June 22, 2021
The Journey Toward Cultural Competence
When I stepped into the role of Operations Leader in December of 2018, one of the first tasks I was confronted with was improving KSRE’s civil rights compliance efforts. “No problem,” I thought. I had 23 years of extension experience. I’d been through civil rights reviews as an agent and local unit director. This was a technical challenge with a checklist of tasks to complete, at least so it seemed on the surface. As a system we tackled this challenge with gusto and have made significant improvement in our compliance efforts, but still have work to do in reaching underserved audiences and diversifying our boards and PDCs.
In the spring of 2019, Dr. Hadley called me into his office and tasked me with leading the KSRE Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force with pretty hefty expectations to show tangible results in improving our organization’s DEI culture. I hope the terror I felt in my heart that day wasn’t apparent on my face. This was definitely an adaptive challenge. There weren’t checklists to follow and quite frankly, our organization had been working on cultural change for nearly two decades with little tangible success. I had no formal training in this area and was far from an expert (still am). What I did have was a passion for upholding the Cooperative Extension mission of providing education and resources to ALL Kansans to help them improve their lives, livelihoods and communities, the ability and willingness to learn, and a great team of extension professionals to work with.
So began my intentional journey on the road toward cultural competence. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been learning about other cultures since I was a child and have worked hard to reach out to diverse audiences as an extension professional, but I’ve still got a long journey ahead of me and I’ve got to be intentional to reach my destination. Developing cultural competence is an individual journey which helps us understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures. It gives us the ability to compare different cultures with our own and better understand the differences. It helps us to be better extension professionals, and when we all embrace the journey, will result in a better organization.
In an article titled, “What is Cultural Competence and How to Develop It,” our colleagues at Penn State Extension have identified four attributes to guide you in developing cultural competence:
• Self-knowledge and awareness about one's own culture.
• Awareness of one's own cultural worldview.
• Experience and knowledge of different cultural practices.
• Attitude toward cultural differences.
To this list of attributes, I’ll add a few things that I’ve learned in the past couple of years:
• We’re all at different places in our journey, and that’s OK. Our clients, boards and PDC’s are no exception. Meet them where they are.
• Have an adventurous spirit; be willing to take risks and try new things!
• Look for cultural guides to point you in the right direction.
• You’re going to stumble and make mistakes along the way. Be humble, be teachable, be flexible.
• You’re going to be uncomfortable. Expect it and embrace it as a way to grow.
The DEI task force worked for many months to assess our organizational needs, develop a strategic action plan, and identify resources to assist KSRE professionals in developing cultural competence. Earlier this year, the task force was sunset and a DEI Accountability Work Group was appointed to see that the strategic action plan was carried out. Members of this group are: Rebecca McFarland, Aliah Mestrovich-Seay, Clint Bain, Nozella Brown, Jonathan Aguilar, Ignacio Ciampitti, Mirna Bonilla, Ariel Whitely-Noll, Linda Gilmore, Sue Sing Lim, Zelia Wiley and Jennifer Wilson.
This week, I am pleased to announce that as a part of the strategic plan, we have launched a new diversity, equity and inclusion website which contains a variety of tools and resources as well as the KSRE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Position Statement developed by the task force and a copy of the strategic action plan. The former civil rights and disability accommodations websites have been integrated into this new site. Professional development opportunities are available and more will be posted as they become available. If you have suggestions for resources to include in this site, please contact me or a member of the accountability work group.
Working together, we can improve our collective cultural competence. Please join me on this journey.