Bug Talk

Ep. 60: Drs. Jabbar Bennett and Quentin Tyler

June 02, 2021 Zsofia Szendrei Season 1 Episode 60
Bug Talk
Ep. 60: Drs. Jabbar Bennett and Quentin Tyler
Chapters
Bug Talk
Ep. 60: Drs. Jabbar Bennett and Quentin Tyler
Jun 02, 2021 Season 1 Episode 60
Zsofia Szendrei

Zsofia and two guest co-hosts, Julianna Wilson (Entomology DEI committee chair) and Elizeth Cinto Meija (representative of Entomology Department on the CANR DEI committee), talked with Drs. Jabbar Bennett (MSU’s Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Professor of Medicine in the College of Human Medicine) and Quentin Tyler (Associate Dean and Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Director of MSU Extension), two leaders at MSU. We asked them about their current positions, their take on what it means to be a good leader, what the pandemic taught them about leadership, how to move forward after the lockdown, balancing personal views with the larger vision of an institution, their views on the future of the university, their mentors and people who inspire them and, what they think the future will bring. If you'd like to find out more about Dr. Bennett, take a listen here and watch this video to learn more about Dr. Tyler.

You can follow Bug Talk on Twitter and Instagram @bugtalkpodcast. Subscribe to our Youtube channel to see videos of the conversations with guests. Thanks to Jason Roedel, audio engineer, for improving sound quality, Matt Grieshop for the music, and Ellie Darling for designing the Bug Talk logo!


Show Notes Transcript

Zsofia and two guest co-hosts, Julianna Wilson (Entomology DEI committee chair) and Elizeth Cinto Meija (representative of Entomology Department on the CANR DEI committee), talked with Drs. Jabbar Bennett (MSU’s Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer, Professor of Medicine in the College of Human Medicine) and Quentin Tyler (Associate Dean and Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Director of MSU Extension), two leaders at MSU. We asked them about their current positions, their take on what it means to be a good leader, what the pandemic taught them about leadership, how to move forward after the lockdown, balancing personal views with the larger vision of an institution, their views on the future of the university, their mentors and people who inspire them and, what they think the future will bring. If you'd like to find out more about Dr. Bennett, take a listen here and watch this video to learn more about Dr. Tyler.

You can follow Bug Talk on Twitter and Instagram @bugtalkpodcast. Subscribe to our Youtube channel to see videos of the conversations with guests. Thanks to Jason Roedel, audio engineer, for improving sound quality, Matt Grieshop for the music, and Ellie Darling for designing the Bug Talk logo!


Zsofia:

Hi, everyone? You're listening to Bug Talk, a podcast created by members of the Entomology Department at Michigan State University. In today's podcast I have two guests co-hosts, Elizeth and Julianna with me. Would you please introduce yourselves briefly? Let's start with Elizeth.

Elizeth:

Hi, everyone? I'm Elizeth. I am a PhD candidate in the entomology department here at Michigan State University. And I have also been for the last school year, the grad student representative for the diversity equity and inclusion in the college of agriculture and natural resources.

Zsofia:

Thank you, Elizeth. And onto Julianna.

Julianna Wilson:

So I'm Julianna Wilson. I'm a tree fruit IPM specialist in the department. And I have been serving as the chair of our fledgling. I'll still call it a diversity equity inclusion committee in our department for the last couple, almost three years now. And I was also on the... I served on the first committee for the CNR too as well, for diversity equity inclusion.

Zsofia:

Thank you for that introduction. And my name is Zsofia, as most of you by now probably know. And as you can gather, today's episode is a little bit special because we have two guests co-hosts, and that's because we have a special topic today, and we have very special guests with us. So our guests today are Dr. Jabbar Bennett. He is MSU's vice president and chief diversity officer. He is also professor of medicine in the college of human medicine. And we also have Dr. Quentin Tyler as our guests, and he is the associate dean and director for diversity, equity and inclusion. And he's also the director of MSU extension.

Zsofia:

Please correct me if I left any titles out, but these are the ones that I was able to gather. Yeah? Good. So I got them right. All right. So with that introduction out of the way, we wanted to get started with a warm up question to let our audience know who you are. My first question to you is, where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? So let's start with Dr. Bennett.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Thank you so much for the question, Zsofia. And good to be here today. So I was born and reared in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. So I'm a southerner by birth. I went to public schools there and attended a public historically black college and university for my undergraduate training, North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University, or North Carolina A&T, where I was a biology major and Spanish minor. And then I got my PhD at another historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, called Meharry Medical College. So I'm a biomedical scientist by training and used engage in molecular parasitology research.

