Auburn highlights campus-wide commitment to inclusive excellence at second annual State of Inclusion and Diversity event

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More than 150 students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends and family attended the second annual State of Inclusion and Diversity on April 20 at Auburn University’s Harold D. Melton Student Center Ballroom.

The event is hosted by the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, or OID, and is designed to provide an opportunity to reflect on the university’s continued progress toward inclusive excellence.

“When the room is different, the success is different,” Taffye Benson Clayton, vice president and associate provost for inclusion and diversity, said to the crowd during her presentation. “This is a quote from Auburn undergraduate student Tylan Rudolf, and it serves as a reminder that diversity is our greatest strength. As a public, land-grant and research university, it is an incredible opportunity to have students, faculty, staff and alumni from diverse backgrounds on campus.”

Clayton gave a comprehensive overview, including the importance of providing high-impact experiences for students, faculty and staff, celebrating diverse cultures and the importance of investing in specific programs that advance the mission and support all members of the community, state and nation.

“Our ultimate goal is for everyone to reach their full potential,” she said. “This charge requires us to create an environment of inclusion where everyone feels valued, respected and empowered. It is ultimately inclusion that begets excellence.”

Emphasizing the significance of collaboration, various colleges and departments were highlighted throughout the presentation for their hard work. OID is working hand-in-hand across campus to make impactful strides for units as they pursue their diversity-related goals, plans and initiatives.

One such example of cross-campus support is the partnership between Enrollment Management and OID to facilitate a recruitment program called Tiger Takeoff. It is a three-day summer program where talented students from underrepresented populations across the state are provided the opportunity to discover what an Auburn education can do for them.

During the ceremony, Auburn recognized 10 students, faculty and staff leaders across campus with the Inclusive Excellence Awards for their work as champions of diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI. These individuals have demonstrated a commitment based on a combination of the merit of their initiatives, publications, presentations, research, teaching and service at Auburn and beyond.

The ceremony also honored the 13 inaugural Matthews Scholars Program Fellows. Participants will benefit from research mentorship, academic or career exploration and participation in the Undergraduate Research Symposium. The Matthews Scholars Program was named for the late Josetta Brittain Matthews, the first Black graduate and faculty member of Auburn, and honors students who advance diversity through conducting undergraduate research at Auburn.

The program is facilitated in partnership with the Office of University Research and Auburn University’s Honors College. Matthews’ daughter, Heidi Wright, and sister, Juanita Tucker, attended the State of Inclusion and Diversity event in her honor.

At the closing of awards presentations, Tonika Boyd, director of OID’s Cross Cultural Center for Excellence, led a student panel that discussed their work to advance diversity at Auburn, what they wanted to see from Auburn in the years to come and how students don’t need to be part of a marginalized group to be advocates.

“I was having a conversation with a student,” said panelist Olly Davis, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts and an OID student employee. “I needed him to know that he doesn’t have to be a part of the group to care about the group. He just needs to want to make the world a more accepting and more inclusive place for all people, and as long as you have that drive toward empathy, you can be involved in DEI.”

While the event served as an opportunity to showcase all the great work Auburn is doing to advance inclusive excellence on campus, it also was a time to look to the future and the work that remains to be done. This fall, the university will begin to celebrate the 60th anniversary of integration at Auburn — which will occur on Jan. 4, 2024 — and the months that follow will be a time to celebrate and acknowledge Auburn’s history and why it is essential to build a campus community that prioritizes all members of the Auburn Family.

“This is not a finish line or a victory lap,” said JuWan Robinson, deputy chief diversity officer, in his closing remarks. “This is more like a pit stop, where we can re-energize and refuel to get ready for what’s next.”

Inclusive Excellence Award recipients

The Black Student-Athlete Council
Ananda Brown, David Edmondson, Malcolm “MJ” Johnson Jr., Micah Riley-Ducker and Hallie Rush

Ifeoluwa Odeniyi
African Student Association, Graduate student, College of Human Sciences

Jessica Bowers
Manager, Career Development Content and Strategy, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering 

Dr. Melinda Camus
Associate Dean of Academic Affairs, College of Veterinary Medicine 

Khayla Lloyd
Athletic Academic Counselor, Auburn University Medicine

Tiffany Sippial
Director, Honors College

Matthews Scholars Program Fellows

College of Agriculture
Jazmine Carroll

Samuel Ginn College of Engineering
Jada Neal

College of Liberal Arts
Natalie McBrayer

College of Pharmacy
Meredith Almy
Katherine Marlow

College of Sciences and Mathematics
John Dailey
Jordan Fluker
Kiana Sargent
McKae Sarkowski
Toby Sizemore

College of Veterinary Medicine
Timothy Eller
Olivia Grigsby
Sujeong Kim


State of Inclusion

Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.