Mainstreaming Diversity: From Paradigm to Practice.
Massachusetts is changing demographically and it is changing rapidly. Indeed "nearly half of all new immigrants hail from Latin America and the Caribbean, and another 23 percent come from Asia." (MassINC 2005 p.4). Mass Audubon and other organizations cannot ignore this message. Massachusetts is diversifying rapidly, and its new immigrants come from precisely those underserved groups Mass Audubon seeks to attract to its sanctuaries.
The good news is that we have good data on the new Commonwealth residents, the bad news is that most environmental and conservation organizations are not mainstreaming diversity or changing paradigm and practice in line with their changing client populations, although many with more foresight, and perhaps an enlightened sense of self preservation such as Mass Audubon, recognize the need for such change.
In this report, we present ample evidence from the academic and practice-based literature; from 'good practice' drawn from an Internet search and from our own focus groups, our user, non user and staff interviews at the BNC and the BMB, and at Mass Audubon HQ, that there exists the perception, especially but not exclusively among lower income people and those of color, that diversity is not a priority for environmental organizations, including Mass Audubon, that the employees in such organizations are predominantly white and upper class, and that this effectively defines both the organizational culture, and cultural approach of such organizations.
There is however, emerging research which shows the way forward. We know something of different cultural perceptions; we know something about building cultural identity into programs (culturally important programming); we know a diverse staff is important and that the staff should be culturally competent. The problem is we're not doing it. In short, what organizations such as Mass Audubon need to do, if they are serious about mainstreaming diversity, is to build on this wealth of research in order to truly grow into its mission of "protecting the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife".
A first step in mainstreaming diversity and moving from paradigm to practice is that Mass Audubon needs to decide on its core focus, as there are at least two paradigms operative at Mass Audubon, based on our research at the BNC and the BMB:
The 'People's needs and nature' paradigm, typical of the BNC.
Here, the emphasis is on meeting people's needs through nature. The sanctuary has an idea of who 'the community' is, listens to what its needs are, and has, in the main, fashioned their programs around this.
The 'Nature's needs and people' paradigm, typical of the BMB.
Here, the emphasis is on nature conservation and land management around which programs for local people are fashioned.
We must emphasize that both paradigms are Mass Audubon mission-related. One is not better or worse than the other. However, in our opinion, they will produce very different outcomes over the longer term. Given both the changing demographics of Massachusetts, and the related need for conservation and environmental organizations to mainstream diversity, we believe that the people's needs and nature paradigm is most appropriate. It is best suited to facilitating conversations about diversity and cultural identity that are clearly essential if Mass Audubon wants to retain the (political) support of a majority in this rapidly changing Commonwealth.
Based on our research, we present our recommendations to Mass Audubon in two groups: general and specific. In each category we have not ranked our recommendations.
- environmental education
- on site day programs (nature center, farm, etc.)
- community education
- academic performance
- environmental knowledge, attitude and awareness
- environmental change
- elementary (6-11 years old)
- middle school (12-14 years old)