South Dakota State University student Paul Schlotman had the opportunity to engage in conversations with other students across the nation around diversity in agriculture through a virtual experience hosted by Agriculture Future of America (AFA). The series for young professionals studying in agriculture and related fields, called AFA Bridge: Thriving through our differences, brought together 29 students from across the nation for intimate virtual discussions where they shared experiences and perspectives.
Being an ally for diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement has become a passion for Schlotman, a sophomore studying agricultural and biosystems engineering who participated in the AFA Bridge series.
Participants engaged in sessions that provided educational background on topics including racism in land-grant institutions, diversity hires, power and privilege, and allyship in agriculture. Following each session, students were provided additional learning tools including articles, websites and presentations.
Growing up in a mostly white farming community, Schlotman had little exposure to diversity in his hometown. Upon arriving at SDSU, Schlotman joined Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. Valuing diversity and inclusion is an area of focus for the fraternity, both on campus and within the community. When Schlotman heard about the Bridge series, he registered to gain a deeper understanding of diversity.
“As a Christian, I believe God creates everyone equally, but it wasn’t until I participated in the Bridge series that I gained a wider perspective on issues related to diversity and inclusion within agriculture,” says Schlotman. “Through this program, I had a stark realization that how I perceive a situation may be entirely different than how someone else perceives it. I want to be an advocate for not only diversity, but also empathy and understanding.”
As the vice president of recruitment for Sigma Phi Epsilon, Schlotman has raised the importance of having hard conversations about diversity with his fellow brothers. The fraternity hosts a program that facilitates intellectual conversations about various topics over a scheduled dinner and Schlotman has slated a series of conversations to discuss diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement.
“When I think of diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement, I think of unity,” says Schlotman. “In unity, there is strength. If we don’t have unity within agriculture, everyone will suffer because of division and we’ll struggle to provide what every person needs — food. In our growing world, we need unity to find solutions for doing more with less.”
As a catalyst in preparing students to become future leaders of the agriculture industry, AFA programs like the Bridge value student experiences and create spaces for them to grow personally and professionally.
To learn more about Agriculture Future of America, visit agfuture.org.