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A More Diverse, Inclusive UF/IFAS: An Update

It’s no secret that the demographics of the people in the academic fields represented within UF/IFAS do not reflect those of our larger society. Reckoning with the historical roots of this is not a search for an excuse but a way to deepen our understanding of the challenge.

As we reflect on the upcoming Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day holiday, I felt it was a good time to provide an update on the UF/IFAS efforts I spoke about last September. At the end of 2020, I asked all UF/IFAS unit leaders to send plans for enhancing and improving inclusion, diversity, equity and access (IDEA) within our organization. Most units have responded, and collectively these plans will serve as starting points for translating our good intentions into action in 2021.

The goal was to elicit ideas and action from the collective heart of the units as opposed to an administrative requirement from the top, a grassroots effort. I have been so impressed by the ideas and innovation reflected in these plans as they represent a reimagined paradigm to address the greatest challenges faced by units and to target areas for improvement that would lead to the greatest impact.

Some units are at the forefront of change. Microbiology and Cell Science, for instance, has a rigorous IDEA program, and the results have been encouraging, especially in metrics such as student numbers and diversity within the unit. Chair Eric Triplett was recognized by his professional society recently for leading in this area. But Eric and the department did not stop there. They presented an aggressive and well-thought-out plan to do more. Their leadership teaches the rest of us important lessons for improving IDEA.

Mike Allen and his team from the Nature Coast Biological Station in Cedar Key submitted a very creative and unique plan. Rather than being broadly focused, they drilled down to the greatest need and built a plan to target it, including detailed and measurable goals and objectives. What I like best about the plan is that it recognized the unique role the team plays within its physical and intellectual community. Are there “hidden figures” within their community and profession we need to lift up and recognize? How can the public capacity of the center be better used to reach out to communities and individuals of color? Their aspiration is not only to make the center better but their community as well.

Plans are not static. They can and likely will be modified as they are implemented to ensure the right fit for each unique context and as we learn what is working as we move forward.

Plans are made to be implemented, though. We will gather at the end of this year to assess our progress and share success stories. This gathering will also renew our efforts, born of a moment of nationwide social unrest, to prioritize IDEA permanently.

My thanks to UF/IFAS faculty and staff for taking this effort seriously. I issued a call to action last summer and our momentum continues.  The IDEA plans point the way to a better UF/IFAS that achieves more for the people we employ and the people we serve. We do this for the same reason we do so many things at UF/IFAS—to make the future better.