Zsofia:

Very cool. And Dr. Tyler?

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

So actually I'm from the Western part of Kentucky. A rich area in agriculture called [inaudible 00:03:22] Kentucky. Also I went to the University of Kentucky. Received three degrees of University of Kentucky. The first degree was in agriculture economics, second degree was in agriculture economics and a master's in that, and also a PhD in rural sociology. In addition to that, I received a diversity equity inclusion certification for Cornell, and just recently completed one at a University of South...

Zsofia:

All right. Thanks for those introductions. And the next question is by Elizeth.

Elizeth:

So now that we know a little bit more about you, growing up, what was your dream job as a child? And we can start with Dr. Bennett, again.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Thank you for that question. So my dream job as a child was to become an inventor, and I knew nothing about what an adventure was, or truly what a scientist was at the time. But I had an interest in aptitude in science and math, and my parents recognized that and encouraged that. So they put lots of books around me. I watched many shows that were techie and space related. And although my parents were not scientists, they were both college educated and always understood the value of education. And I did end up becoming a scientist, but not because I had that role model in the house, per se, but because my parents really encouraged that spark that they saw within me. So, yeah, inventor.

Julianna Wilson:

Sorry, I just have to jump in. Are you a Star Trek fan?

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

I am not a Trekkie, but I am a Star Trek fan. To take it back a little further, I remember watching related shows like Battlestar, Galactica, and [inaudible 00:05:06]. Yeah. I watched all that. Buck Rogers, I was into it all.

Julianna Wilson:

I'm the same way. I like Star Trek, but I'm not Trekkie, but I really enjoyed it.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Yeah, I appreciate it though.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

So Dr. Bennet, I appreciate you wanting to be an adventure. So to me, I wanted to be an explorer. So actually growing up, my favorite movie was Indiana Jones. So I always liked the fact that he was really into artifacts, into history. As time went on, I was the first... I'm a first generation college student. So my parents didn't go to college. They did have an emphasis of the focus on attending college. So my dad ended up being an engineer through the army. So initially I wanted to be an engineer, then I had an internship my freshman year of college working with MSU... Not MSU extension. The University of Kentucky extension. So that got me more integrated into the agriculture space, and now things come full circle being the director of the MSU extension.

Elizeth:

Thank you. That is so cool to hear. I feel like we all have so many different stories of what made us be here and what we wanted to be as kids.

Julianna Wilson:

So my question is next, and I know that some of... I mean, you've just stepped into some of the roles that you're playing right now, but what's your favorite aspect of, I guess, your current job, what's your least favorite? And maybe you could talk, I don't know, I guess more generally maybe about administrative type, that kind of a role, your favorite parts about that and your least favorite parts.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Okay. So I'll start just by saying my favorite aspect of my administrative role is being able to interact with so many different types of people, and to address so many different types of issues as well. I spend most of my days as anyone might imagine in meetings, but some of the meetings are actually with students, undergraduate students, graduate and professional students. And I think what I'm inspired the most by and encouraged by in all my interactions are meeting students who I truly believe are our future leaders. So helping to understand why they came to college, what they hope to get out of the experience and the dreams that they want to pursue, that are all very unique and different and different than my own.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

But just being able to encourage them based on their own plans and their own passion. And that's what I liked the most. The least favorite part of my job is very similar to the favorite part of my job, and that is all the meetings that I go to and then I'm expected to attend all the time that are for very good reasons. And in my role as the chief diversity officer, it's important that we consider diversity, equity, inclusion in all the major aspects of the work we do at the institution. So I'm grateful to be in the space and to represent the perspectives and voices of various constituents. But in this virtual environment, I'll say there've been many more meetings that happen in a day, in a week, in a month, that anyone could have ever imagined. The pace has been a bit maddening, but all necessary.

Julianna Wilson:

And Dr. Tyler?

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

Yeah, I think Dr. Bennett hit on something very important, the amount of meetings that one has. I think I have at least 10 plus meetings on a daily basis. And I think that... One of the things... But I'd also think the things I love about the job is that we're here to support faculty, staff, and students, here to support you all, to help you all reach your goals and dreams. But also being a conduit, and representing and being a voice for you all as well. So maybe times that you may not feel comfortable voicing an issue or a situation that may have happened. So it's representing you that keeps me going. And also seeing you all be successful.

