Personifying the mission of the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Associate dean focuses on celebrating differences, cultivating community

MSU Associate Dean and Director for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Quentin Tyler.

Shortly after being named dean of the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) in 2016, Ron Hendrick established diversity programs as his top priority.

Two years later, to further secure the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion’s (ODEI) reach across the college, Quentin Tyler was hired as the associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion. His addition expanded ODEI’s scope and support for learning and development opportunities for students, faculty and staff.

While leading ODEI, Tyler has established several programs and initiatives and cultivated an atmosphere of inclusion across the entirety of the college.

“My goal is to provide a strategic vision for the office,” Tyler said. “My mission is to listen to what’s going on and around our campus and our community and be able to work with our team to develop programming and initiatives around what we as faculty, staff and students need to be successful in a multicultural global society.”

The mission of ODEI is to serve as a resource within the various units of CANR to develop intentional efforts to recruit and retain diverse faculty, staff and students and to enhance diverse teaching, learning and outreach opportunities. It also assists with professional development for those from diverse and historically underserved backgrounds and advocates for diverse representation in academic and professional fields.

ODEI has become a place of welcoming. Tyler encourages an open-door policy and conversation on issues that may arise on campus or in the MSU community.

“Our office provides support to assist in each area of the land-grant mission,” he said. “Coming up in agriculture and through my own experiences, I learned the importance of DEI. I was the only person of color in many of my classrooms, and I think it’s important to increase the diversity of folks, not only in the classroom, but also those who deliver instruction.”

Tyler’s success in advancing ODEI in the college recently earned him a role on the MSU Task Force on Racial Equity. The intent of the newly formed group is to examine and address urgent and immediate issues critical to racial and ethnic communities on campus.

“Under Quentin’s leadership, our expressed commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has moved from the conceptual to the implementable,” Hendrick said. “He’s brought together other DEI leaders in the college, along with academic and support unit leaders, to build a robust framework for improving our culture.

“We need an environment in which diverse members of the community can thrive, and where everyone finds a way to foster diversity in all its forms, and Quentin and ODEI are moving us in that direction.” 

MSU’s role as the leading land-grant institution in the United States places it in a position to attract a diverse faculty and student body. Students and researchers from all over the country and around the world come to learn, teach and study agriculture at MSU. Tyler said that prestige comes with a responsibility to recognize the importance of DEI.

“Michigan State is a global institution,” Tyler said. “In terms of food and agriculture, it is our job to feed the world and in order to understand how to feed the world, we have to have people that represent all those different backgrounds. You have to be able to work and collaborate with people different than yourself.”

In two years, Tyler said he has experienced great acceptance and participation in his efforts from the CANR faculty and staff. He said it is the people he works with at MSU that makes him love the university.

“I work with some of the best folks in their respective areas and who have been champions of DEI for a long time,” he said. “We are expanding in terms of the diversity work we are doing across the college and looking for ways to include DEI in our curriculum. Everybody is engaging in this work, and people are reaching out to me and saying, ‘I’m not an expert on this, but how can I support you?’”

Eight of the 12 schools within CANR have developed their own DEI committees. ODEI has also implemented several training opportunities and award recognitions to further amplify the work of the office:

Hendrick said Tyler’s personality fosters a feeling of belonging with everyone he meets, and that quality has allowed ODEI to reach people it may not have otherwise.

“I appreciate Quentin’s commitment to meeting people where they are with respect to what they think about matters relating to DEI, and what they believe their role may or may not be in creating an inclusive and equitable environment in CANR,” Hendrick said.

“He brings a level of precision and nuance to concepts and terms relating to people’s philosophies and behaviors, rather than pigeonholing them. As a land grant institution, a commitment to ‘access’ is a part of our foundation, and I appreciate Quentin’s commitment to helping members of CANR’s community find ways to help foster that.”

Shedra Rakestraw, interim assistant director and fiscal officer for ODEI, said it’s the “little things” that Tyler has implemented that make the most difference to her.

“When I first started here, our office had a gray door and now it’s painted green with a Spartan helmet,” Rakestraw said. “It was different, and sometimes you have to do things differently to get people’s attention and encourage them to use that door. The door was there for you to walk through and engage with us and the services and resources we offer.”

She said Tyler is always opening the ODEI door to anyone.

“Quentin is passionate about what he is doing,” she said. “I believe this is his purpose, because he’s so drawn in to what he’s doing and he means it when he says he wants people to do their best. He’s always standing up on behalf of people. He has a passion for helping our students grow and making sure they know they have a resource.”

Rakestraw met Tyler through Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS), an MSU-initiated program that promotes academic and professional advancement by empowering minorities in agriculture, natural resources, and related sciences.

MANRRS had a major impact on both Rakestraw and Tyler.

“I smile when I talk about the MANRRS organization,” Tyler said. “I’ve been a member for 23 years. I was national president in 2015 and served as an advisory board chair. So, it was an honor to come work at MSU – to the institution where it all started. I think MANRRS plays a huge role in providing opportunities for students.”

Tyler’s role also includes providing guidance and a unifying voice during times of uncertainty on campus and across the country. Social issues related to race relations and police brutality, as well as events on the MSU campus related to racial insensitivity are recent issues Tyler has addressed.

“I think social issues bring to the forefront what is going on around the country and we can use that as an opportunity to engage students by integrating those issues into the curriculum,” he said. “I think our office has to find a way to help facilitate conversations about what’s going on and provide support for faculty, staff and students that may be experience trauma from issues going on.”

Ultimately, Tyler’s fondness for his job comes back to his love for agriculture and the opportunities it provides people from all backgrounds.

“I think it’s important for folks to know that I come from a rural agricultural community, but agriculture as a career option was never made available to me,” he said. “It was always associated with a negative perception and it wasn’t until I had somebody introduce me to it that I fell in love with it.

“That’s one of the great things about MANRRS and one thing I love about my role now is the ability to introduce folks to something as great as the MSU College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.”

 

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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