Diversity and Inclusion: Now What?

By: Dane White, North Coast Region Supervisor, CDE

Perhaps my naivete will show here, but I think we’re close to rounding a critical corner when it comes to our professional conversation about the meaningful inclusion of diverse populations in agricultural education. My observations indicate we are past defining inclusion and are well on our way to recognizing en masse that inclusion is both a moral and practical imperative to agricultural education. Should this assessment of our general progress be accurate, that moves us into a phase of question asking, investigation and systemic solution exploration. 

There’s no question our state is rapidly diversifying and the need to meaningfully engage students of all ethnicities, backgrounds, socio-economic situations and belief systems grows more urgent. With a 3-ring model that has proven to be a paragon of educational excellence for nearly a century, the question becomes: how can we continue to evolve its systems in order to best meet the needs of ever-diversifying audiences?

It makes sense to begin with an examination of existing research. Fortunately, there are respected academics who have devoted themselves to this topic; particularly Dr. Stacy Vincent from the University of Kentucky. One piece of Dr. Vincent’s research I found interesting led me down the rabbit hole studying social identity theory. There’s a lot to it – but even a brief summary can help us understand quite a bit more about inclusion.

In short, Tajfel (1979) proposed that the groups (e.g. social class, family, skin color, language spoken, etc.) to which people belonged were an important source of pride and self-esteem. Groups give us a sense of social identity and a sense of belonging to the social world. In order to increase our self-image we enhance the status of the group to which we belong. We can also increase our self-image by discriminating and holding prejudiced views against the out group (the group we don’t belong to). Therefore, we inherently divide the world into “them” and “us” based through a process of social categorization (van Knippenberg, 2000). 

It’s not hard to see that this theory manifests itself in agricultural education – let’s say in officer selection processes that include an interview/slating phase before a popular election. It’s possible that without thoughtful system development coupled with guidance and coaching our student leaders can naturally gravitate to those with whom they most closely identify, fostering a cycle of selecting those most like them (Ding, 2019).

Ultimately that process, when repeated often enough, can create a prototype. Eventually, that prototypicality fosters a culture where those less like the prototype will make greater strides to assimilate; in effect changing who they are to become more like the mold. When it comes to behavioral traits such as respectfulness and kindness, that’s a good thing. However, there can also be some negative bottleneck effects that inhibit inclusion efforts. It can be seen in programs where chapter officer candidates are not representative of the larger population.

Empirical data indicates to us that this is a broad phenomenon. A recent study published in the Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology Journal validated and further explored the findings from Hains et al. (1997), explaining that prototypicality becomes increasingly influential for leadership endorsement as a group’s identity becomes more attractive (Steffens, Peters, Haslam, & Platow 2018). For example, the “cooler” an FFA event like State Conference is and the more a student is excited about being a part of that collective experience, the more likely he or she is to strive to approximate the behaviors and identity they see as being successful therein. Approximation and assimilation further prototypicality.

I know this to be true, at least anecdotally, because of a conversation I had this summer. A student attended the State FFA Leadership Conference his freshman year, saw leaders being admired by and having influence over their peers, and decided he wanted to someday be among their ranks. The challenge he perceived he faced was his ethnic heritage: Latinx to the core. While some might be envious of the beautiful culture his family gave him, he saw it as incompatible with the culture of an organization he so badly wanted to help lead. So, he set about stripping himself of anything that was atypical; anything that would distance him from the prototype.

To me this validated another finding of prototype-based leadership study: that social minorities may find it difficult to assume leadership roles. If the organizational culture within specific organizations renders social minorities less prototypical than majorities, then minorities will find it more difficult to achieve and maintain an effective leadership role (Hogg & Terry, 2000). Yowza. Knowing this, there’s work to be done. How can we broaden the potentially exclusive elements of the prototype to ensure that all students could envision themselves as successful in an FFA jacket? 

As a state organization, this is where the next evolution of the Agricultural Incentive Grant (AIG) comes into play. Though it’s only one piece to a comprehensive solution, the AIG can be utilized to drive further improvement in cultural inclusion efforts. The primary mechanism proposed that will allow that is currently referred to as a “parity metric”. This tool will measure the degree of similarity between a school’s large population and the engagement of students in the SAE and FFA components of the agriculture program. As with much of the new AIG, there will be a scaled process. Programs that are doing an outstanding job engaging a broad cross-section of the school’s population will be funded differently than those who will be on a path to more significant improvement and growth in this area. 

In doing this we have the chance to broaden the prototype at the local level and help strengthen our collective vision that agricultural education can be for every type of student. The more we engage all types of students meaningfully in the three circles, the more likely we are to see an elevation of diverse populations into leadership roles that alter the prototypicality equation. 

It’s up to us all to analyze, collaborate and create solutions that move the needle, little by little. If our profession is anything – it’s one filled with thinkers and doers and solvers. Soon I believe we will have rounded yet another corner and will be able to celebrate significant growth in this meaningful field. 

References:

DIng, J. “Leadership and intergroup relations: which leader is more favorable or more effective while leading distinct subgroups?” (2019). Honors Theses. 1382. 
https://scholarship.richmond.edu/honors-theses/1382

Hains, S., Hogg, M., & Duck, J. (1997). Self-categorization and leadership: Effects of group prototypicality and leader stereotypicality. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 1087- 1099. 

Hogg, M., & Terry, D. (2000). “Social Identity and Self-Categorization Processes in Organizational Contexts.” The Academy of Management Review, vol. 25, no. 1, pp. 121–140. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/259266.

Steffens, N., et al. “One of Us … and Us … and Us: Evidence That Leaders’ Multiple Identity Prototypicality (LMIP) Is Related to Their Perceived Effectiveness.” Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, vol. 3, no. 2, Apr. 2018, pp. 175–199., doi:10.1080/23743603.2019.1624156.

Tajfel, H. (1979), Individuals and groups in social psychology. British Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 18: 183-190. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8260.1979.tb00324.x

van Knippenberg, D. (2000). Group norms, prototypicality, and per- suasion. In D. J. Terry & M. A. Hogg (Eds.), Attitudes, behavior, and social context: The role of norms and group membership (pp. 157-170). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. 

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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