Affirmation for progress

IDEA wins $65,000 A&M award for strides in diversity programs
May 26th, 2020

The IDEA Committee’s efforts garnered kudos and a boost for further efforts with a $65,000 A&M diversity award.

Fostering a welcoming environment has always been the goal for the Committee on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access — the IDEA Committee — at the College of Dentistry. Additional initiatives just gained an unexpected foothold with a $65,000 diversity award from Texas A&M University.

“It is an extreme pleasure to know that our efforts are deemed worthy of reward,” says Dr. Lavern J. Holyfield ’77, assistant dean for diversity & faculty development.

Each year, Texas A&M University’s President’s Council on Climate and Diversity reviews systemwide diversity programs, assessing individual schools’ progress in accountability, campus climate and equity. Texas A&M College of Dentistry’s $65,000 award was based on its 2019-2020 Diversity Plan Accountability Report. More than 30 groups receive various monetary awards out of $1 million that the university council distributes.

The College of Dentistry’s IDEA Committee, which includes numerous faculty and staff members as well as several students, was formed in December 2016 to foster diversity and inclusion, building on strides made over the years in diversity in student recruitment at the college. The group works throughout the year to effect change through outreach programs.

“Together, we can do great things,” says Dr. Patricia Simons ’14, director of the Office of Student Development, co-director of the Post-Baccalaureate Program and clinical assistant professor.

Dr. Lavern J. Holyfield, assistant dean for diversity & faculty development, spearheads the dental school’s IDEA Committee.

Just last year, three major initiatives were rolled out, including the dental school’s first Diversity Week. Daily events last fall brought faculty, staff and students together to watch videos, take in presentations from experts and discuss cultural issues, Holyfield says.

At the end of Diversity Week, a new diversity awards tradition kicked off with nods to faculty member Dr. Jayne Reuben and third-year dental student Richard Rodriguez. The week wrapped up with the introduction of new employee resource groups in support of women, African American, Asian, Hispanic, and LGBTQ+ cultures. As colleagues split up into groups, Holyfield says she was amazed by what happened next.

“I was particularly pleased to see employees join these small groups as advocates for cultural groups with which they did not identify,” she says. “I remain amazed and gratified by the way that COD stakeholders have embraced efforts to make ours a more inclusive climate.”

Moving forward, Holyfield says the university’s one-time award not only reaffirms what the IDEA Committee is doing, but it also enables expansion of efforts to promote inclusion, diversity, equity and access. For her contributions and leadership in such endeavors to facilitate changes in the university culture, Holyfield recently was recognized as an ADVANCE Diversity Champion by Texas A&M University.

On July 31, the IDEA committee will convene a three-hour virtual Conference on Race, Intersectionality, Sexuality and Gender, she says.  Dubbed R.I.S.E. 2020, this new initiative is being promoted to attract nationwide interest as it engages experts from different colleges and organizations across the country. Matters of diversity and culture will be explored in conversations aimed at increasing awareness, improving relationships and promoting acceptance for all people regardless of their backgrounds.

“Dr. Holyfield, the IDEA Committee, and all others associated with inclusion and diversity issues at the college give us great depth in this area, and together we are imagining a bright and best future and trying to make it real for all of us,” says Dr. Paul C. Dechow, Regents Professor in biomedical sciences and associate dean for Academic Affairs.

— Kathleen Green Pothier