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Impact Magazine

Catalyst for Change

Bringing Focus to Diversity in the College of Life Sciences

Students walking to class
Photo by Nate Edwards, BYU Photo

Weeks before Public Health student Kenya Augustin (‘20) graduated, she tipped the first metaphorical domino in a pattern that would lead to increased inclusivity within the College of Life Sciences. Augustin, along with nutrition, dietetics, and food science student Spencer Asay (’21), brought a proposal to the College of Life Sciences to address resources for women in STEM. What started as a quest to address the safety and comfort of one group led to the formation of a diversity committee specifically for the life sciences.
Associate Dean Rick Jellen recognized the difference a slight disadvantage can create for a group of people and formed the diversity committee along with public health professor Len Novilla. According to Novilla, the committee’s purpose is “to nurture a strong sense of identity and an inclusive learning environment where differences, viewpoints, and varying expertise are respected and valued.”
President Kevin J Worthen’s remarks from his January 2021 devotional, “Persevere in Unity,” echo a similar statement:

“When we welcome and value the gifts, talents, experiences, and perspectives of all of God’s children who are engaged in our common enterprise, we will not only more fully reach our individual potential but will also be more united.”

Infographic statistic about female BYU students

A key goal for the committee “is to support the professional growth of our female students by preparing them for STEM professions,” according to Novilla, as well as creating a safer, more inclusive environment for all minorities. The committee has crafted a statement on diversity and inclusion for the college and has begun implementing implicit bias and inclusive language training.
Recent devotional speaker and sociology professor Ryan Gabriel spoke on the need for inclusion and unity as well. “When we grow our friendship networks to be more diverse, our world perspective will shift, and we will become more Christlike,” he shared.

The life sciences diversity committee is dedicated to making learning at the college a place where everyone feels welcome and supported. “I want everyone’s eyes to be open to the differences around us, to not be afraid to ask why, and to work together in making those differences a strength as we support one another,” Augustin says.

Words from the College of Life Science's Diversity Committee:

Steven Peck—Biology

Steven Peck standing in a park

“I love being a part of the diversity committee in the College of Life Sciences. Helping students to become actively antiracist is one of the most important things I’ve done as a BYU faculty member. The affirmation Black Lives Matter has helped me see the importance of working towards a more inclusive BYU for all its students.”

Isabella Errigo—Student

Isabella Errigo standing in a hallway

“Inclusion is about making everybody feel safe, welcome, and valued, no matter their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, political ideology, cultural background, sexual orientation, etc. Improving inclusion in the life sciences is a feat that will require an active effort from all parties—faculty, staff, and students—but it is a feat that can take the appearance of many different actions. It may look like required lessons or classes in which uncomfortable conversations are had, where people are able to safely share their experiences and ask questions. It may look like participating in celebrations for different cultural and religious holidays. It may look like an invitation, words of encouragement, or an offer of help and assistance. Regardless of the action, the basis of improving inclusion is increasing compassion for our brothers and sisters. Because, ‘when we have more compassion for those who are different from us, we are able to lighten many of the problems and sorrows in the world’ (Joseph B. Wirthlin).

Rick Jellen—Plant and Wildlife Sciences

Headshot of Rick Jellen

“Inclusion is important to me because 1) I believe that all of humanity is equally loved by God, 2) providing an inclusive environment where women and men of all backgrounds feel comfortable in sharing their ideas and perspectives will make us a better university—one that is more representative of what the Lord’s kingdom should be like, and 3) unity is becoming harder to achieve in a world that is becoming increasingly polarized.

Laura Jefferies—Nutrition, Dietetics, and Food Science

Headshot of Laura Jefferies

“All of Heavenly Father’s children deserve to be nurtured in an environment of warmth and safety so that they can grow abundantly throughout every stage of life. Learning from each other’s differences helps us all to develop in ways that aren’t possible when diversity isn’t present.”

Juan Arroyo—Cell Biology and Physiology

Headshot of Juan Arroyo

“I think [my passion for addressing diversity] comes from being Hispanic and the experiences I’ve had in my life. I just want others to not have the same experiences I did and to be able to grow and develop in an environment that promotes unity and opportunities to everyone equally.

Sarah Ridge—Exercise Science

Headshot of Sarah Ridge

“To me, inclusion means that we honor, respect, and appreciate all people, regardless of their backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexual preferences, political ideologies, or other characteristics. By appreciating our differences, we create a more comfortable environment for people to express their authentic personalities.”

Joel Griffitts—Microbiology and Molecular Biology

Headshot of Joel Griffitts

“Diversity is shining different life experiences at shared objectives. Diversity is enthralling conversations about life on the other side of the world or on the other side of a career or on the other side of racism. Diversity is completing each other’s sentences in thrillingly unexpected ways.

Len Novilla—Public Health

Headshot of Len Novilla

“The life sciences are about the science of life. Life, by its very nature, is diverse, multi-colored, and multidimensional. To be true to the science of life is to focus on what people can offer, rather than on how they look. One-ness is never about same-ness. Let us call attention to the special talents and skills inherent in our diversity.

Graph showing the racial/ethnic statistics among BYU Life Sciences students (and BYU first-generation college students)