Keys to Effective Extension Programs with Latino Audiences

By Beverly Hobbs, 4-H Youth Development Specialist, OSU Extension Service

Oregon 4-H is becoming more diverse as it engages an increasing number of first and second generation Latino youth and families. Since 1997, the program has made the involvement of Latino youth a program priority, and steps taken to increase Latino membership have met with success.

Today, one third of Oregon County 4-H programs have identified outreach efforts underway with over 2500 Latino youth and 169 Latino adult volunteers involved in out-of-school programming. This represents a gain of 400% from the base year of 1995-1996.

The success of outreach efforts reflects the increased capacity of Oregon 4-H to appropriately respond to the Latino culture. 4-H has changed the way it meets and invites Latino families to participate and has added new program content and new program delivery formats to meet the needs and interests of Latino youth. Most importantly it has increased the diversity of Extension staff.

A review of Oregon’s 4-H outreach experience over the last seven years reveals some key elements of effective practice. Among them are the following.

Make a firm commitment. Outreach to new and diverse audiences is demanding work. It challenges a person’s outlook on life and sense of competency. It is a personal as much as a professional journey.

  • Do not undertake outreach unless a long-term commitment can be made. Outreach is not something that is done only as long as the grant funds last.
  • Outreach should be viewed as a broadening of current Extension practice and integral to Extension work.
  • Outreach is the work of all Extension personnel, not just the work of those hired specifically for an outreach position.
  • To succeed, the commitment to outreach must be there on the part of the organization and the individual professional.

Employ bilingual/bicultural outreach staff. The presence of outreach staff who have a deep understanding of the Latino culture and who are fluent in the Spanish language greatly facilitates the process of building relationships and establishing trust with Latino community members.

  • It is not necessary that staff be Latino. Non-Latino bilingual/bicultural staff can successfully fill this role.
  • All outreach staff must be able to relate to and be accepted by the targeted community.
  • If unable to hire their own bilingual/bicultural staff, programs can conduct outreach by partnering with organizations with established ties to the Latino community. This is often a slower process with more limited outcomes.

Emphasize relationships over tasks. Recognize and reflect the importance of personal relationships when working with Latinos.

  • Before programs are designed and implemented, considerable time must be spent getting to know the community and individuals within.
  • Relationships must be built with individuals and families as well as organizations.
  • Take the time to attend to the personal before moving to the task.
  • When it comes time to invite participation, do so personally by phone or face to face.

Create a welcoming Extension office.

  • Hang posters or set out decorative objects reflective of the Latino culture.
  • Have signs and printed materials available in Spanish.
  • Employ someone who speaks Spanish as the office receptionist.

Involve youth and families in the design of programs. Do not try to fit new audiences into existing programs designed for traditional Extension audiences.

  • Ask youth and families what they want for programs, identifying both needs and interests.
  • Be prepared to develop new programs (baile folklorico and soccer clubs, robotics and videography classes) or to modify existing ones (teach computer classes in Spanish).
  • Once programs are ongoing, seek regular feedback and keep parents informed of what is happening.

Create programs that reflect the Latino culture and create a comfortable learning environment.

  • Target programs specifically to Latinos. It is very appropriate for programs to initially attract primarily or exclusively Latino membership.
  • Deliver programs in a language that is most comfortable for families.
  • Seek Latino volunteers.
  • Offer a family approach to programs, for instance, parent/child sewing or computer instruction.

Offer separate volunteer training as needed. Most Latinos do not have an understanding of Extension as an organization or its programs. They also may have limited literacy in English and in Spanish.

  • Explain community-based youth development programs, the particulars of 4-H, and the role of volunteers.
  • Demonstrate programs.
  • Offer plenty of help with paperwork and carefully explain why information is needed, who will see it, and how it will be used.
  • Provide information in the preferred language of volunteers.
  • Use demonstration and group interaction to deliver training rather than relying on written information.

Proceed slowly, thoughtfully, and incrementally. Don’t attempt too much at one time.

  • Outreach programs usually require a good deal of support. Trying to quickly meet everyone’s needs will over tax outreach staff.
  • Staff will need to demonstrate programs, and volunteers often will need a period of mentoring in addition to group training before they are willing to take on leadership responsibilities.

Work with community partners. Partnerships promote the sustainability of programs. Partnerships are also critical to helping Latino youth and families access resources Extension cannot provide.

  • Work to build a local coalition in support of the positive development of Latino youth.
  • Help Latino families access resources by connecting them with other community organizations.
  • Help community organizations become more responsive to the Latino community.

Support outreach staff. A culturally diverse staff requires that attention be paid to developing effective working relationships. Cultural differences impact work styles, preferred styles of communication, and expectations.

  • Teamwork should characterize the work environment with frequent communication between staff.
  • Co-workers should acknowledge the importance of outreach efforts.
  • Time should be dedicated to helping all staff better understand cultural differences and to building trust between co-workers.

Provide state level Extension support and leadership. Working with the Latino audience represents risk-taking for many Extension agents. It puts them in an unfamiliar environment and challenges their feelings of competence.

  • Dedicating state staff time to outreach reinforces the importance of Latino outreach and brings additional resources to the effort.
  • State leadership also promotes connection between county outreach efforts, facilitating the sharing of information and experience and the development of a network of support.

Provide staff training. Building cultural competence takes both training and experience.

  • A planned staff development program focused on working with culturally diverse audiences increases skill levels and builds community among those who work in outreach.
  • Training should pertain to work with Extension audiences as well as to working relationships among Extension colleagues.

Develop supporting resources. Outreach will prompt requests for new resources, especially ones to help current staff understand diverse cultures and to help diverse audiences understand Extension.

  • These tools are important to the success of outreach staff.
  • Products developed in Oregon include a Latino Outreach web site, a publication on Latino volunteerism, a Spanish language video to explain 4-H to Latino youth and adults , and a bilingual 4-H recruitment brochure.

The Oregon Outreach 4-H experience has been extremely positive. The interest and involvement of Latino families, the personal and professional growth of staff, and the positive impact on our traditional audiences and other community organizations reinforce our commitment to reaching and engaging Oregon’s diverse communities.

Quality movement in business and organization

The Language of “Blink:” A Hot New Diversity Tool
By Judith Aftergut, Executive Director, the Honoring Institute, Portland, Oregon

Quality Movement

The Quality movement in business and organization has occurred in three major phases. It began with the idea of the production line in the 1920’s at Ford Motor Company, and with the idea that each item produced is the same as every other item. In the 1970’s, the concept of continuous improvement took the quality movement to a next step. Current ideas about quality have moved to the idea that what is required in a fast changing world is the capacity to respond to change. It is not simply continuous improvement that is required, but rather breakthroughs in how people think and solve problems. That is the link to the usefulness of “snap judgments” or intuition—skills that (when used well) build people’s capacities to make the best choices in the midst of changing circumstances.