Zsofia:

Yeah. I feel like I'm in this happy medium, because I find that the favor of aspects of my job is to interact with graduate students and undergraduate students through my research. It is also sometimes the most maddening part, because by interacting with people, things happen and problems need to be solved. But at the end of the day, that's the most rewarding thing. But I don't have to spend my entire life in meetings at the same time. So I totally appreciate that. All right. So let's go back to Julianna.

Julianna Wilson:

I think that's a really good segue actually into the next question, which is how can we avoid slipping back into what everyone seems to consider to be normal? And how can we take this moment to evolve the system, maybe the way in which we meet, or show up, or interact with people. And, I mean, the intensity of the meetings and the number of Zooms. Zoom has facilitated a lot of connections, but it's also just... What do we really want into this future that we've been handed because of the pandemic, I think?

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Julianna, that's a great question. I think one way we can avoid from slipping back totally into the place that maybe we were, what people consider normal as we are returning to the office is to remember the things that worked well during the virtual space. So acknowledging that not only can people work individually and be productive from other locations, but that we can come together and have conversation as a group, and we can have rigorous discussion and debates and come up with answers in these virtual environments as well. If anything, we'll surely have to think about the pace and volume of these meetings. And we're going back to meetings, as I've already talked about before. This is a sticking point. Because realistically, there won't be enough transition time to make it to these various places when we returned on campus thinking about physical location.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

But we also need to be sure that we're building in enough time to reflect and respond and be proactive to things. And I think when we're in meetings all day, that's hard. So one of the positive things, I think, that came out of COVID is that, again, we saw that people could work and be productive independently. And I think for some employees who will be expected to come back to campus this fall, that won't apply to everybody, because we'll have to be more flexible and how we think about people doing work and think about what work means and what being in the office me, and COVID has provided a year plus long experiment to see how that could work out. So there's some positive lessons learned from the past year plus as well.

Julianna Wilson:

Well, and so, Dr. Tyler, in your new role as director of extension, extension is way, obviously, beyond campus, and all of the interactions with stakeholders and all these people. I guess, your vision about that going forward, I'm interested in that.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

Yeah. So I think first it's realizing that not everybody is returning back to normal the same way in which they either left. There's folks that lost loved ones, there's folks that are caring for their family, there's folks that are fatigued, there's folks that overworked. So to me it's realizing that first. But also understanding that there's no one way to come back to work. As we think about, again, working in extension, we have several different counties. And some of those counties never shut down. So it's understanding those situations, but also being flexible and showing empathy for those folks who would not back to normal in the same way in which they left.

Zsofia:

And I just wanted to also add to that, that some of the most well attended extension meetings were over the past year that I've been giving talks at. The Great Lakes Expo is one of the biggest events in our region. And the talks were regularly packed with over 100 people, which usually wouldn't happen. So there are definitely some benefits for people to attend meetings that are relatively far away from them, perhaps.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

Zsofia, it's interesting to think about, I just got off a call with a group of leaders from all across the north central region. And some folks, leaders were saying, "Well, I don't see why everybody can just return back." And I thought that was really interesting, that perspective. But I think it's important Dr. Bennett to come from a diversity equity inclusion lens, to understand and meet people where they're at.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Absolutely. And if I just may add one more thing. What I'm concerned about is, well, regarding the return to work, that it is in not only a safe return, but an equitable return. So, we are, as an institution, in the process of developing and being flexible as to laces development of guidelines and directives for supervisors, things they should consider when making decisions around who can work from home permanently, who will work in a hybrid basis, and then how that might impact other members of the team or unit, and the key functions of your area. But we want to be sure that we're thinking equitably around those that decision-making process. So it's going to be keenly important to take that into consideration.

Julianna Wilson:

All right. So, I wanted to ask you about leadership more generally. Both of you are leaders at our university. And as my career progresses, I started thinking about more leadership ideas and roles, and what that means. And I am taking on more leadership positions myself, which is probably natural at my age. But what is your take on what a good leader is, what leadership is? And especially at our university where we have had, definitely over the last five years, some issues, and we're trying to remedy those. So I'm really interested in more of the philosophical aspect of what you think a good leader is.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Thank you. And I'll start by saying, I think there are attributes or characteristics that a good, effective leaders should have, but they also should have the ability to do things and execute in ways that matter as well. So I think a leader is someone who is a person of strong integrity, who can think globally, who can acknowledge particular issues, but also understand what the broader, again, goals may be. I think a good leader has to be someone who is empathetic, and we've heard that word before. No one person possesses every identity or has the exact same experience as everyone or anyone else.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

