After being introduced to diversity statements in class two weeks ago I have been on the look form them. A few days in an email advertising an Assistant Professor of Soil Microbiology position at University of California Riverside another mention of diversity statements. Until this semester I had never heard any of my professors, friends or students talking about diversity, equity or inclusion in relation to crop and soil science, except when a university or state mandate required it. But from the discussions and readings we have had in class this semester and other things happening in our culture and on our university, to have an inclusive and welcoming learning environment for everyone, a commitment to the principals of diversity, equity and inclusion cannot be an afterthought or just going through the motions. Either really mean it or don’t do anything at all.
“Just focus on the science”
I have been trying to figure out why thinking and talking about diversity and inclusion are so rare and so hard, when they happen at all. I was trying to explain this difficulty to another soil science grad student and she made a comment that I have heard from several people, including myself: “just focus on the science, we’re not studying people”. This idea may not be unique to agricultural sciences. But maybe our science is getting in the way of using focusing issues like inclusion. Agronomy, the application of agricultural science knowledge for production of crops, is devoted to eliminating diversity, excluding all except for the chosen few and giving preference and special treatment to the favored ones. We have made incredible technological breakthroughs that allow us to be extremely throw and aggressive in our goal to prompt the growth of the select few cash crops, corn, wheat and soybeans, at the expense of weeds, insects, soil microorganisms and other undesirable organisms. Only in the last decade have ideas about the benefit of greater biological diversity in agriculture even been discussed, let alone accepted or adopted. Maybe as we start to broaden our thinking about what agriculture looks like in terms of plants, animals and insects, we will also begin to think about how we benefit from and can encourage a greater diversity and inclusion of people as well.
Using science to understand diversity
I really appreciated how Deborah S. Willis, in her article to graduate students on writing a diversity statement talked about ways to find and place diversity, inclusion and equity in our teacher, mentoring, research and professional service. I also appreciated the advice to not feel like I have to include and champion every single aspect of diversity and inclusion, but to choose the ones I am most passionate and knowledgeable about. Despite all this good advice I do not feel like I am ready to write my own diversity statement yet. My understanding of how and where I can be making my classes and my field more diverse, inclusive and equitable is in about the same place as my field’s understanding of how increased biodiversity will affect agriculture. We know that what we’re doing now isn’t working and we know that a greater inclusion of organisms, plants and animals as well as people, is beneficial but we don’t know how to get there, what will happen along the way and what our new way of farming will look like, and that is intimidating. But I believe that a greater biodiversity is an important part of sustainable agriculture in the future and am educating my self to conduct this research, so too will I learn more about how I can make my classes more welcoming for everyone.