890 Centers of Excellence, Juntos Program, Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP), Extension Disaster Education Network, and the Rural Online Initiative.
What Difference is Cooperative Extension Making?
CES is actively fostering racial understanding through dialogues that bridge divides and inform action plans tailored to specific locations. In Agriculture and Natural Resources programs, CES guides socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, addressing heir’s property issues and promoting thriving enterprises. In 4-H Youth Development, initiatives like Tech Changemakers and STEAM education equip youth with leadership and workforce skills. Family and Consumer Science programs, including EFNEP, contribute to healthy lifestyles, financial management, positive parenting, and small business development. Community Resource Development efforts focus on leadership, entrepreneurship, and effective community asset management and planning. These CES initiatives exemplify impactful contributions to addressing national challenges related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, positioning CES for even greater success in the future.
What Can Be Done with Additional Resources?
Increased resources for CES efforts hold significant potential in bridging the DEI gap. By expanding the reach of Historically Black and Tribal Land-grant Universities with specific missions to serve underserved audiences, tools can directly reach those most at risk. Scaling up the CES workforce allows for the expansion of community dialogue initiatives, amplifying proven programs, providing deeper community support through coaches, and showcasing models of effective community asset-building strategies. CES is well-suited to manage place-based funding, launching promising innovations identified through community dialogues. Lastly, CES can play a crucial role in guiding the development of a national research initiative to assess the efficacy of local innovations and their implications for future DEI-related policies.