So it's important to be empathetic. It's also important to be honest. How about that for an attribute, a characteristic? I think honesty is really important. But leaders also have to be able to communicate effectively, both in writing, as well as verbally. They have to be able to communicate what it is they're charged to do, what it is they want their team to do, and to understand. So being able to cast the vision, being able to explain at every level to every constituent, what it is you want to do and what their role is, all those things are important. And leaders as well as being good communicators, have to be extremely engaged listener, to understand when people have thoughts, questions, or feedback around the direction of a particular initiative or effort.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

And they have to be willing to be flexible and to, again, just be inclusive in their thinking and ensure that everyone's voice, as best possible, is heard, and that their considerations are truly taken up when making major decisions and trying to move major project forward. So there's a buy-in as necessary. So a good leader has to be confident in their ability to move things forward, but also very open to feedback, as well as critique.

Julianna Wilson:

Dr. Tyler?

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

I think Dr. Bennett covered a lot of it, but also I would just add that a leaders being proactive and not reactive. I think a leader surrounds himself with folks in which areas in which they may have gaps. I think a leader also provides places and spaces where folks can both vocalize things. And then also last, but certainly not least, I think a leader empowers those around them and make those folks leaders.

Julianna Wilson:

I wonder if the pandemic has changed your idea of what a leadership position should be like, or what a good leader is. I felt like as the PI of a lab, empathy, compassion has to step forward in front of all these other things that you were talking about. But I wonder at your level, what were the kinds of things that you have noticed as a change in leadership?

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

That's a great question. I think it's important for all leaders to acknowledge that everyone who may be a member of their team, that they interact with directly or indirectly, let's say if you're in a large unit, everyone has been impacted some way by the past year. Not only by the pandemic itself, but by activities, incidents, disasters that have occurred still locally, nationally, globally. And what that means to a person who may be a member of an underrepresented group or any group, and how it might impact them, their thinking, their ability to show up fully, challenges that they may be facing personally, based on things that are going on around the world and around the country, especially as it relates to people, for example, of color who shared identity with those who are being killed at the hands of police and others.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

So I think it's important that we acknowledge that life has happened to everybody the past year, and that it's impacted all of us in very different ways. So if we expect people to return to work, whether it's physically or virtually the same way they live, and Quentin talked about this, that might not be the case. So we have to be able to anticipate as best we can what some needs may be, and how we can be supportive and responsive to students and to employees who, again, have been impacted in ways that we might not have imagined, both personally, but also professionally as it relates to the past year, in context of your question regarding COVID.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

This is a quote I always say, it says the strongest people and not those that show strength in front of us and those who win battles we know nothing about. And, to me, I think, to the Jabbar's point, is that, it's understanding that folks are going through challenges. And I think as a leader, at times being a leader, you want to give up yourself. But it's knowing that you're a model for folks. So it's that way that people are looking up to you. It's not bailing on people when they needs you to most. It's encouraging those folks and they're looking at you as an example. So to me, a leader is showing people, even though at times it might not be okay, I'm going to be there for my team, I'll be there for those around me. So supporting those folks and also being a strong example.

Julianna Wilson:

Yeah. I want to pass it on to Elizeth, but I just wanted to make a comment before we do that. I found it really challenging as a PI of a lab over the last year to find that point where work moves forward. So you have to continue to apply pressure, so to speak. Students need to graduate, thesis need to be written, papers need to be published, but then be compassionate and be taking back some of that anxiety or pressure that they would normally be under because there's all this other pressure that they're on there. So I thought about that a lot and try to navigate that fine line over the last year. And I found it difficult. All right. Elizeth?

Elizeth:

And I guess thinking about leadership and the positions you to have at MSU, how do you balance your personal personnel vision for change and divisions of the larger community that you're working with? And this is a question that I've thought about a lot, even as a grad student. And I'm very curious to know what do you think about this?

