Racial and Social Justice in Oregon’s Master Gardener Program: How to Respond to Critical Comments

It’s been three weeks since we published our first post, calling for increased attention to racial and social justice in Oregon’s Master Gardener Program. In that time, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. For every critical comment that I have received, I have received 10-15 encouraging comments.

Thank you. Every Master Gardener who steps forward to say that they value this work makes it easier to weather the criticism. Every Master Gardener who reaches out to say ‘FINALLY! This is what I have been wanting to see from the program!’ grows our collective commitment to this work.

But what do you do, if you speak up for racial and social justice within the Master Gardener Program, and you are personally criticized? How might you respond? Where can you turn for support?

Below, we offer a suggestions for responding to colleagues or constituents who might question or criticize the relevance of incorporating racial equity work into the Master Gardener Program.

  1. Remember that one person’s comment is only one.
  2. Give yourself time to reflect and respond thoughtfully, and officially. As a Master Gardener coordinator or volunteer, your words are the voice of the program.
  3. If you are confronted, criticized, or questioned on the spot, look for allies who can help echo key talking points, if you are at a loss for words.
  4. Consistently refer to OSU’s stated responsibility to diversity, equity and inclusion, pointing specifically to OSU’s stated commiment to inclusiveness.
    • As a university community, we must join together to ensure that all members of the OSU community — students, faculty, staff and visitors — not only feel welcomed and safe, but experience our community as a place to thrive. Each and every member of our community must know they are valued, that they belong here, and that we celebrate the rich diversity that they bring to Oregon State University. We should not tolerate anything less.“ — OSU President Ed Ray, in a statement delivered May 31, 2020
  5. Make it clear that this is not a political statement or strategy. Instead, we are working to do a better job at what has long been an explicit and stated part of our job as Master Gardener Coordinators and Volunteers.
  6. As long as you feel comfortable, stay in the conversation. Do not shut down dialogue among participants, unless they fall into particular categories. I have been encouraged to find that some of the people who harshly criticized our initial statement ended up being open-minded, willing to listen and discuss concerns, and sometimes came away agreeing that racial justice work *is* important.
  7. Nonetheless, there may be times when the conversation needs to be shut down, whether it be in person, on social media, or on another medium. These inlcude:
    • Hate Speech, which is defined as abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.
    • Intimidation of Threats of violence.
    • Either of these warrant immediately reporting the incident to your supervisor, the Statewide Master Gardener Program Office, OSU Extension administration, and potentially to local authories.
  8. If you do not feel comfortable responding to critical comments or questions, please reach out to Gail or LeAnn for assistance.

If you are sharing racial justice or diversity, equity, and inclusion posts locally, you may want to include a statement of the OSU Master Gardener Program’s ongoing commitment to racial equity. If relevant conversations are occurring locally, you may want to refernece those, as well.

If you’re not comfortable sharing racial justice or diversity and equity updates in your local communities, you don’t have to. If that is the case, we hope that you will continue engaging with this work in other ways.

We will continue to share learning resources that support racial and social justice within the Master Gardener Program. On an individual level, one of the easiest and most accessible things you can do is to take the time to learn more, so that when it comes time to do more, we can do so from an informed perspective.

I wanted to end this post on a positive note. The Multnomah County Master Gardener Association, on their own accord and with no formal input from the OSU Extension Master Gardener Program, developed a statement of commitment to racial justice within their own work. This statement of purpose is the first from a Master Gardener chapter. I look forward to working with them ~ and anyone who wants to join us ~ to fulfill our shared responsibility of working towards racial and social justice within the Master Gardener Program.

The Multnomah County Master Gardeners™ recognizes that silence at this time perpetuates violence and oppression.

We condemn racism and the systemic oppression of Black people created and perpetuated by white individuals and institutions in this country. We recognize that all white people and institutions are complicit in this oppression of Black people.


We stand in solidarity with our Black neighbors and all People of Color in demanding justice: for those who have been killed and harmed by police violence, and for their families and communities.

We affirm that Black Lives Matter.

Our mission calls for “Growing, Educating and Connecting Communities.”


We acknowledge that we have not been living up to our mission, especially with our Black neighbors and communities of color. We recognize that we are coming late to this critical issue and we know that we will make mistakes as we do the work we must do to catch up.

We nonetheless commit to doing the work: to engage in critical self-reflection, to make our community antiracist, and to use the resources available to us to transform our organization into one where our Black neighbors, and all People of Color feel welcome, supported, and seen.

Now for the work of moving beyond words into new actions.

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3 Replies to “Racial and Social Justice in Oregon’s Master Gardener Program: How to Respond to Critical Comments”

  1. Thank you for continuing these posts about racism. I appreciate the continued reminders to be open minded and to learn more about my complacency in the matter of racism, even and especially, as a Master Gardener, a space that just a few months ago I felt the topic of racism had no place. Now I know the topic has a place in all aspects of my life.

  2. This is a gardening newsletter — at least it was a gardening newsletter until just recently. Posts about racism have no place in such a newsletter. If I want to follow racial and social justice issues, there are hundreds of websites and news outlets for that purpose.

    I look to this newsletter for gardening tips, plants appropriate for my yard, ways to address climate change etc. Stick to your knitting is an old saying, and one I recommend to the Oregon master gardener program. You are not expert in the area of racial and social justice. Few are. So, don’t introduce this topic in future newsletters. Thank you for letting me have a say.

    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Please note that I am 100,000% committed to continuing this work and these conversations in the Oregon State University Master Gardener Program, as outlined in points 4 and 5 in the original blog post.

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