“I have a group of Muslim youth who won trips to the state fair—what kind of religious accommodations will they need?” This is a question that I asked myself last summer. It’s an example of the kind of question all youth workers must ask themselves if they want to make their programs more welcoming to non-traditional audiences.
For me, this intercultural communication meant talking with families not only about prayer times and dietary restrictions, but also listening carefully about what it meant for them to trust a chaperone; about their beliefs regarding youth supervision versus freedom; and about what behavior is understood as respectful. Gradually, we were able to understand one another’s expectations and values. The result was a joyful group of young people who thrived in their first-ever experience of being 4-H’ers at the Minnesota State Fair. There remains much to learn, but step by step we are forging new common ground within 4-H.
I’m part of the Diversity and Inclusion Shared Learning Cohort in our center. Last year, we produced a series of videos to highlight strategies for inclusion that have been pioneered across Minnesota so that we can better learn from one another’s experiences. The videos share the questions, successes, challenges, and best practices that have emerged as 4-H works to more effectively include youth and volunteers from across our diverse communities.
The Center for Youth Development has set a strategic target of increasing the diversity of 4-H so that it reflects the racial, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity of the state. Reaching this goal means reflecting on ourselves and analyzing our program to understand what value 4-H programs could bring to new audiences, and the ways in which we inadvertently exclude families.
How can we do this? In her book Working with Differences in Communities, Ann C. Schauber identifies four essential principles for successfully engaging with difference:
- I must believe that each person has a special talent or gift to share.
- The only person I can change is myself.
- By opening myself to thinking, feeling, and acting in a way that allows others’ gifts to be shared, I create more possibilities for resolving community problems.
- Dominant-culture structures that are in place must be examined and possibly changed to create accessibility for non-dominant members.
What questions do you find yourself grappling with as you work to make your programs more inclusive? What are some of the “often invisible differences” that you have discovered as you seek to arrive at common understanding with new audiences?
-- Kathryn Sharpe, Extension educator
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