Patreese Ingram, Assistant Dean for Multicultural Affairs
Why is it important to promote diversity at Penn State?
Inclusion benefits all of us because it opens us up to different perspectives and ideas. We're more creative and innovative when we include ideas from different groups. In addition, when our students go out to get jobs they will be competing with and interacting with people from across the world. As our neighborhoods and workplaces become more diverse, it's important for students to learn to interact effectively with people from different backgrounds.
What are some particular challenges the College of Agricultural Sciences faces in improving diversity?
Today, the demographics of farming communities are changing and the student body is changing as well. In addition, students in our programs increasingly come from non-farming backgrounds. In the past, much of the agricultural population has tended to be from rural communities where there is less diversity, and many of our students came from these less-diverse communities.
As for the faculty, I've been here for 20 years and during that time the college has employed only a handful of African American faculty members, including myself. During the past year, however, those numbers are starting to increase. Although the numbers of domestic Hispanic and international faculty members are higher, there is room for growth in the college to improve the diversity of its employees.
What are you doing to ensure that diversity is a priority of the college?
The Office of Multicultural Affairs tries to create a welcoming environment for everyone by providing curricula and special programming that teach a full appreciation of the uniqueness among diverse groups. One of the first things I did when I began the role of assistant dean for multicultural affairs in 2012 was to reinstate the Diversity Coordinating Council, so the college would have an official group, with representatives from college faculty members, extension educators, staff members, and students, to oversee diversity initiatives. The council recently wrote the diversity strategic plan for the college.
How are you promoting diversity in the college?
As a federally funded college, we are required to meet civil rights requirements; for example, nondiscrimination of people based on race and ethnicity, veteran status, and gender. I have developed a set of online training modules that all faculty and research staff in the college are required to take so they can be informed of and abide by these civil rights requirements. I am also involved in recruitment activities to try to increase the diversity of the student body. We visit high schools in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh to encourage minority students to consider agricultural majors. These are just a few of the things we do in our office to promote diversity in the college.
What do you have the most fun with in your job?
I host a diversity book club. We read and discuss books related to diversity. I invite extension educators and faculty and staff in the college to join the book club. I also periodically show diversity-focused videos. People can come up to watch them during the lunch hour or they can connect by Polycom. We've covered a lot of topics such as transgender people, Native Americans, and the French law against girls' wearing the hijab. The videos and subsequent discussions open up people's minds to consider other cultures and other ways of thinking.
--Interview by Sara LaJeunesse