Mary Hausbeck: An advocate for students

Mary Hausbeck, University Distinguished Professor in the Michigan State University Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences, draws on her early experience as a graduate student at MSU to support current students.

Headshot of Mary Hausbeck

Mary Hausbeck, University Distinguished Professor in the Michigan State University (MSU) Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences (PSM) ensures that students’ voices are heard and valued.

Her commitment to advocating for groups that are considered vulnerable and her leadership in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives are why she was named a recipient of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s You Belong Here Champion Award.

As chair of PSM’s Student, Staff, and Academic Faculty Equity Committee, Hausbeck works with undergraduate and graduate students to examine ways the department can develop culture and policies rooted in DEI to create a better environment for all of its members, including students, postdocs and junior faculty.

“Mary has positively impacted all current and future students with her work on this committee and her advocacy for student safety in our department,” wrote one of her nominators. “PSM is a large department that frequently feels segmented into different research areas, but Mary is working to bridge these gaps and unite us all as a community of individuals with unique contributions and shared accountability to one another.”

In light of recent events in the U.S. and MSU, why are DEI initiatives important?

In my opinion, DEI initiatives have always been important. Certainly, the recent events highlight the progress that must be made and the urgency by which progress must be made. It's long been shown that we can be more successful when we are inclusive, when we take into account everyone's experiences, everyone's cultures, their perspectives, and not to do so is folly.

How do you hope to continue to support these initiatives and their growth within CANR and the greater MSU community? 

I’ve been at MSU for many years and I have a responsibility to speak on behalf of those who are more vulnerable. Those who are younger and not yet established may feel that they are at risk professionally if they push back against an individual or an environment that is not inclusive. My former students have told me that people, such as myself, must speak on behalf of those who may not be heard. I have an important duty to push forward where others may be hesitant.

By shouldering that responsibility, you're, sort of, effectively taking on a role of a leader in DEI. How do you feel that has helped you grow personally and professionally? 

 My graduate student experience at MSU was difficult, because I faced discrimination as a woman working in a STEM field. I am grateful for the faculty members who stood up and ensured that I had a chance to succeed. Even though they were not established professors at the time, they stood up for me, they supported me, they defended me, and it came at a cost to them. I've always been grateful to them for what they did on my behalf. Because of them, I have been able to pursue a career that I love and have a job that I love, but it could have been very different. I've had a chance to circle back with them and let them know how meaningful it was that they advocated for me.

Championing DEI initiatives is my way to help others who need an advocate and I’m willing to pound the table, if needed, and say 'this isn't right.’ I feel the need to be outspoken and to let students know that their voice will be heard. I will listen and take their concerns forward in whatever manner they are comfortable. Because others acted on my behalf so many years ago, I know the difference that I, and others, can make if we choose.

How did it feel to receive this award?

This particular recognition is really important to me because the nomination came from students. I think that we move forward only by listening to them. If we aren't listening to our students and others that may not have the protection of tenure— new professionals, young professors, postdocs needing a recommendation to move on— if we don't listen to those unprotected individuals, we will not move forward in a meaningful way. By the students recognizing me and putting forward this nomination, it made me feel like maybe I have made some progress, maybe I have moved things forward just a bit.

What role do you see yourself and the greater CANR community playing in making sure that DEI issues are heard at the university level?

I love MSU and I'm committed to MSU, but I've also been associated with MSU long enough to know that we have room for improvement, as all universities, I'm sure do. Sometimes I'm outspoken at various meetings and I can push. If I can help people understand experiences that others may be having, then that's all good. 

I wish that we all would listen more. I wish that we would all recognize that other individuals have experiences that are likely different from ours, and that we should embrace that and try to learn from that. I think if we can learn to do that, then MSU will truly be a great university for all. 

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 Eileen Gianiodis, editor, at gianiod1@msu.edu or call 517-355-1855.

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