This weekend was a bit surreal for me as I celebrated my daughter’s wedding in a very small ceremony on the Medina town square, following COVID-19 requirements and trying to ensure that it was both memorable and yet reflected the gravity of the times we are in. This cherished celebration of love, happiness, hope, and anticipation of bright futures was juxtaposed against the death of George Floyd, many peaceful protests to bring awareness and action to racial and social injustice, as well as rioting, looting, and violence. Every range of emotion was present this weekend, as were just as many perspectives and reactions across our communities, the nation, and globally.
Unfortunately, racial and social inequity and bias are not new issues in our world and within our communities, but it is important for us to be leaders in addressing discriminatory actions and attitudes. We need to notice when our fellow colleagues and Ohioans are hurting and strongly support our colleagues, communities, and constituents during these challenging times. Our OSU Extension vision and mission focuses on working collaboratively with ALL Ohioans to actively engage in creating conditions in which EVERYONE thrives and to create opportunities for people to explore how we can improve social, economic, and environmental conditions. Perhaps never before has our mission been more relevant than during this COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, and ongoing disparities around race, health, income, and opportunity. Together, we are committed to creating the future world we want for ourselves, our families, our communities, and our state.
In Extension, we value:
- Teamwork and partnerships
- Integration of science and local knowledge
- Respectful community engagement
- Credibility, honesty, and integrity
- Innovation, flexibility, and adaptability
- Relevance and responsiveness
- Leveraging resources
- Lifelong learning
- Diversity in all of its forms
- The contributions of all people toward achieving organizational and societal goals
My question to each of us is how will we demonstrate these values in current times? What will we commit to doing through our service to Ohioans? We have a 100-year legacy of working with community members and leaders to improve the quality of lives of ALL Ohioans, but what have we been missing and what else should we be doing? It was, and continues to be, a critical time to reflect on who we are and what we want for our organization, the clientele we serve, and for future generations. At minimum, we need to engage in civil discourse and demonstrate a willingness to put action behind our values, to address current key issues affecting our colleagues and clientele, and to identify those things we can do to achieve organizational and societal goals that achieve equity and the ability to thrive for all.
I also want to emphasize our ongoing commitment to hearing the various voices within our workplace and in all the places we engage with our programs and services. In a century of service, we have learned a great deal… but in the last few months we have experienced some unprecedented challenges that have helped us learn more about one another and about ways to communicate, create, and share what Extension has to offer. Let’s use this moment in time to be the connectors, conveners, co-creators, resource sharers, and anchors in our communities to positively affect our neighbors and communities. A colleague of mine said it well, “Our best path forward is one where we are together serving as a connector for all community voices. It’s a path Extension has walked for more than a century and one that will continue to shape the impact of our work around the state.”
This weekend, I had several individuals reach out to me as I was reflecting on our current events across the nation with similar musings; and they expressed their desire to be proactive, responsive, and actively involved as an Extension organization in addressing racism, social inequities, and other unacceptable forms of discrimination and abuse. I was happy to see this unsolicited support for engaging in a collective effort to lead with compassion, understanding, educational opportunities, acceptance, and to try to make a positive impact for future generations.
I reached out to our co-chairs of the Extension Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Task Force to see if we could pull together a meeting this week with Extension Administrative Cabinet to have a dialogue and sharing of ideas around how to ideate, partner, and engage effectively on these important issues facing us as individuals, communities, and as a nation. We will be meeting this Wednesday to begin this dialogue. I hope to leave this meeting with some specific thoughts about Extension’s internal and external approach to making a difference and impacting necessary change. This first meeting will be just Cabinet and DEI members, but we will expand our efforts for statewide engagement following this discussion.
In the meantime, I encourage you to think about how to engage in your communities and to be a catalyst and partner for healing and change.
Below are some excellent resources as you reflect on how we can better address some of the racial and social inequities through research, education, and engagement:
- OSU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion – odi.osu.edu
- Office of Institutional Equity – equity.osu.edu
- Kirwan Institute – kirwaninstitute.osu.edu