Prayer in a Public Institution

By Harvey L. Lineberry, II, Assistant Dean for Personnel, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State University

Prayer in a public institution and workplace can be a one-way road to dissension and divisiveness, or it can find itself as the “chalice” or “conveyer” of constructive education and meaningful dialogue. The outcome of this issue is most often driven by many factors within an organization and most notably as a function of leadership, both formal and informal, as a means of effective organizational movement. Additionally, for public entities this issue is interlaced with legal
At first glance, the easy road to choose is to ignore this matter all together and just allow each situation to deal with this issue in its own way and to manage the fall-out of that strategy. It takes enormous leadership leaps of integrity to address this in a direct, honest, professional and caring way that serves to build the organizational skill tool-kit that helps not only the immediate organization, but hopefully the community, state and nation. We must ask ourselves the difficult questions: What is it that innately drives us to label negatively those whom we perceive as “less than” in order to make ourselves feel more powerful or more deserving? What role and responsibility do we have in understanding this dynamic and changing it for our children and the multi-faceted society that we know is on its way in the years and decades to come? Based on this knowledge, it is incumbent on our institutions and organizations to help us with this education and to challenge us. Growth is not always painless, but neither is it something that can be delayed to any great extent without consequences.

It is important to note that during these past few months we have reached the full gamut of viewpoints on this issue. There have been individuals within our organization indicating that the “University” would not “allow” prayers to be said, which raised concern by many within and outside of our organization. We have also experienced our employees attending a meeting (not sponsored by the College) where a person was invited to “stand outside” when they expressed their concern over a traditional prayer being spoken at a public meeting. It is clear, there are heightened emotions at both ends of this issue and our goal is to find a place of respect and common ground where we can deal responsibly with each person in our organization, community and clients. Again, the easy road is to complain and talk about all the reasons why the “glass is half-empty,” rather than invest the energy and time to educate ourselves about how that glass could be portrayed as “half-full,” and the reasons why we should look at it so.


Bound by Law

As educators and public servants connected not only with the State of North Carolina, but the federal government as well, we must be aware of the foundation or basis of the concern over prayer in a public environment. We are bound by law, legal precedent and the First Amendment of the Constitution, which mandates separation of church and state in the sense of any and all religion. The information which is available regarding the various specific legal cases serve as the true foundation of “WHY” this is fact, but in no way frames the “HOW” part of the discussion.

Within the context of our responsibility as a public institution we can better explain a different approach to the “why” and to help you with the “how.” Former U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren spoke to these issues in great detail in his memoirs. You might know that as Governor of California he was part of the decision making team which chose to inter Japanese Americans during War World II and was seated as Chief Justice when the landmark civil rights and desegregation decisions were made in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The following is an excerpt from his memoirs:

We (the Supreme Court) also were heavily attacked by many people, particularly legislators, when we declared compulsory prayers in the public schools to be unconstitutional. I vividly remember one bold newspaper headline saying, “Court outlaws God.” Many religious denominations in this same spirit condemned the Court, although most of them have receded from that position. Scores of Constitutional Amendments and legislative bills were proposed in the Congress to circumvent the decision but were later abandoned when the public came to recognize that the ruling was not an irreligious one. Rather it tried to maintain the separation of church and state guaranteed by the First Amendment. ….. The majority of us on the Court were religious people, yet we found it unconstitutional that any state agency should impose a religious exercise on persons who were by law free to practice religion or not without state interference. (“The Memoirs of Chief Justice Earl Warren,” page 315.)

Part of this premise is to understand that our society is majority Christian. This majority position can often lead us to make assumptions and/or to proceed without thoughtful planning as to our impact on others. These majority assumptions play out in every facet of our lives and every day of our lives – and in playing out, be it through “omission” or “commission” the reality is that it can be extremely hurtful and reflects a lack of respect for those who are “discounted.” In addressing the issues of “majority,” Chief Justice Warren notes “… it is human nature for the dominant group in a nation to keep pressing for further domination, and unless the Court has the fiber to accord justice to the weakest member of the society, regardless of the pressure brought upon it, we never can achieve our goal of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ for everyone.” (“The Memoirs of Chief Justice Earl Warren,” page 335.)

Our Responsibility

We, within the requirements of the law, have a responsibility to honor and respect all who are present in our programs, meetings, classrooms, and in our offices. We have a responsibility to our colleagues to be aware and informed on these issues and to exercise professional sensitivity in all situations over which we have control or are planning. When asked to give a public “prayer” or remarks as a meeting begins or ends, or at a meal time, it is important that these remarks, delivered in a secular setting, should serve to bind your group together in a common concern that is identifiable to every person and not dependant on any particular faith. Again, either by omission or commission, words directed and built with Christian phraseology can become unintentionally divisive because they exclude persons of other faiths, or those not expressing a position of faith. Individuals who lead the general community in prayer have the responsibility to be clear about the public nature of the occasion and respectful of the composition of the audience. Words spoken on behalf of an entire community, University, or College, should be easily shared by any listener, regardless of their beliefs and is both a privilege and a marked responsibility.

Some make the comment that this approach to the issue does not “honor” their particular belief system. Everyone has a right to his or her own religion and that is in essence the point of this entire issue – EVERYONE HAS A RIGHT TO THEIR OWN RELIGION and no one should feel infringed upon. Our challenge is to offer words that are reflective of this understanding and respectful of all. If you are uncomfortable in planning and delivering secular and inclusive remarks, then you should feel free to decline any invitation to offer one. It is a matter of inclusiveness, both for you and for the audience and we want to be clear about our intent to be sensitive to that fact. As educators, we can very quietly and effectively step up to the plate and help all our partners across the state to see how we accomplish this inclusive language through example rather than presenting this as “we are not allowed to pray.” Again, it is so important to look at what holds us together in common ground rather than to seek out that which divides us from one another – do our words and actions seek to build rather than tear down or do harm?

Our Challenge

It is logical to see the United States as one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world. Some accounts show that non-Christians number in excess of 20% in the U.S. and that this number is growing each year. Suffice it to say, diversity, or pluralism, is a fact of life and one that any dynamic organization must recognize and address in a proactive and forward thinking manner. However, it is extremely important to understand that religious diversity means only that different religions (including non-religious beliefs) coexist and in no way implies that individuals accept these religions or positions as valid. Therefore, our challenge is to determine how we express respect for each person at the place they find themselves in their religious journey and still be true to an organization founded on the principle of advancing the purpose of education through the “extension” of research to our clients statewide. Most people in the U.S. and the rest of the world probably take an exclusivist, or “dominate” position: they believe that their religion, and only theirs, is completely true. Most believe that their God communicated universal truths by special revelation given to their spiritual ancestors or patriarchs. This knowledge has been passed on to present-day humanity, often in the form of religious texts. Many people hold tenaciously to their particular faith, believing it to be God’s revealed wish for all humanity. Some may even view other faith groups, those without a “faith community” or denominations within their own religion to be false. This type of exclusivity can sometimes develop easily into hatred, or intolerance, of any “other” interpretation of position. Religious exclusivity is often a major cause of much of the world’s civil unrest, civil wars, mass crimes against humanity and genocide. Yet, in balance to many places in the world, the U. S. has enjoyed a high level of religious freedom and a relative absence of religiously motivated conflict — even though exclusivism is probably predominant here.

