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.