As many of you know, West Virginia University Extension officials have been operating under verbal directives from officials from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) directing us to move swiftly to make changes to remove allegedly illegal Native American customs and rituals from our 4-H camping program. However, it has been extremely difficult to obtain any written clarification on this matter �€both in terms of specifics that need changing and about the time frame in which to make them.
Last week, I repeatedly asked USDA administrators to reduce to writing the agency’s directives to WVU Extension Services to remove certain Native American customs and rituals from our 4-H camping program. I have requested clarity and direction from them as to how we move forward in addressing the 4-H camping and educational programming issue as well as the formal complaint filed with the USDA ’s Office of Civil Rights. I have also requested flexibility in the implementation timeline.
In my conversations with Colien Hefferan, administrator, CSREES (Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service, part of the USDA ) I have requested and expect to receive no later than the end of the day on Monday:
1. A report on a thorough review of the decisions and directives madeand communicated repeatedly to WVU Extension Service over the past monthsby two officers in USDA concerning changes to the 4-H camping program at WVU . It is because of these directives that WVU officials moved with such urgency to comply.
2. Written clarification regarding: USDA position on this issue; the specific discriminatory practices that must be addressed; the timeline for addressing the issues; and the methodology to be used in addressing the issue.
The director of the USDA ’s Office of Civil Rights informed us in March that”nothing less than changes effective with the summer 2002 camping season will be acceptable.”While we acted with urgency based on this directive, I have asked Ms. Hefferan for flexibility with this time frame. With the lack of clarity about the specific practices and use of symbols and imagery to be addressed, and less than two months until the start of the camping season, I believeand the overwhelming majority of our staff, members, and leaders agreewe do not have sufficient time to make changes without significantly harming our 4-H program.
I have recommended to Ms. Hefferan that we use this summer’s camping season to take a transparent and thorough look at these issues and concerns about the 4-H camping program. I have appointed two Extension associate directors, both of whom are 4-Hers and All Stars, to lead this effort: Dave Snively, from our Center for Agricultural and Natural Resources Development, and Sue Jones, from our Center for 4-H, Youth, Family, and Adult Development. Dave and Sue will report directly to me throughout this process.
This has been a difficult and emotional issue for all families and individuals involved in 4-H in West Virginia. There has been much debate and discussion, and we have attentively listened to all sides.
In the course of my discussions with Ms. Hefferan, I have stressed that our foremost goal in this process is to keep West Virginia 4-H strong and ensure that we continue to educate and inspire young people through fun and memorable experiences. I believe she, and the staff at the USDA , will recognize this, reconsider their position, and work with us to preserve and strengthen our program.