Over time, the American public has developed a heightened regard for human rights, including religious freedom. Thus, they are willing to tolerate other religious beliefs, even though they consider them to be inconsistent with their own. Too many times this “toleration” is only given as long as it doesn’t impact them in any way, or ask them to modify their own sense of conduct or expression, even in public settings. If this is true, then it would appear that the best way to reduce religiously based friction throughout the world is for governments and religious institutions to promote human rights generally, religious freedom in particular, and respect for all globally.

It is to this end that I ask that we, each in our own way, seek to understand a different point of view on this issue – not in a way that seeks to change any belief systems, but to the extent that they allow us to reach a place of compassion and respect for our colleagues, friends and neighbors who may have different beliefs than we. Regardless, there is room for each of us at the table of respect and understanding for our brothers and sisters in this freedom. I would ask each person within the College, on and off campus, to join me in this effort. Speak to others in your office, or members of the Diversity Catalyst Team about what it means to honor each person within our organization and what steps might we undertake to do just that. Seek out ways to offer ecumenical and inclusive words of thanks and remember that leading in this way is both a privilege and a responsibility.

It is evident that there are many places along a continuum that we might find ourselves on this issue. We recognize this as the reality of our existence in the present nation and world and our need to understand and respect those around us. It is in being a diligent steward of our colleagues and clients that lead us to a higher place of functioning, if not understanding. This place that we find ourselves is one that honors and supports our various points of view and allows for secure footing along the continuum as we conduct our daily work. To this end, I would encourage you to find a place of humility and understanding for all of our colleagues and to look past our own “reality” to a place of inclusion and tolerance – to a place of the future. In closing, I would leave you with only a few examples of inclusive reflections.

Constructing an Inclusive Public “Prayer”

  • Seek the highest common denominator without compromise of conscience.
  • Use forms and vocabulary that allow persons of different faiths to give assent to what is said.
  • Use the language most widely understood by the audience, unless one purpose of the event is to express ethnic/cultural diversity, in which case multiple languages can be effective.
  • Consider other creative alternatives, such as a moment of silence.
  • Remain faithful to the purpose of giving thanks and that it is not used as an opportunity to preach, argue or testify.

Examples of Inclusive Reflections

Appropriate examples for use as a meal is served (these can be easily modified to begin or conclude a meeting):


We meet together in an effort to build community, to advance education and understanding. We seek the patience of one another as we strive to learn and grow and the stamina to make a difference in our state, nation and world. We express our thanks for the gifts of life and for the food that we are about to partake of.



We gather here today as colleagues and friends with attention to a common goal. That goal is the continued service to the citizens of our state through our programs and information. We understand our responsibilities as committed educators as well as learners – personally and professionally. It is obvious that we work and live in challenging times. We seek the patience of each other as we strive to learn and grow, and the stamina to make a difference in our state, nation and the world.
We express our thanks for an opportunity to gather together where we can reinforce our community principles of openness and engagement for all people, for the gifts of life and for the food that has been prepared for us. For all this, we are thankful.


A Prayer for the World
Let the rain come and wash away the ancient grudges, the bitter hatreds held and nurtured over generations. Let the rain wash away the memory of the hurt, the neglect. Then let the sun come out and fill the sky with rainbows. Let the warmth of the sun heal us wherever we are broken. Let it burn away the fog so that we can see each other clearly so that we can see beyond labels, beyond accents, gender, or skin color. Let the warmth and brightness of the sun melt our selfishness so that we can share the joys and feel the sorrows of our neighbors. And let the light of the sun be so strong that we will see all people as our neighbors. Let the earth, nourished by rain, bring forth flowers to surround us with beauty. And let the mountains teach our hearts to reach upward.
Rabbi Harold S. Kushner (with slight modification)

Thoughtful Quotes

I would like to share with you some thoughtful quotes that I think reflect the diversity of this issue and in fact, address this point from a variety of perspectives. (I should note for the record, I do not endorse any person or overall positions of those whose statements are included below, they simply serve as points of thought along a continuum.)

“I ask you to uphold the values of America and remember why so many have come here. We’re in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.”
George W. Bush, President. Address to a joint session of Congress, 2001-SEP-20.

“It is very important to understand that pluralism is part of our system. We don’t all think the same thing and part of our strength is that we come from different perspectives. We have to respect one another even when we disagree with each other. There has to be a spirit of tolerance for the views of others, while also being deeply committed to the positions we hold. If we do that, I think we can coexist and learn to love each other better.”
James Dobson, founder and president of “Focus on the Family” interviewed by Tony Snow of Fox News Channel, 2001-SEP-20

“The wiser you are, the more you believe in equality, because the difference between what the most and the least learned people know is inexpressibly trivial in relation to all that is unknown.”
Albert Einstein

“The millions of Christians in this country reflect just about every conceivable political point of view. For one highly conservative group to proclaim itself ‘the Christian Coalition’ strikes me as decidedly un-Christian arrogance…. We reflect countless races, religions and lifestyles, and we often differ on questions of morality and behavior. The only way so diverse a nation can survive is by all of us practicing a high degree of tolerance. But tolerance is not the way of the Christian right. Its leaders want to impose their one-size-fits-all morality on everyone. It won’t work. When any group tries to impose its values on everyone else, the result will inevitably be resentment, hatred and violence.”
Senator Warren Rudman

“When the dust settles and the pages of history are written, it will not be the angry defenders of intolerance who have made the difference. The reward will go to those who dared to step outside the safety of their privacy in order to expose and rout the prevailing prejudices.”
John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
Blaise Paschal: Often attributed to Sam J. Ervin, Jr., in “Protecting the Constitution” (1984).

“It was Christians, you know, not Pagans, who were responsible for the Holocaust. It was Christians, not Pagans, who lynched people here in the South, who burned people at the stake, frequently in the name of this Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking at Ebenezer Baptist Church, to participants in the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches in 2000-JAN. (In the same speech, he reminded his audience that the racist apartheid policy in his native South Africa was also created by Christians, not Pagans.)

The Long Walk Home

With Ellen Summerfield

Long Walk Home





Take the Empathy Quiz

Read About Empathy, Cross-Cultural Skill #1

Cross-Cultural Skill #1: Empathy

This section on The Long Walk Home is used with permission of Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME, and adapted from Seeing the Big Picture: Exploring American Cultures on Film, by Ellen Summerfield and Sandra Lee, 2001.