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

That's a great question. And I have a vision for how the work regarding diversity equity inclusion should be done at an institution of higher education, having served in a chief diversity officer role at a different place and in various diversity equity inclusion roles in other places. But what I've realized and what I've come to understand is that, every institution, every organization has its own culture. It also has it's own history. And along the way, there've been various contexts that have influenced the culture in history. And all of that should inform the work that we do moving forward and how we do that work as well. So for me, it's important to be able to lean on the experience that I have serving in the roles that I've had the pleasure of serving in, as well as thinking about my own experience as a member of an underrepresented group in higher ed, but acknowledging that there are some historical issues and some marginalized community that exists at MSU as they do it at other places.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

And there are things that we have to do and get right. There's attention that needs to be given to various groups while we think collectively, how do we come together? How do we identify shared issues and leverage shared resources? And how do we think about communicating and collaborating more so that we can move forward together? So, for me, it is being inclusive in the people that I work with, the meeting with the students, staff, faculty, and alumni group, who have been at MSU, who've experienced it in ways very different than myself, but just having people around who can inform the work and who can provide feedback, but also be partners to help get things done.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

I think Jabbar sums it up pretty good. I think, again, coming from the University of Kentucky, I thought I had about 15 years of experience working in DEI. So I thought maybe I had all the answers, but it was a quick learner experience upon my arrival at Michigan State. But again, I think being in multiple roles, that's how it shaped the lens in which I view the world, but also being on several committees, having several conversations, always having an open door policy, and understanding that people don't view the world the way I do. So, again, it's just meeting people where they're at, and also understanding their challenges too.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

So those ongoing conversations.Also from my ag and that's a resource standpoint, I serve as a national advisory board chair for the organization managers, which is minorities in ag, natural resource and data sciences. And we have over 55 chapter in 38 states. So I hear the concerns of people all across the country, that's also how I had working groups that I serve and also part of national organizations. So I hear what's going on across the country as well as MSU, and also as well as an extension too.

Elizeth:

Thank you for that. Yeah. I think that's really important to remember also that every place is different and it's going to have its own history. And so, for example, in my case, as I continue in my career path in academia, I want to be attuned to the reality and some of the struggles of other people that are not in my position yet. How do you remain grounded and informed about DEI topics that are important to people today, and especially working in this higher administrative positions?

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Thank you for the question. I think you stay informed by staying engaged. So, if you're a faculty member, think about the courses, the type of courses that you teach, the type of student that you mentor or advise, both formally and informally. Because if you're a member of an under represented group, folks will just find you and gravitate forward, especially if they don't see others there. So I think it's important to take time to talk to people, to talk to students, to talk to trainees, to ensure that you understand what their issues are and what their needs may be as well.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

So making a commitment to do even little things, like the students that you might train in the summer in your lab, exposing them to what it could be like to be a graduate student pursuing a PhD, what it could be like to be a post-doc in a lab, and what it could look like to be a faculty member who teaches, and does research, and writes manuscript, and submit grant applications to keep the work going. I would say illuminating the pathway toward the professoriate is really key. And the early you can do that the better. The other thing I'll say is investing time, and maybe it's volunteering time at some point if you're not being compensated, in pathway programs.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Those programs that reach out to elementary, middle school students and high school students, again, helping to understand what their plans may be for higher education, or you helping to encourage those just by talking about all the things you can do with a college degree, and all the things you can do with the graduate degree, and all things you can do if you chose to be a faculty member or pursue an administrative career. I think all of those things are really important.

Elizeth:

Thank you. We just had a career quest last week with the [inaudible 00:28:19] station, and there were a lot of high schoolers and they were asking some of those questions. Thank you. Dr. Tyler?

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

So I think, again, it's trading those spaces where you can have genuine, authentic conversations with folks. One of the things I like to do is what we call it, it's time to talk. And just open it up on current events that's going on in the country. But also I remember when I used to teach at the University of Kentucky, I'll have a black box in the beginning of the course in some of the classroom, and students would just come in and drop notes on questions and topics they want to discuss. And I would dedicate time, either beginning or the end in the class, for those genuine, authentic conversations without fear of being retaliated against or anything like that from the peers or from anybody else.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

So again, it's treading those spaces, but also I like to stay involved in the community. I serve on the [inaudible 00:29:10] Human Relations Commission. And also, I was on a police oversight study committee too. To that point, I sit in the back and I listened and I talk. I'm not known as Dr. Tyler, I'm known as Quentin. So leading with Quentin as an individual, not a title.

Zsofia:

Yeah. And I've been at MSU over a decade now. And the number of trainings and opportunities, workshops to talk about the issues has increased, especially over the last few years, I would say. And it made me realize how not used to, we are talking about DEI issues, and not even knowing what the language is that we should be using. And it's been just really obvious in our community that we need to have those conversations. And some of these conversations are difficult, especially that we don't know the language. And sometimes we don't say the right things. And so, in my lab I've been encouraging the students to take these opportunities, especially those types of opportunities that are in these smaller sessions when you talk to people, when you practice talking about DEI issues were really valuable and we did it as a lab.

