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Moving the Needle on Racial Equity in Extension, Part 2 of 3


Authors: Sonja Brodt and Gail Feenstra, Univ. of California Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program

Part 2 (see Part 1 posted on October 12, 2023)

The 1862 Land Grant institutions were founded during the immediate post-Civil War, post-slavery period for the benefit of white farmers and homesteaders and were built on the wealth generated by land expropriated from indigenous peoples across the U.S. (Joseph A. Myers Center, 2021). With a history so fraught with racial oppression, our public sector extension service faces an enormous task not only in righting past wrongs, but in moving forward in truly meeting the needs of contemporary people of color.

Today we take up the second topic in this three-part series exploring lessons learned from a racial equity in extension initiative launched by the University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (UC SAREP), together with many other colleagues spread throughout the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) system.

Second Lesson learned:

Be prepared to speak different “languages” in order to communicate about DEI with different colleagues.

          Just as sound extension methodology often hinges on tailoring one’s communication approaches to different groups according to their needs, DEI work internal to our own institutions may require communicating differently with different colleagues. In any large organization such as a land grant university, individuals will be at different stages in awareness, understanding, and acceptance of DEI as something that requires more attention in their day-today work. As a result, broad communications about DEI efforts or events in large organizations will almost inevitably risk offending someone. Some colleagues will want to communicate with radical language that speaks directly of injustices and oppression and may feel that anything less is disrespectful of marginalized peoples, while other colleagues will be offended by that same language, which they interpret as either exaggerating, or worse, as pointing fingers at them for doing their jobs “wrong”.  Navigating such a large spectrum is challenging. While it is not necessarily the responsibility of those trying to do DEI work to keep others from being offended, nor to dilute the message, if we wish others to come to the table, it is usually helpful to take the time to talk one-on-one with different individuals openly and with compassion, working to address their individual concerns as directly as possible. Ultimately, gearing trainings and communications towards smaller, more homogeneous groups of colleagues may achieve more progress in the long run. Simply accepting at the outset that some people may be offended by this kind of work and striving to take any adverse reactions as learning opportunities is also an important step for the mental well-being of those taking on this work.

Next week, we will address the importance of seeking out and accounting for indigenous knowledge, diverse worldviews, and unexpected experts for meaningful collaboration with diverse communities.

Moving the Needle on Racial Equity in Extension, part 3


Joseph A. Myers Center for Research on Native American Issues & Native American Student Development. (2021). The University of California Land Grab: A Legacy of Profit from Indigenous Land. A Report of key Learnings and Recommendations [Report]. University of California, Berkeley.

Photo by John Schaidler on Unsplash.

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I appreciate the suggestion of training in smaller groups. In Extension, we like to train on culture inclusion during conferences. The message gets diluted in big rooms - it is the nature of a big room. Big rooms tend to lead to group think.

Thank you!

This is not an easy tightrope to walk -- being uncomfortable and even offended can lead to shutting down and distancing from DEIB matters and conversations, but it can also lead to questioning, learning, and growth.  Some of us, particularly people who are like myself (white, cis-gender, middle-class) are less familiar with discomfort and may be more resistant -- we're accustomed to having our way be the "normal."  I think there are benefits to affinity groups as a more familiar space to take risks and be challenged, but it's also vitally important that we interact with others not like ourselves, and that those of us who are members of dominant groups learn to listen. 


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This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Ag Extension (funding opportunity no. USDA-NIFA-OP-010186), grant no. 2023-41595-41325 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Extension Foundation. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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