Who’s Who in the Film

Odessa Cotter (“Dessie”)

African American boycotter and maid in the Thompson home

Herbert Cotter

Odessa’s husband

Selma Cotter


Theodore Cotter

older son

Franklin Cotter

younger son

Miriam Thompson

white, Southern wife and mother in household employing Odessa

Norman Thompson

Miriam’s husband

Mary Catherine “Boo Boo”

younger daughter and narrator

Sara Thompson

older daughter

Tunker Thompson

Norman’s brother


black maid
The Long Walk Home gives us the chance to focus on one of the most important cross-cultural skills: empathy.

The ability to empathize requires imagination, knowledge, and compassion. To empathize with another person, I must recognize and remember that other people are different from myself, and I need to have some knowledge of what these differences are. My knowledge can help me try to imagine what another person is feeling in a given situation, which is not necessarily what I would be feeling in the same situation.

So an adult who sees a child lost in a grocery store can feel sympathy knowing that anyone who is lost is likely to feel confused and upset, but empathy only if the adult is able to imagine in particular what a lost child might be feeling.

An outgoing social butterfly can empathize with a shy woman sitting by herself at a party if the outgoing person can imagine what it might feel like to be shy.

Thus empathy requires that you try to look through the other’s eyes rather than through your own.

In cross-cultural terms, this means that a Chinese person, for example, can never really know what it feels like to be Mexican, but if the Chinese person studies Spanish, travels to Mexico, and has Mexican friends, she can begin to imagine a situation from the “Mexican” point of view.

As you view or think back on the film The Long Walk Home, think of a scene in which a character demonstrates empathy.


History Flash: Understanding The Long Walk Home

The 1955-56 Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott, which is the subject of The Long Walk Home, was described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “one of the greatest [movements] in the history of the nation.” This boycott can be seen as both a beginning and an end. What was coming to an end was almost a century of struggle by African Americans to overthrow rigid legal and extralegal segregation. In a country founded on the principles of democracy and equality, this segregation kept blacks apart and subjugated, denied them the basic opportunities of American society, and persecuted them in the most violent ways.


Multicultural golden rule for empathizing

Treat others as you think they would like to be treated.


When the South lost the Civil War (1861-65) and two centuries of slavery came to an end, an estimated four million blacks dared to believe that a new life was possible for them. Indeed, the situation for African Americans quickly began to improve, and impressive initial strides were made. But the progress during the so-called Reconstruction period was brief. A backlash of momentous proportions on the part of primarily Southern whites, accompanied by massacres, lynchings, mutilations, rapes, and whippings, acted to replace slavery not with long-awaited equality and freedom, but with a new form of oppression—“Jim Crow” segregation.

Who was Jim Crow? Some believe he was a slave, or a soldier, and others say the label came from the saying “black as a crow.” Whatever the case, the name was first heard by the public in 1832 when a white performer danced on the stage in a comic imitation of blacks to a tune about “Jim Crow.” Soon a common character in minstrel shows, Jim Crow evolved into a synonym for the Negro, and his “comic” way of life, and by the turn of the century into a term referring to the near total separation of blacks and whites in the country.

While this system of apartheid was more open and virulent in the South, border and northern states also participated to varying degrees. Hundreds of laws, decrees, and customs kept the races apart by requiring separate restrooms, restaurants, hotels, parks, theaters, drinking fountains, railroad cars, and schools. Blacks were to be born in Negro hospitals and buried in Negro cemeteries. In South Carolina, black and white cotton-mill workers were not allowed to look out the same window; in Oklahoma there were separate telephone booths; and in Birmingham, Alabama, blacks and whites were forbidden to play chess together. In 1896, the Jim Crow doctrine was given the blessing of the Supreme Court in the infamous case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The Court decided that the states’ “separate but equal” laws did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, despite the wording of this amendment that

No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States, nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Throughout the years of Jim Crow, opposition was ongoing, strong, and creative. Distinguished black leaders—W. E. B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, William Monroe Trotter, Mary McLeod Bethune, Marcus Moziah Garvey, Asa Philip Randolph, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., Ralph J. Bunche, Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy, Charles H. Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and numerous others—devised strategies to keep the dream of equality alive against fierce opposition and the constant threat of violence by members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white militants. Moreover, countless unknown individuals stood up for their rights and worked for the cause, knowingly risking, and often sacrificing, their lives. Blacks worked through the courts, through the media, through labor unions, through national organizations, and in the military to gain a proper place in American life.

By the time of the boycott in Montgomery, a tradition of protest was well-established in black America. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent resistance, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., a little-known twenty-six-year-old pastor at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, led workers, common people, professionals, students, and children in a masterfully orchestrated plan of great daring that inspired a national movement for civil rights.

It began when Rosa Parks, a 42 year-old seamstress and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) member, was arrested for refusing to yield her seat on a bus to a white man. At that time, although black patrons accounted for more than three-fourths of all riders in Montgomery, black riders were forced to sit in the back of the buses—the front rows were reserved for whites—and to give up a seat to any white person who would otherwise have to stand. What was first planned as a one-day boycott of the buses in Montgomery in protest of Rosa Parks’ arrest became a massive action that lasted over a year, from December 5, 1955, to December 20, 1956. As seen in The Long Walk Home, organized carpools were critical to the success of the boycott; the sponsors of the boycott provided up to twenty thousand rides daily. The Long Walk Home focuses primarily on the first stage of the boycott.

Useful Terms

African American

widely accepted term that places emphasis on the origins of most American blacks; replaces the outdated term Afro American.


widely accepted term, often interchangeable with African American, that arose in the civil rights era as an affirmation of one’s skin color (black pride, black power, “black is beautiful” slogan).


term originating with the Spanish and Portuguese colonists, from the word negro, meaning “black”; widely used in the period between the two world wars; replaced the outdated term colored, but is now outdated itself.


term dating from the earliest days of slavery; unacceptable today except in certain historical contexts and titles (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

;People of color’

term that gained popularity in the 1980s to refer to nonwhites, especially African, Native, Hispanic, and Asian Americans, and emphasize their solidarity.

The enslaved

enslaved persons, preferred by some African Americans to “slaves”, which does not convey the reality of oppression but rather suggests a permanent status or condition.


highly derogatory term when used by nonblacks; sometimes used by blacks to refer to themselves; sometimes called the “N-word.”


ideology that places greater emphasis on the role of African cultures as they have affected American and world history than does the prevalent “Eurocentric” approach.

Related Books

Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America

Bennett, Lerone, Jr., 6th ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1988.

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story

King, Martin Luther, Jr. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958.

Quiet Strength

Parks, Rosa. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.

The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It

Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1987.

Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years 1954-65

Williams, Juan. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

Related Films

Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Years (1986)

The story of the civil rights struggle between 1954 and 1965 comes alive through news footage, photographs, and personal recollections. Winner of dozens of national awards. Six-part series (PBS Video).

Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)

Thirty years after the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, his case is reopened in a search for justice.

