Are Concerns About Civil Rights For Extension Still Valid Today?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted 50 years ago this summer. Since that time discrimination in the U.S. has been drastically reduced, but not snuffed out. Systemic biases against minorities still exist. Look at these charts if you’re not convinced.

Thus, as an institution with the mission to serve the people in our communities, we must continue to be diligent in our efforts to identify and reach out to people who can benefit from our programs, yet are underserved.

Often, audiences who are underserved, become that way due to barriers that restrict or handicap their full participation in Extension’s educational program offerings. Historically, the most common barrier has been one’s race or ethnicity. But being of a racial minority is just one of many potential challenges impacting underserved audiences. Other common potential obstacles include one’s gender, age, language, education level, income, physical or mental disability, the geographic location of one’s residence, access to transportation and to technology, one’s sexual orientation, religion, or cultural values.

Barriers may also be in place within ourselves. Due to fears of the unknown, or preconceptions, stereotypes, or personal biases, we may be reluctant to reach out to minorities. Or we may not be aware of the existence of underserved audiences, or we may lack the skills and knowledge to work with people different from ourselves.

It is because of these barriers that we continue to follow the steps necessary to be compliant to our civil rights expectations. That’s why we do civil rights reviews and document our all reasonable efforts. As our communities become more diverse in many ways, and issues become more complicated, it is just as important today as it was 50 years ago to insure that we are serving and enabling all people equitably.

Joe Hunnings

4 thoughts on “Are Concerns About Civil Rights For Extension Still Valid Today?

  1. DB Heath

    When I came into the system twenty plus years ago, I think the organization did a good job teaching me as an agent that underserved were African Americans but now we are challenged to think border than this audience and it kept me on my toes to think in those terms when I was an agent as it relates to who was my underserved and how do I reach them.

    1. Joe Hunnings

      You are so right. In the heyday of the civil rights movement we primarily focused on working to overcome the barriers to African-American participation in our programs. But today’s world is very different. We are so much more diverse now than then. And in the hustle and bustle of doing our jobs, we often forget to reflect on who those underserved audiences are today in our communities.

  2. Dan Goerlich

    Several years ago I believe there were instances where selected localities required individuals to show proof of citizenship in order to be eligible for county services. If I remember correctly, one or more localities also made this request of their Extension office(s). In other words, an agent may have been asked by the locality to require that program participants show proof of citizenship before being allowed into an event. With the current national debate regarding immigration, I can see the potential for the above scenario to materialize once again at the local level. Which begs the question….what takes precedence, Civil Rights legislation or immigration law? The easy answer is to say that VCE serves all clients regardless of…..but this is a complex conversation to have, particularly when it involves an emotionally charged topic and the local funding partner. Your thoughts about how agents can/should approach this conversation should it arise? Thanks!

  3. Joe Hunnings

    Dan, that is a great question, but well beyond my expertise. Luckily we have at our disposal qualified help for these types of issues. So here is a reply from The VT University Counsel on your question:

    It is an interesting question, but it would ultimately be very fact specific. In other words, the specific directive from the locality would need to be considered along with the current guidance from state and federal authorities. Should this particular issue arise, this office would seek guidance from the head of the Attorney General’s Education Section, who would seek guidance from Attorney General Mark Herring. In short, if and when the situation occurs, the Attorney General will make the call.

    M. Hudson McClanahan
    Associate University Legal Counsel
    Virginia Tech – University Legal Counsel


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