Where’s the beef?

by Carol J. Bova

In 1984 the Wendy’s fast food chain launched an advertising campaign in which the catchphrase was, “Where’s the beef?” The phrase entered the popular lexicon as a way to question the substance of an idea or claim. The time has come to dust off the phrase in this age of fast, loose and often-baseless charges of systemic racism.

In a July 8 article in the Gazette Journal, “Let’s talk about Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” Mathews County Supervisor Melissa Mason slammed the county and its school system. “In our small, rural utopia of Mathews County, due to location, declining population and demographics,” she wrote, “we must be intentional with how we address ‘D-E-I”.’ We lack in these areas in our public school system and in our government.”

Oh, yeah? Anyone can say anything. What, specifically, is lacking? Where’s the beef to this accusation?

Mason introduced her opinion with a quote from Dr. Lynn M. Gangone, president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. “AACTE believes that, in educator preparation, diversity involves having understanding, awareness, acceptance, acknowledgement and representation of differences. Equity includes meeting learner needs by delivering social justice, differentiating instruction and providing equal access. … In education today, we must address the persistent problems of the inequities of access, discrimination and bias, as well as the underrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse populations among educators.”

Mathews County Supervisor Melissa Mason

Again… A lot of verbiage. But where’s the beef?

Mason cited “a decline in people of color in our division” and “a loss of other great teachers and staff (not just people of color).” She asked, “How dare we let them slip through? The environment should have been such that they would not want to leave. The opportunity for growth should be progressive, proactive, and purposeful.”

She continued: “Our division, our leaders, the school board must address the persistent problems of the inequities of access, discrimination and bias, as well as the underrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse populations among educators.”

The article did not identify what those “inequities of access, discrimination and bias” might be, so I asked her for specific instances of discrimination and bias. I also asked her, given the limited numbers of Black, Indigenous or other People of Color in the teaching professions, what exactly Mathews could do.

“I am sorry that you had difficulty comprehending my opinion,” she replied. “My statement is clear and plain we need more of a diversified representation of teachers and administrators.”

That was no answer at all. In search of the missing beef, I asked Mathews School District Superintendent Nancy Welch for a response to the vague charges of  racism. She said:

As a very small division, there are limited opportunities for any individual to grow and advance from a teacher’s position into a coordinator or administrator position. We just do not have great turnover in these positions-now or historically. Larger school divisions are better able to move individuals into positions to create the opportunities that Dr. Mason mentions, but keep in mind that larger divisions also face the same types of turnover that Mathews County faces, but on a much larger scale. To create an administrative position just to create an opportunity of advancement for an individual would not be a good use of taxpayer dollars.

The superintendent did identify a socioeconomic inequity that the school did address.

The perfect example may be found in the access to broadband during the initial school closure in March 2020. Families either didn’t have a connection at all, or couldn’t afford the internet access. The school division was able to obtain the Chromebooks, wifi units and pay for the monthly service through grant funding. This is an example of how we address the inequity in accessing education in Mathews County when instruction was delivered in the virtual environment. In addition, the individual schools do not charge the school fees for families who just can not afford them. I cannot cite any founded cases of discrimination and/or bias in Mathews County Public Schools. Any claims of such are addressed, by policy, in a specific process.

Welch went on to describe recruitment efforts at Historically Black Virginia Colleges and Universities and exploring a new program with a third party group to diversify the faculty.

I then asked Welch to respond to the following statement in Mason’s column:  “Are we ready to do the work and make people accountable? It is more than talking about D-E-I; it must be required, and it must be into place. If our administration cannot do it, continues to make excuses about it, continues to talk us into a false sense of reality, and just refuse to make it happen then we need talk about other changes.”

Welch said she had no idea why Mason said that. “Mathews County Public Schools continually advertises and recruits employees with the purposeful intent to diversify our team. When Dr. Mason was a member of the Mathews County School Board, this became one of our Focus Area strategies that remains in place today. We have had many conversations about this need in our community-as a school division and as a community (law enforcement, County Government, etc.)”

If a member of the Board of Supervisors and former head of the School Board has observed problems and has a vision of what needs to be done, she should tell the readers of the opinion piece in a forthright way and not imply inaction or misdirection by those in charge — especially when she’s one of those in charge.