Mississippi Burning (1988)

The FBI investigates the disappearance of three white civil rights workers in Mississippi during the summer of 1964.

Separate But Equal (1991)

Traces events leading to landmark Supreme Court victory in the Brown v. Board of Education case. The hero, Thurgood Marshall, is played by Sidney Poitier.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

Classic film about a lawyer in a small southern town who defends a black man accused of raping a white woman. Based on a novel by Harper Lee.

Rent and View The Long Walk Home

Check your local library, commercial video store, or online catalogs to order a copy.

Find Examples of Empathy in the Movie — Think About…


As you view or reflect on The Long Walk Home, think of a scene in which a character demonstrates empathy.

  • Why you think the character is able to empathize in this particular scene?
  • How the character expresses empathy with actions, words, or nonverbal behavior?
  • What else did you observe in this scene?

Smoke Signals

With Ellen Summerfield

Smoke Signals








Take the Stereotype Quiz

Read About the Film and the Author

About the Film

Smoke Signals is the first full-length feature film to be written, produced, directed, and acted (in all major roles) entirely by Native Americans. Based loosely on the 1994 short novel by Sherman Alexie entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, it won two awards when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. By all measures, it is a landmark film.

Alexie himself wanted the film to break with tradition. In an interview with the Oregonian (July 7, 1998), he says that Smoke Signals “challenges the cinematic history of Indians.” His Indian characters are virtually new to the big screen, posing a contrast to the stereotypes of Indians as “stoic and alcoholic,” as “depressed poor people.” According to Alexie, “Indians are the most joyous people in the world.” He says, “The two funniest groups of people I’ve been around have been Indians and Jews. So I guess there’s something to be said about the inherent humor of genocide.”

About the Author

One of six siblings, Sherman Alexie grew up in poverty on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington State. His mother is part Spokane and a Protestant, and his father is full-blood Coeur d’Alene and a Catholic. Both of his parents were alcoholics, but his mother was able to break her addiction when her son was seven years old, and she subsequently became a tribal drug and alcohol abuse counselor.

A frail and sickly child, Alexie realized early that humor was an effective way to stave off bullies. “People like to laugh, and when you make them laugh they listen to you. That’s how I get people to listen to me now…. I’m saying things people don’t like for me to say. I’m saying very aggressive, controversial things, I suppose, about race and gender and sexuality. I’m way left [in my viewpoints], but if you say it funny, people listen. If you don’t make ‘em laugh, they’ll walk away.” (Biblio Magazine, March 1999).

Also partly to avoid getting beat up, Alexie spent a lot of time in the reservation school library. His father, who often stayed home while his mother worked, read to him and gave him books. Alexie attended junior high and high school off the reservation, in the nearby mostly white town of Reardon. Successful as a basketball player, honor society member, class president, and debater, he received a scholarship to Gonzaga University, a Jesuit College in Spokane.

But he began to drink heavily and dropped out of Gonzaga. Later he enrolled at Washington State University in Pullman. He credits Alex Kuo, his professor in a poetry-writing class, with helping him to discover his talent and profession as a writer. Several poems written in Kuo’s class ended up in his first book, The Business of Fancydancing (1992). While still living in Pullman, Alexie sobered up and became a popular figure at local poetry readings.

Since 1992, Alexie’s literary career has been remarkable. Though he considers himself primarily a poet and has published eight volumes of poetry, his widespread popularity has come from his fiction and screenplays. His works include:

Poetry, trade editions

The Business of Fancydancing

Brooklyn: Hanging Loose Press, 1992.

First Indian on the Moon

Brooklyn: Hanging Loose Press, 1993.

Old Shirts & New Skins

Los Angeles: American Indian Studies Center, UCLA, 1993.

The Summer of Black Widows

Brooklyn: Hanging Loose Press, 1996.

Poetry, limited editions

I Would Steal Horses

Niagara Falls, New York: Slipstream Publications, 1992.

Seven Mourning Songs for the Cedar Flute I Have Yet to Learn to Play

Walla Walla, Washington: Whitman College Book Arts Lab, 1994.

Water Flowing Home

Boise: Limberlost Press, 1996.

The Man Who Loves Salmon

Boise: Limberlost Press, 1998.


The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1993.

Reservation Blues

New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995.

Indian Killer

New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1996.

The Toughest Indian in the World

New York: Grove Press, 2000.

Ten Little Indians

New York: Grove Press, 2003.


Smoke Signals

New York: Hyperion Press, 1998.


One Little Indian Boy

Seattle: co-published by One Reel and Sasquatch Books, 1994.

White Men Can’t Drum

New York Times Magazine, 4 October 1992.

The Warriors

Seattle: Sasquatch Books, 1997.

Alexie currently lives in Seattle with his wife, Diane, of Hidatsa/Winnebago/Potawatomie descent, and his two sons. His frequent readings and literary presentations around the country are well-attended and hugely successful. He has a large and loyal following among Indians and non-Indians alike.

Related Readings

The Native Americans: An Illustrated History

Ballantine, Betty and Ian Ballantine. Atlanta: Turner Publishing, 1993.

Killing the White Man’s Indian: Reinventing Native Americans at the End of the Twentieth Century

Bordewich, Fergus M. New York: Doubleday, 1996.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West

Brown, Dee. New York: Henry Holt, 1970.

500 Nations: An Illustrated History of North American Indians

Josephy, Alvin M. New York: Newmarket Press, 1994.

Prison Writings: My Life Is the Sun Dance

Peltier, Leonard. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

Related Films

Incident at Oglala (1992)

Traces the dramatic events that occurred on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the 1970s, focusing on the trial and imprisonment of Leonard Peltier. Provides fascinating insights into this period in history. Documentary, directed by Michael Apted (Facets).

Powwow Highway (1989)

Offbeat tale of two Indian friends on the road to New Mexico in a dilapidated Buick. Based on David Seals’ novel of the same title. Directed by Jonathan Wacks.

The West (1996)

Nine-part series about the American West, told through compelling firsthand accounts. Documentary series, directed by Stephen Ives and produced by Ken Burns (PBS video).

Where the Spirit Lives (1989)

A painful story of a brother and sister kidnapped from their homes by government that brings to life the suffering caused by the removal of Indian children to boarding schools. Directed by Bruce Pittman.

Related Websites

AIM (American Indian Movement)

The Index of Native American Sources on the Internet

Native American Rights Fund

The Native Web

Sherman Alexie’s homepage

Rent and View Smoke Signals

Check your local or university library, commercial video store, or online sources to order a copy.

Play with the Idea of Stereotypes



Find clips in the movie where Sherman Alexie has the characters play with the typical stereotypes of Indians. Join in the discussion with Faye and Ellen to talk about these stereotypes.







