Katie James: Committed to change

Katie James, research administrator and graduate secretary in the Michigan State University Department of Forestry, is committed to educating herself and others about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Headshot of Katie James

Katie James, research administrator and graduate secretary in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Forestry, is committed to making change — change that starts by opening her office door and listening to students’ concerns.

One of two staff recipients of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s You Belong Here Champion Award, James is a member of the Department of Forestry’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) committee. She was recognized for her kindness toward students, commitment to learning and “fiery passion for not just 'talking the talk' but 'walking the walk” when it comes to DEI.

The student who nominated her wrote, “If more people were like Katie, we'd be in a better world because people would care enough to inform themselves about others.”

With the greater discussion of race and equity in the U.S. and all the other diversity factors that encompass that, why is it more relevant that we support these initiatives in the college and that you be an ally? 

Unfortunately, I think that it should have always been relevant, but it just hasn't (been). If you see the national, the worldwide movement with Black Lives Matter, and how race and discrimination and police brutality is affecting everyone, it should have happened long ago. But it's taken this long, and certain things have had to happen for us to get where we're at. I think that is why it is so important to really push these initiatives now more than ever, because we are seeing the momentum to make changes. Taking the time to listen, empathize, and simply try to understand my students is the absolute least I can do. Learning from the experts that have invested their lives to this work is one of the best ways for me to be an ally.

How has DEI affected you professionally and personally?

I honestly feel like a different person. I grew up in a predominately white community, a small town where it just was not in my face, it was not something that I ever recognized or learned about regrettably. It became significantly important to me because I care so much about our students and their experiences, successes, and their lives, as well as my colleagues, friends, and my son, who is multiracial. It has really changed who I am as a person because I continue to educate myself and have a different perspective and feel like I have hope that we can make actual changes. 

What role do you see with the collective CANR community in fostering the diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at MSU specifically? 

If we really want to impact the university in a certain way, we need to start from the bottom up. For us, it's been really great to have support in that way, because I think that numbers do matter — having the support and the strength not only of our department, but our college, when we're trying to make changes that we can then hopefully get to the top administration. 

Your students are the ones who nominated you for this. What does it mean to you to receive this award at their recommendation?

I honestly got a little emotional. For me, working on these initiatives and being part of the DEI committee and attending different workshops and seminars is truly all in hopes that we can make change, and that I can change myself and I can make change outward. For me to just know that I actually impacted a student in a positive way was indescribable. I appreciate the award, but I think what I appreciate the most is just that our college and my department specifically is working really hard towards making change and making things better for our students. 

This article was published in In the Field, a yearly magazine produced by the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. To view past issues of In the Field, visit www.canr.msu.edu/inthefield. For more information, email Holly Whetstone, editor, at whetst11@msu.edu or call 517-355-0123.

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