The inaugural “Inclusive Excellence Summit: We are the Aggies” was hosted recently to strengthen and highlight the diversity, equity, inclusion and justice, or DEIJ, initiatives in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Spearheaded by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences student chapters for Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Science, MANRRS, and Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics & Native Americans, SACNAS, the symposium-styled event brought people from all cultures together to learn and grow.
Speakers included Olga Bolden-Tiller, Ph.D., national president of MANRRS and head of the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tuskegee University; Gustavo Macintosh, Ph.D., Iowa State University and SACNAS advisor; and Kayla Braggs, MANRRS national undergraduate president.
Fabian Leon, MANRRS program chair and Texas A&M Department of Soil and Crop Sciences graduate student, said the summit was the culmination of the staff and students’ strides towards inclusive excellence in the College.
“Since Texas A&M University’s founding as a land-grant university, we have carried the privilege and responsibility of research, extension and education,” said Leon. “The scientific and social impacts increases exponentially when people from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities come together to work synergistically. Therefore we aim to create and maintain an accessible and inclusive and supportive community for all in the College.”
The importance of diversity and dialogue
“The summit is important because diversity, equity and inclusion are really tough subjects to discuss and carry out – even among close friends and family, they can be uncomfortable,” said Leon. “We hope that the summit brought and will continue to bring together. Additionally, the purpose is for people whose work and impacts to be magnified by being closer to each other.”
The summit included presentations by industry front-runners and educator-led workshops in three sessions. These sessions focused on the College’s DEIJ initiatives, solution-based dialogue and lessons learned from successful DEIJ implementation at other universities. The summit cutivated a safe and open space for discussion, understanding and education.
“The event’s primary goal is to assemble and promote our new generation of culturally competent students and professionals,” he said. “I grew up in Kentucky, where my Latinx identity was more minoritized than here in Texas, especially in agricultural spaces. This perspective was enough for me to empathize with other minority groups. I don’t feel that you need to be a minority to understand the value of diversity, equity and inclusion practices.”
Cultivating safe spaces for inclusion
Craig Coates, Ph.D., Department of Entomology instructional professor, associate department head for academic programs and associate dean for inclusive excellence within the College, said he is proud of the work the students have done for this event.
“The College recognizes the need to give people the opportunity to learn and become better allies ” he said. “And we are committed to focusing on initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion all-around and give everyone a voice.”
“We will achieve our goals through organized recruitment, mentorships, education and retention of a diverse and culturally competent campus body. One that promotes open dialogue, freedom of ideas and an atmosphere of respect,” Coates said.
Leon said he hopes to hold a similar event in the spring and the Inclusive Excellence Summit again next fall. The goal is to recognize the work the College team will have accomplished between now and then.
For more information on how to get connected with future events, visit MANNRS, the College of Agriculture and Life Science Inclusive Excellence or the Office of Diversity calendar.