Discussion Between Fay and Ellen

Note: To help make Popcorn and a Movie more interesting and interactive, Ellen Summerfield, creator of Popcorn and a Movie for this site, asked a colleague and Klamath tribal member, Fay Hurtado, to serve as our consultant and “cultural insider” for the film Smoke Signals. During the month of June, they e-mailed back and forth from Ellen’s home in McMinnville, Oregon, to Fay’s home on the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon.


Hi Fay,

Before we begin our discussion of Smoke Signals, could you tell me a little about your Indian heritage?




Hi Ellen,

I am an enrolled member of the Klamath Tribe located in Southern Oregon. Although I was born in Klamath Falls, shortly after the Klamath Tribe was terminated we moved to Warm Springs. My grandmother and my great grandfather are from the Warm Springs Tribe, and I married and built my home here in Warm Springs. Although I am a member of the Klamath Tribe a lot of my values and beliefs have come thru the teaching of the Warm Springs people. (Hope that sounds okay! I had to look up the meaning of heritage, in Indian Country we say “where you from?”) So may I ask you where you from?




Hi Fay,

Sure. I’m from the East Coast. My great-grandparents were Eastern European Jews who immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland, where both of my parents were born. I was also born in Maryland. I’ve moved around a lot, and my husband and I finally landed here in Oregon twenty years ago. Just last year, my mother moved here from the East Coast to join us.

OK, now to the film. My first question to you resulted from a wonderful evening I spent in Portland, Oregon, last week, listening to a reading by Sherman Alexie, who, as you know, write the screenplay for the film. Alexie was in town to promote his latest book, Ten Little Indians.

In the question and answer session of his presentation, Alexie was asked about how Indians liked Smoke Signals, and he said, “My tribe loves the hell out of that movie.” He also told us that “Indians who hate my books love that movie.” So I was wondering if you loved the movie (I seem to remember you said you did) and, if so, why?




Hi Ellen,

Glad to hear you had a good time listening to Sherman.

I enjoyed the movie because it was the first time I saw things in a movie that I might see at home. Some of the things that people saw as comedy are actually things we see and live with on a daily basis. Remember the girls with the car that only drove backwards? Their transmission was out. Those are things we see here and think nothing about because our laws are such that we have young people driving without licenses and people driving with no windshields in their cars, or no forward gears in their car. Those are the Rez cars. The car never leaves the Rez but it allows people to get around within our small community. I guess that is the reason that I liked this movie.




Hi Fay,

That’s interesting to me to hear about the Rez cars and the fact that young people drive without licenses because of different laws on the reservation.

A different question I had is about the humor in the film. On the vhs cover, humor is mentioned at least four times. We’re told to “celebrate the comedy that had audiences and critics cheering.” The film is called a “rare and entertaining comic treat” and is quoted as being a “bittersweet comedy…funny and stylish” (LA Times). It’s also quoted as being “very funny!” (Good Morning America).

This seems to me to miss the point of the film. Yes, it’s funny, but it’s not a “comedy” to me, and that’s not what should be emphasized. What do you think?




Hi Ellen,

Some of the things that Sherman showed the world about Indian country he chose to do through comedy. Or that’s how it comes out! When we see things happen that are not the norm or something that we consider unusual, it’s considered funny before anything else. Think about how the dominant society would react to things that happen in the movie? Would they laugh at the situation or become angry for the person being stupid, or just what would they do? And even saying it is a comedy in Indian country is okay. Comedy to us is not belittling it, or saying it is not as good as a documentary. Was that what you felt it was doing to say it was a comedy?

Waiting to hear from you!




Hello Fay,

I’ve been thinking about what you said about comedy. To me, the film is much more than a comedy. Yes, it’s very funny, but it’s also very serious. There’s a great deal of pain that is dealt with through humor. But the pain is the overriding emotion for me. I think of Victor and his suffering as a little boy when his father leaves. To me the film is about Victor’s journey to make peace with his father, which of course is very powerful. I also think of his father’s pain at knowing what he did and having to live with it. And of Victor’s mother, who had to lose her husband to save her son.

All of this gives me a picture of Indian country in which life brings sadness and grief, but where people show incredible resilience and humanity. So I guess I would call the film a “drama,” even though the word itself isn’t that important. It’s just that I don’t want the film to be advertised on the cover in a way that might be misinterpreted as something light, even silly or superficial.




Hi Ellen,

But, out of what you said, is Indian? I see things in there that you cannot see. What you explain about a suffering little boy could be about any culture, so what makes this movie different? Are you relating the suffering to Indian? If you took what you wrote about Victor and placed it somewhere by itself, would your reader know that it was about an Indian boy? If not, then I don’t think you are getting the right picture of Indian country. That’s what I enjoyed about the movie. Sure the story line is very familiar, it could be Orphan Annie or some other film of that nature. But what makes it Indian, that’s what I enjoyed. That is why Sherman said his tribe loved the hell out of it.

Does that make any sense?




Good morning Fay,

I think you caught me. Your question is right on. What is “Indian” about the drama I described? Well, I have to admit that probably it’s my stereotypes. This is embarrassing. I’m sorry but I have to tell you the truth if Popcorn is going to be worth anything, so please bear with me. I think it’s the poverty and alcoholism. All the negative stuff.

But, like you wrote, there’s poverty and alcoholism elsewhere, and non-Indian fathers leave families. So are you saying that what makes this film Indian is the slant on life, the way of dealing with things that is more accepting and humorous (humorous in an “Indian” way) rather than getting mad and trying to change everything like non-Indians might do? Please help, I don’t know if I’m getting what you are explaining. Is this particular attitude toward life part of what you said you see that I don’t see?

I think I need to watch the film again!




Hi Ellen,

Sorry to make things so confusing for you! Sometimes I can see and feel the confusion and that makes it very hard for me to stay in the Indian and not just do what I have been trained to do (give you the easy out and just agree with whatever is bringing the confusion). But I have come to realize that there is not growth for the other person when I do that. Sometimes I want to do that also because I get lazy too and don’t want to put the work into it that it takes (just letting you know so that if it does happen, maybe you will see it in my writing, that you can hold me accountable to the commitment that I have made with you).

Sorry, because my intent was not to embarrass you. Most people either put us in a place of feeling sorry for us, or hate what they do not understand. The idea of “the slant of life” makes sense to me. What people usually want to see is the negative stuff or the magical mystical stuff. Those seem to be the only two categories that the dominant society puts the Native American. Do you see anything different in the movie when you take out the poverty and alcoholism? What about the characters? Do they all seem normal to you? If not, who are the normal ones, or are they all not average or normal? Do they interact with each other as the dominant society does? Those are the things to me that make this movie good or why Indian people like the movie. Like I said before, the story line is somewhat familiar, the thing that separates it for me is the details of the story line. They are very subtle and if you do not know any Indians or have never been around them, you might not even catch them or be aware of them. That’s what I meant about things I see that maybe you do not. Because our beliefs and values are different I would not even call it an attitude. Attitude to me is something that is very much on the surface, things I can change by what company I am in. What I mean about the slant on life goes deeper than that. It is a way of being that we are or are not aware of.