Zsofia:

And then the other thing that I thought was really valuable were, I don't know if you're familiar with implicit bias tests. But, to me, that was very revealing that I learned things about myself that I wouldn't have otherwise. So I think there's just so many more opportunities now to take part in these DEI activities. And I'm really hoping that this is gonna stay the course. And this hearkens back to some of the earlier questions that we have about the changes going forward. But I'm really hoping that this is one of the things that's going to stay with us. And these are going to continue to be offered. And hopefully Dr. Bennett, it's going to be part of the job that you have here at MSU.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

And thank you, Zsofia. If I may just respond to that comment. The DEI foundation's online educational module that every student employee was expected to complete was an effort to, say, every Spartan needs to have a foundational awareness of the various issues around diversity equity inclusion that members of our campus may face, may present. But also the terminology, as you said, were moving for some people at a very fast pace as we are advancing our commitment and demonstrating our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion. So going back to the questions about how do you tie personal vision to what I'll call it, institutional goals and priorities, it is thinking about how to ensure that we build a strong foundation for understanding why this work is important and having people a part of that, at the same time, thinking about the plans to actually move forward.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

So we need to ensure our community is ready and feel equipped, and understand what diversity means in the 21st century at MSU that goes beyond race, ethnicity, sex, or gender, identity gender expression, but includes other categories related to disability, veteran status, and then the intersectional aspect of it all. And I said before, we're not any just one thing. We each possess multiple identities, and we have to be sure those are acknowledged as we think about the work that we want to do moving forward.

Zsofia:

I was just going to add that in the... Well, so as trained scientists, we're told, or it's implied mostly that you're supposed to inhibit your emotion. Scientists aren't supposed to be emotional or talk about their lived experiences. And so, that piece of it is really... I mean, I started off as an English major a long time ago. So the humanities and sciences have always been interconnected for me. But just getting people to even talk about those uncomfortable, those awkward things, and not be afraid to make mistakes, because language is very fluid and what we call something now is going to change, and it's different for different people with their own lived experiences. And so, it's like being courageous, and brave, and vulnerable, and being able to present our lived experiences fully in our positions.

Zsofia:

And that is, I think, what makes it... I mean, those perspectives that we're trying to gather to be successful as a department, as a lab, as an institution, as a college, all those different levels. It's hard when you're feeling like you're in an inhibited space, where you're not supposed to talk about those things, "We're just here for the science." But it's improving, I think, but it's just a really incremental gradual thing. And it's fascinating to watch from within and without.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

It was such a wonderful statement. I feel like I need to just respond briefly to say, I agree with you, for sure. And I think one of the major keys to the success of this work around diversity equity inclusion is for all of us to understand that we have many more things in common than we do that's not alike. And I think having conversations, people like us, faculty, staff, administrators, acknowledging our humanity in spaces with our colleagues, with our students. The fact that we feel things, and experience things, and are impacted by things in similar ways that others are, I think that is a good step that in students' minds, especially, humanize us, because they see us as so far away from where they are, but can help break down barriers and to dispel myths, and to really help improve our understanding of each other, and hopefully the diversity that we bring and that will eventually be embraced and understood, and not just tolerated.

Zsofia:

Yeah. I just wanted to add one more comment. Sorry, Elizeth. I'll let you go next. But it just reminded me what we were talking about of a class I was teaching this fall. And we were talking with students about Twitter, because Twitter seems to be a place where scientists interact a lot. And so, the discussion was centered around how much of your personality should come across on Twitter, where you are more in a professional capacity or talking about papers, and ideas, and analyses. But then you have sometimes remarks that are off that topic and come in from the side sidelines, and are about your personal life or personal views.

Zsofia:

And so, we've had a really good discussion, because these are people that are going to be applying for jobs. And so whatever they say on Twitter may impact their ability to get a job. So it's not an obvious answer to say, "Well, yeah, just put it all out there." And whoever you are is going to be there forever, because you may change the person that you are now. It's not going to stay the same. And second, it may not help you to get a future job. So, to me, it was a very interesting discussion about personalization of the scientists, so to speak.

Elizeth:

Yeah, I remember that discussion.

Zsofia:

Yeah, you were in the calls. That's right.

