Celebrating diversity

School comes together for IDEA’s week of intentional events
October 11th, 2019

The IDEA Committee's Diversity & Inclusion Week brought students, faculty and staff together Sept. 30-Oct. 4.Diversity & Inclusion Week at Texas A&M College of Dentistry brought students, faculty and staff together for insightful dialogue and relationship building over five consecutive days Sept. 30-Oct. 4.

The IDEA Committee, chaired by Assistant Dean for Diversity and Faculty Development Dr. Lavern Holyfield, sponsored lunchtime events throughout the week, spotlighting inclusion, diversity, equity and access. Highlights

D3 Lianna Pulliam joined in on an IDEA presentation.

included keynote speakers, video presentations followed by small-group discussions, and a session devoted to new Employee Resource Groups. An awards ceremony and reception mid-week augmented the festivities.

At Monday’s Diversity Facts & Snacks, TED Talk video “The Danger of a Single Story” featuring novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie set the stage for small-group discussions, or cultural chats, about stereotypes and real-world experiences.

Dr. Yolanda Niemann, professor of psychology at the University of North Texas, kicked off Tuesday’s Diversity Lunch & Learn with “Understanding the Impact of Microaggressions.” Discussion focused on stereotypes, tokenism in academia and more.

Wednesday’s activities got underway with keynote speaker Dr. Gabby Yearwood of the University of Pittsburgh anthropology department. He emphasized the need to acknowledge our differences and be attentive to how we include or exclude people, because this can impact their success and well-being.

The Inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Service Awards were next. Dr. Jayne Reuben, associate professor in biomedical sciences, won the first faculty award. Fittingly, she likes to say, “Life is a team sport, and the differences we have are our strengths.”

D3 Richard Rodriguez, the first student award recipient, draws from his own life experience in his staunch advocacy for inclusion.

“For the longest time, I felt insecure about my racial/ethnic identity and questioned my own belonging in any academic setting,” he says. “My personal experiences have led me to constantly work so that other marginalized or underrepresented people don’t have to go through as long of a journey as I did to overcome their insecurities. I hope that underrepresented minorities take ownership of their place in the dental profession and take on the role of being a leader in their communities.”

Award nominations were reviewed and selected by a group that included an external Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council. No staff member was recognized this year because there were no nominations.

At Thursday’s Diversity Facts & Snacks, Dr. Helen Turnbull, founder and CEO of Human Facets, presented “Inclusion, Exclusion, Illusion and Collusion.”

Wrapping up the week: the new Employee Resource Groups, which Holyfield described as “an opportunity to blur lines between faculty and staff.” Everyone was encouraged to join one or more groups as advocates, supporters or allies. The goal is to provide support for like-minded colleagues to network and address concerns, as well as foster social interaction.

The five initial groups are: African American, led by Susan Mitchell Jackson and Dr. Reginald Taylor; Asian, led by Dr. Vonica Chau and Dr. Faizan Kabani; Female, spearheaded by Dr. Kathy Svoboda and Margaret Hart; Hispanic, led by Dr. Helena Tapias and Carmello Moreno; and LGBTQ, guided by Kendall Plemons and Dr. Matt Kesterke.

— Kathleen Green Pothier