Hang in there! Fay

Looking forward to hearing from you again.



Hi Fay,

What you wrote yesterday is very helpful. Thank you. I will try to understand better the “way of being” you referred to. I plan to watch the film again this weekend to try to see it in a different light.

Another question I’d like to ask you is which scene or scenes in Smokes Signals stand out for you? I suspect that we will choose different scenes, so it should be interesting to compare.




Hello Ellen,

I am having trouble with this… Trying to decide on a scene is a little harder than I thought. What the Indians liked about the movie was the similarities to our way of life. The slang language “enit”, “aye” and such are very common to the Rez. That is the way we talk and make fun. The main point Sherman is trying to make is at the end of the movie, which I am sure that we all understood, but in trying to pick something that is Indian, you could actually pick any scene and go from there.

One thing off the top of my head, why is it so important to be able to make the best fry bread? That is common throughout the movie. There are comments throughout the movie like that that we understand. The comment about going to a foreign country when leaving the reservation, that is common. Anyway, let me know what you think and maybe we can go from there. Hope you have a great 4th!




Hi Fay,

This weekend I’m thinking about July 4th in terms of the film. It’s important, I think, that Sherman chose that day. I’m wondering if it has a particular meaning for you. Do you and your family and friends on the reservation celebrate it? If you do, is it more in an ironic way rather than a real holiday?

I’d love to know more about the slang you mentioned. I don’t even know what enit and aye mean. How do you use them to make fun?

Also, could you please explain why it’s so important to make the best fry bread? I thought that was sort of like me saying that “my mom makes the best apple pies,” but I wasn’t sure if that’s the meaning.

Hope you’re enjoying at least a long weekend and look forward to hearing from you,




Hi Ellen,

The 4th is kind of celebrated, because we like fireworks, but as for the meaning no we do not celebrate it as an Independence Day. (It’s really only White People’s Independence Day.) For us it is a paid holiday (day off with pay) and I guess ironic rather than a real holiday. That is the same with Columbus Day, Thanksgiving Day, Washington’s Birthday & Labor Day—we all joke about celebrating it. They don’t have any real meaning to us other than bad news for our people.

This one I might have to think a little about, off the top of my head, enit is used kind of as a question that is made after a statement you make. Rather than saying “that dog is pretty, don’t you think?” you might say, “that dog is pretty, enit.” That’s how the word is used in language structure, but we are never looking for an answer to the question. There never has to be a response and usually never is. There are other ways the word is used but they are difficult to put into terms that would easily be understood.

“Aye” is more or less an expression of something joking. When you are teasing someone, you might make a teasing statement and then say “aye” at the end of it laughingly. It is funny but for the most part all reservation Indians are aware of the use no matter what Rez you are from.

In terms of Smoke Signals I guess “the best fry bread” would be the same as apple pie. From a country that has been oppressed for so long and has lived in poverty for so long, what you can “do” and who you “be” tends to have greater significance than what you drive and what you own or the career you have. Our political structure is based traditionally by what family you come from and what you “do” and “be” for the people rather than for yourself.

Well, I hope some of this makes sense and you get something out of it. Sometimes I wonder if any of this makes any sense because it is not something that you can really use for any purpose but maybe for your own knowledge. Just remember once you seem to get a handle on it and kind of understand it some other Indian is going to come along and say “no that’s not how it is for us.” Just as you have experienced even in the dominant culture, some don’t know the definition of culture and might answer you differently.

Hope you had a great 4th of July. What does that mean to you anyway? Do you celebrate it with any particular meaning or is it just a day of leisure for you too?

I sure enjoy the emails, they make me think! (Maybe you will see some of the way we talk written into our emails, I have been trying to respond the way I would at home and not make it sound like the way I am supposed to write.)




Hi Fay,

About the 4th. I’m not sure how much meaning it really has for white people or other non-Indians. It’s a paid holiday, like you said, and people usually get together with family and friends for a picnic or barbeque. And they set off fireworks or go to town to see them. I guess for a lot of people there’s some patriotism involved, but I’m not patriotic myself when it comes to things like holidays.

More later, Ellen

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The Change Agent States project, initiated by the Cooperative Extension Service, is a catalytic step in beginning the transformation of the Land Grant system. It is a consortium of land grant institutions in fourteen states bringing the needed technical skills and training to each of the member states. Through this multistate approach, the consortium is developing successful models and systemic change strategies to support greater diversity and welcoming climates throughout the system.

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Workplace Diversity_ A Social-Ecological Framework and Policy Implications.pdf Abstract: The diversification of the global workforce brings both challenges and opportunities. We focus on diversity defined by membership in traditionally underrepresented groups. To harness the power of diversity, organizations must: increase representation of diverse individuals throughout the organizational hierarchy, attend to the social processes that emerge once diversity is present, and foster an organizational climate that supports the full inclusion of diverse individuals. We review dynamics at multiple levels of analysis that affect organizations in these three realms. Policy recommendations are grounded in the following ecological principles: (1) organizational issues are nested within multiple levels of context, (2) any organizational event can have reverberating effects throughout the system, (3) people’s experiences of events shape their reactions and the impact of practices on varied groups shapes organizational consequences, and (4) people are continually adapting to one another and to organizational resources and requirements.

An interesting look at gender, racial, and class diversity within environmental organizations: The Disturbing Lack of D…pdf   The full study can be found here: diversity in environmental organizations.pdf

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There have been studies done on what has been termed the “bamboo ceiling” which describes the hinderance of Asian Americans’ advancement in the workplace.  Many are also familiar with the “glass ceiling” effect describing the same phenomenon in women.  However, there has not been many studies that have looked into the intersection between the two. Read the article hereHitting the Ceiling.pdf to learn more about barriers specific to Asian American Women

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As Extension strives to meet the needs of an ever-increasingly diverse society, it must do so by recruiting, hiring and retaining staff that possess the attitude, competencies and qualities that enable them to effectively work across differences. They must have the needed skills for success. As a result, well-thought out recruitment, hiring and retention strategies that attract, support and sustain individuals with a mature diversity lens are a critical component of creating an environment that supports and promotes pluralism and diversity1.

Today, most job postings and descriptions clearly identify the ability to show respect for differences in backgrounds, lifestyles, viewpoints, and needs in reference to areas such as ethnicity, race, gender, creed, and sexual orientation as being essential to the position and the organization. While articulating these as desirable qualities and behaviors is an important first step in recruitment, the challenge often arises in assessing the level of skill and competency during the screening and interview process.

The accompanying materials, Skills for Success©, developed by the Office of Human Resources at Cornell University, can serve a template for developing recruitment materials and interviewing questions that result in attracting and hiring individuals that bring a diverse perspective and are supportive of diversity. Skills for Success©, consist of the following materials:

Staff Skills for Success (pdf) – A broad overview of the skills essential for individual and organizational success and examples of demonstrated behaviors in these areas

Interviewing Candidates for Skills for Success (Short Version – pdf) – A short version of interview questions that address the skill areas

Interviewing Candidates for Skills for Success (Long Version – pdf) – A longer version of targeted interview questions that probe the breadth and depth of candidate’s skill level.