Elizeth:

Yeah, it's hard. Because I feel like scientists... What Julianna said about, science is known about feelings or anything. I feel like that's not the reality, as in, right now. But with the Twitter stuff, yeah, it's hard. It's hard because it's what you said, Zsofia. We're all out there looking for jobs, but at the same time, I don't know. I feel like the more I scaled up in my career, the more my personal views and my identity is what is driving my science instead of the other way around.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

I was just going to say, not only looking for jobs, but keeping jobs. I've seen folks utilize sweater almost to their detriment, especially working in HR piece the last year or so, seeing a lot of that.

Zsofia:

I have [inaudible 00:38:09], they always say that maybe you don't want that job, or you don't want to hang onto that job if they don't like you for your personal opinions. You're probably not happy there anyway. All right. Go ahead, Elizeth.

Elizeth:

Yeah. So now this is a broader question. So Michigan State mission as a land grant institution to bring education and to the people of Michigan was unique when the university was founded. How do you see Michigan State bringing the land grant mission into the 21st century now and in the next years?

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

That's a great question, and the mission hasn't changed. But what we are doing as a part of the institution's strategic planning process that is happening right now, the university is articulating its institutional values. And in one of the values that is emerging in this process is around diversity, equity and inclusion. And we have to understand what that means, and the various ways that people might perceive it. But one of the ways that I think about diversity equity inclusion is in the sense of access. Students who may be applying to the university, faculty and staff who we may be hiring, and the support that we give to enable those students who want to attend MSU to enroll, regardless of their socioeconomic status and that of their family, enabling first-generation students, especially those who are from the state of Michigan, to have access and opportunity to attend the college or the university as well.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

And also thinking about our racial and ethnic minorities while we're not making recruitment or hiring decisions based on race or gender per proposal too, in the state constitution has been amended. But we are keeping in mind the various areas and types of diversity that we would want to have represented on our campus. So I think promoting access and being able to provide that to residents across space is important, but I also think it's important for us to engage with communities in meaningful ways, informed partnerships that are mutually beneficial. Not just that benefits the research or somehow the business that the institution does, but also benefits individuals, families, and communities, and tribes across the state. And I think that's where a lot of the work that Quentin does comes into.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

I really appreciate what Jabbar has said. He gave me a segue into what I wanted to mention. We talked about extension being around for over 100 years. And I think we need to continue to utilize stanchion, but also utilize extension from a DEI perspective. So being the thought leaders of providing that education based research in the diversity, equity and inclusion space to our stakeholders in the community. So if we prepare our stakeholders that utilize extension programs and the knowledge of diversity, equity, inclusion, then when they get to college campuses, they're prepared from a 4-H youth development standpoint.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

And then also if we prepare those families, so they can teach their kids or even improve their communities and those of which they work, play, sleep, all those different elements. So to me, I feel like it's utilizing extension, even from a recruitment standpoint, and getting that message out there. So that's why I'm really excited about this role, and showing off this branch of a university that can be fully utilized going forward.

Julianna Wilson:

That's fantastic. So, I mean, this could be a real quick question, I suppose, about who inspires you? Who are your main mentors right now, or maybe who just became... I mean, we all have those mentors that launched us, basically, into what we've become, and maybe a set of mentors.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Thanks. Great question. So who inspires me? And I'll go back to the population that I mentioned that I'm most excited to work with, and that's one of the happier parts of my job, and that's students. And not just our current students. I'd think back now for nearly 20 years, when I was doing more teaching. The students who I was in touch with, I taught at a local community college in Boston during my postdoc, and as that transitioned to one or two jobs after that I kept teaching. But to know that those students who I taught 20 years ago at the community college went on to get bachelor's degrees, some doctorate, and pursued their dreams and still keep in touch with me to say what they learned, or how I encouraged them to learn, or what I required them to learn and demonstrate, really helped develop, not only a knowledge base, but maybe even some thoughts around discipline, and just how that made a difference for them.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

That's what encourages and inspires me, just when I hear from people. Again, that you have really just pushed along and that you've affirmed in some ways to pursue their own individual dreams, the ones that they created for themselves, the visions that they had for their personal and professional lives and contribution. I have peer mentors who are doing what I'm doing, some in higher ed, but some in other sectors, but who were in leadership positions that I learned lessons from. I have a more mature professional mentors, who are beyond the place that I'm currently in, or who literally have longer work experience. They're older. That's just what I'm trying to say, who I really admire, based on not only what they've been able to do in the positions that they've held, but how they've done their work, how they think about and approach issues and challenges, how they engage with people. I've learned a lot from mentors, some formally, but some informally, who I just admire and I've observed over time.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

I think I have to go on behind Jabbar, I get to take a lot of his answers. But I do really appreciate it. One of the things I think about to his point, I was a student advisor of the organization manners while at University of Kentucky for over, let's say, maybe over 10 years. So I got to see a lot of those students. And to Jabbar's point, a lot of those students have masters, PhDs, have jobs now all across the country and seeing what they do. But also I remember when I was a student, I had a certain professor and I used to always be in his class all the time. He was the first person to hire me. And also he was the first assistant dean for diversity at UK's campus. And it was a situation in which I went through, in which I felt discriminated on the college campus, that he came to the rescue.