Carol J. Bova is a writer living in Mathews County.

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13 responses to “Equity Innuendo”

  1. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    In the final stages of prepping my thoughts and compiling the quotes upon completion of Ibram Kendi’s “How to Be An Antracist.” More to come. Sounds like your supervisor friend has read it. It is quite clear that the response outlined by school management would not satisfy those advocates.

    1. Matt Adams Avatar
      Matt Adams

      How can one ever accomplish what is requested when those goalposts are continually moved.

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        The Virginia General Assembly and the Northam Administration are busily at work accomplishing exactly what is requested. Mathews County leadership will likely fall in line at some point. November 2 looms large.

        1. Matt Adams Avatar
          Matt Adams

          I can’t seem how they can accomplish anything unless there is an end state. It’s much like the end state of “nation building” that doomed Afghanistan. How do you define or achieve success.

          Unless the notion of success is the reverse apartheid that South Africa has fallen under after Mandela ushered it in.

          1. WayneS Avatar

            “How do you define or achieve success.”

            For some of them, success equals “no more white people”, apparently.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Yes. You need to have measurable metrics if it is to mean anything real IMHO.

            And I don’t think it is an impossible task to do so but there sure would be “discussions” about it – like demographic outcomes and disparities.

            BTW, this is pretty much how the Air Force went about their investigation into racial disparities. it was data driven.

    2. WayneS Avatar

      Thanks for “taking one for the team”. I tried to read that book (my son’s college English teacher gave each student in her class a copy as a “gift”) but I could not make it through the first chapter. Bad writing and worse ideas.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    There seems to be a lot of corporate interest also in DEI and consultants that offer measurable criteria and metrics.

    The Corporations seem to want to be data driven, i.e. define what it is you want to measure, measure it , and implement policies that deal with it.

    I wonder if either side in Mathews is doing this and/or they don’t really agree on the specifics to measure?

    I can give a personal example. I use You-tube to troubleshoot, deal with technical issues. So I will do the standard search on YouTube then peruse the available videos.

    From experience, I AVOID the ones with people of foreign extraction with language accents! They’re hard to understand and they often have a different approach to discussing the issue.

    At any rate, I can’t well relate to them and if I have a choice I will avoid them.

    That happens “in-person” also. I distinctly remember a Pakistani graduate student teaching a math class in college. I could barely follow the words which dealt with a challenging subject for me even under the best of plain English conditions! I hated that class and from that point on, tried to discern “who” was teaching the course.

    And I’ll admit, if I was told I HAD to take that course from a guy with a strong foreign accent, I might not care for it.

    Now, I realize that if there are more of me then attendance of that guys class might flag… and as a result the powers to be decided to avoid future hiring of folks with strong accents… well, I dunno. If they need a replacement and they hire a heavy accent guy… not good stuff happens, no?

    Congrats again to Carol. She does a good job of presenting the issues, although we seldom agree! 😉

    1. WayneS Avatar

      “In education today, we must address the persistent problems of the inequities of access, discrimination and bias, as well as the underrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse populations among educators.” (emphasis mine)

      Mathews County Supervisor Melissa Mason

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        yep – these are general terms – how do you actually DEFINE them so they can be measured?

    2. DJRippert Avatar

      Corporate data … ?!?

      “Philipova, who spoke as part of a Fortune virtual event about the power of data and transparency on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), says companies have gotten much better about disclosing the gender composition of their workforce but not other aspects of diversity.”


      They don’t report “the other aspects of diversity” because the numbers would be appalling. Perhaps if Asians are combined with Blacks and Latinos there might be an almost adequate “people of color” statistic. However, break out “Black” and “Latino” and you would see terrible statistics, especially if management is reported separately from total.

      Corporations report gender diversity because they have made great progress in that area. The do not report “Black” and Latino” diversity because they have made very little progress in those areas.

      Maybe Virginia ought to force reporting of employees by discrete race by level. That would shake up the special interests who stuff money into our politicians’ pockets.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        More than “reporting”. Corporations are also incorporating DEI into policy and training.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Clara Peller became a national icon at age 81. Where’s the beef? When Wendy’s ended that campaign they went into a 2 year sales slump.

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