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Affirming Our Commitment to Respecting Diversity and Fostering Inclusion

By Karen Shirer, Associate Dean

On January 24 and 26, I attended two sessions of the 2017 Lessons from the Field series. This year’s series of workshops focuses on the needs of transgender youth and is led by CYFC's Scholar in Residence, Jennifer McGuire, Ph.D. Jennifer and her co-presenters — Nathan Hesse, SNAP Ed educator, and Cari Michaels, CYFC Extension educator — thoughtfully highlighted the challenges faced by transgender youth in our society.

three women talking at a table
We got a chance to connect with each other throughout the workshop.

These transgender workshops reminded me of one of my earliest programming opportunities related to diversity and inclusion. In 1995, while working at Iowa State as an assistant state Extension leader, I was tasked with planning and implementing a statewide, three-day immersive training session on reaching Hispanic audiences through Extension family programming. Today, these lessons learned from planning and participating in this experience remain with me.


Iowa State’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) had four or five Latinas working as community nutrition educators (CNEs). They attended the training session and facilitated several parts of it. During and at the end of the three days, the CNEs expressed how affirmed they felt as a result of this training being conducted. I thought a great deal about that in the ensuing years. It is so important for all our educators to be affirmed of their value no matter their role, race or ethnicity, or country of origin.


At the end of the three days, I recall feeling exhausted — more exhausted than I would usually feel after an in-service training session. I wondered if this exhaustion was what my colleagues who are not part of the dominant culture feel in their day-to-day lives when they interact with the dominant white, European culture. As a result of this reflection, I had greater empathy for what my colleagues experience day in and day out of their everyday lives. This experience remains with me today and reminds me that we all need to go out of our way to make everyone feel welcome and a part of our community.

I bring up the Iowa State training session not only because of the parallels with the Lessons from the Field workshops, but because of the recent executive order on visas and immigration. This order affects refugees, immigrants, and permanent residents from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. There’s a connection between the subject of the Lessons from the Field discussions and the executive order — both are about exclusion.

However, just as the Lessons from the Field series seeks to counter actions aimed at excluding transgender youth from our communities, the University is steadfast in its commitment to welcome and support students, faculty, and staff from around the globe. Likewise, Extension and Family Development remain committed to our staff and participants who are refugees and immigrants, and to making our organization and work environments welcoming for them.

hands stretched into the center of a circle of people

So what can you do? Here are some first steps that you can take:

  1. Sign up for a Lessons from the Field event near you: If you are a supervisor, encourage your employees to attend. Also, share this opportunity with your community partners. There is no charge to attend.
  2. Learn everything you can about issues important to you from reputable and science-based resources. Today I downloaded this report from Child Trends: Moving Beyond Trauma: Child Migrants and Refugees in the United States.
  3. Support your co-workers who are experiencing uncertainty and likely discrimination due to race and country of origin. This is a good time to “walk in their shoes” and cultivate empathy for their experiences.
  4. Take care of yourself. If you are identify as a racial, ethnic, sexual, or gender minority, or find yourself in opposition to the current administration’s actions, you may feel more tired and distressed than usual. I encourage you to work with your supervisor and seek out the Employee Assistance Program. Both are important resources for coping during times of change.
Thank you to each and every one of you for being part of the Extension team. By working together, we can meet the challenges before us.

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