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

He didn't have all the answers, but he made sure I was okay. And he was one of my motivating factors for even getting into this work. Now he's retired. His partner has passed away. I see him in a state where he's not physically strong, but I still can call him and remember those conversations that we had. And I think about people like that and how now I'm serving in that capacity. And I'm that Dr. Williamson for other people now.

Zsofia:

So I want to be respectful of your time, and maybe we're going to move forward a little bit on our questions here. But I want to know what you're concerned or worried about and what you're optimistic about as you're looking into the future. This can be in whatever interpretation you want, it can be by your personal lives, it can be your professional lives, it can be the world, however you want to look at it. So let's start with the negative and then end on a positive note.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

Thank you for that. I am concerned about the consistent and seemingly intentional and purposeful activities and information that is being shared and rhetoric also, that's coming from places that we've historically held as places of hope and these, again, advocates for freedom and for justice. I'm concerned about the decisions that some leaders make to use their voices and their platforms to not encourage more inclusion, but to encourage almost exclusion and separation, and to drive differences in wedges between individuals and groups. That concerns me. What I am optimistic about and what I'm hopeful for goes back to the same answer I've given twice already. And that is our current students, the current generation of undergrads and those coming behind them. The advocacy that I saw mainly last summer after George Floyd's murder. And we're just a couple of days away from the year anniversary of his murder.

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

What I found with the coalitions of diverse, young people, older people, people of color, people who aren't of color, people who held the fight, who were queer, but who understand that this is a nation that was established by and built by diverse folks, despite how we all got here. We have worked together, we have advocated for one another, and that's the spirit of this country that I appreciate and that I hope will be retained. And I'm excited and optimistic because the young people were coming behind all of us don't necessarily have all the baggage that we had and our parents and grandparents had as it related to the legal separation, the laws that kept us from doing things that we should have had the right to do all along in this country as residents. So I'm optimistic about the future, and our young people, and the change that they will help to make and sustain over time.

Zsofia:

Okay. Can I just jump in with a follow-up question to that? Are you feeling like what's happening now is more of a pivotal moment than some of the other pivotal moments that have happened in history? Are you seeing a difference? And if you are, how do you see that happening right now?

Dr. Jabbar Bennet:

So thank you for that question. And I am not a historian, but I do know enough about some of the other major movement, civil rights being the biggest one as relates to this DEI space we're in now, black lives movement, and others. What I see happening now is more attention being given to these broader issues by a more diverse populations. And it's not just people of color. I see more allies involved in this work. I see more legislators thinking about and having to talk about and defend decisions that they're making as it relates to the power they have to affect change. So that encourages me. And I see legislation that may be considered at the federal level that could impact what's happening at the local level, that promotes justice and proposed more equity for members of underrepresented and, or vulnerable population. So that encourages me. It surely does.

Zsofia:

Awesome. That's very comforting to hear. Dr. Tyler?

Dr. Quentin Tyler:

Yeah. I think one of my concerns that I have is the consistent use of social media to build wages between folks. I think a lot of times with this increased social media presence, folks could hide behind their Twitter account, or Instagram, or Facebook and say things to hurt people. I think one of the things I'm optimistic about, particularly as it relates to MSU campus, is a leadership we have in terms of diversity, equity, inclusion. We have Dr. Bennett, who's here down. We also have a lot of associate and assistant deans that work in the area of diversity, equity, inclusion. And also a lot of you all, that work on DEI committees in your respective departments, as well as colleges. So more folks are involved in DEI efforts, more conversations are happening. And people are just not taking what people are giving them nowadays too. So that's what has me really optimistic.

Zsofia:

Well, and be assured that we are really happy that you're here, and we're looking forward to working with you and seeing what the future brings. So I want to wrap up and I want to thank both of you for taking the time to be with us here today. I found this a really enjoyable conversation. I hope you did too. And I also want to thank my two co-hosts for being here today. And we'll see you in the next podcast.