Characteristics of Performance Levels – pdf – A matrix that outlines a continuum of the characteristics of individual performance levels in the skill areas identified.

Staff Performance Dialogue Form (pdf) – A standard form to be used as a tool for conducting employee review, staff development and performance improvement discussions.

Each skill area identified in Skills for Success©, can lend itself to diversity and pluralism. The skills, behaviors and interview questions under the heading of inclusiveness specifically and intentionally address and provide a language for articulating desired diversity competencies in recruitment and a process for assessing them in hiring.

In addition to addressing the areas of recruitment and hiring, Skills for Success©, also provides resources for the ongoing support, development and retention of staff. As with other competencies, there is a need for ongoing assessment and development on inclusiveness. The Staff Performance Dialogue Form and the Characteristics of Performance Levels can serve as tools for creating organizational expectations around diversity and pluralism, as well as a means for supporting staff in assessing their skill level and identifying ongoing professional development needs in this area.

For additional information and case studies on Cornell Cooperative Extension’s efforts on staffing for diversity check out:

By Eduardo González, Jr., Diversity Specialist, Cornell Migrant Program

1The concepts of “diversity” and “pluralism” as defined in Pathway to Diversity: Strategic Plan for the Cooperative Extension System’s Emphasis on Diversity (1991) are: Diversity is differences among people with respect to age, class, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, race, sexual orientation, spiritual practice, and other human attributes. Pluralism is an organizational culture that incorporates mutual respect, acceptance, teamwork, and productivity among people who are diverse in the dimensions of human differences listed above as diversity.

The Language of Diversity

The Language of Diversity
The language of diversity is an evolving one that requires awareness, understanding and skill much in the same way as other areas of diversity competencies. Language provides a means for communication among and between individuals and groups. Language serves as a vehicle for expressing thoughts and feelings. And when it comes to diversity, language can be a bridge for building relationships, or a tool for creating and maintaining divisions across differences. Having a common language for talking about and across difference is essential for breaking down divisions and working towards achieving understanding and partnership. In developing a common language around diversity it is important that language be affirming and not about creating blame, guilt or pity.

Historically our challenge with language as it relates to diversity is that it has often been used as a tool of oppression for the express purpose of establishing and perpetuating systems of dominance and hierarchies between and among groups. As a result, language has in many instances throughout our society’s history, served to advance the status of certain groups while relegating other groups to a status of inferiority. Early examples of the use of language for this purpose includes the designation of Native Americans as “savages” and “primitive” in contrast to European settlers as “civilized”; the use of the term “African slaves” to passively describe an inhumane system of forced bondage that “enslaved” the free people of Africa; diminishing the status of adult women through the active use of the term “girl”; the use of the term “America” to specifically refer to the United States as opposed to the whole Western Hemisphere that makes up America. When used in this manner, language has systematically helped to minimize and vilify certain groups and justify subsequent patterns of exclusion, mistreatment and exploitation.

While our intentions in the use of language when interacting with or referencing groups may not be as ill-spirited and biased as the examples given above, when we are not conscious of the power of words and labels, our impact can be just as detrimental. For example, when we hear individuals struggle with finding the right terminology for referencing particular groups of people (i.e. African Americans, gay and lesbian, differently abled, etc), they routinely express their frustration by stating that the people from these groups… “can’t make up their minds about what they want to be called” or that they need to “figure out a name once and for all”. Unfortunately, more often than not, the individuals demanding that these groups “make up their mind” are not members of these groups and are usually in a position of relevant dominant status. While the desire of these individuals to achieve clarity in these instances is well intentioned, their behaviors reflect an assumed position of superiority. This false sense of superiority becomes even more pronounced when these individuals take it upon themselves to define the group without input from that group. As a result, members of these groups lose their right to define and name themselves on their own terms.

Being aware of the power of our language is not about being politically correct. It is about treating people with respect and dignity and increasing awareness. In an article entitled, “Words are potent weapons for all causes, good or bad”, Kathy Lechman, Leader, Diversity Development, Ohio State University Extension, shares examples of some common statements that many of us have repeatedly heard throughout our lives. While many of these are seemingly innocuous, others are blatantly derogatory and offensive. Whatever the case these statements convey beliefs and attitudes that ultimately take away from the dignity and respect that should be afforded all individuals.

 I went to the car dealership and really “Jewed them down”.  This is America, everyone can achieve if they really wanted to, and people on welfare are just lazy and out for a free ride.  Why do those people keep causing problems and asking for special treatment?  The only people who live in trailer parks are poor white trash.  People from small towns are stupid rednecks.  I am not prejudiced; some of my best friends are .  I do not have a problem with gay or lesbian people, as long as they don’t try to convert me.  I don’t see color, we are all the same.  Young people are nothing but trouble.  Fat people are lazy and lack discipline.  Look at that poor crippled person.  You are such an Indian giver.  Get your cotton-picking hands off of that!  Generation Xer’s have no work ethic and do not know the meaning of the word loyalty.  Old people should have their driver’s licenses taken away because they cannot drive.  You are so retarded.

In her fact sheet, The Evolving Language of Diversity, retired Senior Extension Associate (Cornell Cooperative Extension), Kathy Castania, provides us with some wonderful insights as to the power that words have to shape our thoughts, convey beliefs and perpetuate attitudes about groups. The fact sheet provides for understanding the challenges that come with creating a common language around diversity that is both affirming and empowering. The article provides an excellent historical overview that can help us to contextualize the evolution of language around diversity. Beyond providing a historical framework, Kathy also identifies some common pitfalls and misused terms across multiple dimensions of diversity including gender, abilities, class, sexual orientation, etc. Alternative strategies that can be quickly incorporated into our day-to-day interactions with colleagues and program audiences are presented throughout the article, along with resources for additional exploration and ongoing development making this fact sheet an indispensable tool for advancing the work of Extension in increasingly diverse environments.

Websites of Interest: Excellent web site developed by a professor and her students documenting their experience addressing issues of multi-culturalism and how each person in that class had learned to fear or hate “those people”. Interesting discussion of the term “red neck” and what it means today Provides a detailed history of the term “redneck” and a definition. Interesting use of satire to demonstrate a point about language. -Article by Molefi Kete Asante discussing the importance of language and the power of words. The author provides an example of the use of the “N” word and his reaction to it. This was written in the wake of Nigger the Book by Randall Kennedy. Article on the power of words with examples of how we can harm others without meaning to. This is an excellent resource and reminder of our power.
Author: Eduardo González, Jr.
State Diversity Specialist
Cornell University Cooperative Extension
[1]Eduardo Gonzalez