Bannis to lead initiative on inclusion, diversity, equity and access for NSFA

Benita Bannis will spearhead a new initiative to advance inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (IDEA) in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture at the University of Maine.

The effort seeks to cultivate an environment where each person’s unique attributes and perspectives are celebrated. 

Bannis, who is consulting with the college for a one-year term, has extensive experience in specialized diversity and inclusion interventions in land grant universities. She was first introduced to the college during an IDEA Town Hall event on March 30. 

As IDEA Advisor to the college, Bannis will help the college examine its existing organizational culture and develop a framework to improve response to concerns related to equity and justice. She will also identify opportunities to increase a sense of community among faculty, staff, and students, and advise college leaders about how to align stated IDEA goals with operations, policies, practices and outcomes. One initial goal will be to explore with staff the formation of a council that would provide feedback and community connection across all staff in the college. 

Bannis plans to hold listening sessions with NSFA’s community in the fall 2022 semester, and will produce an initial report with recommendations in January 2023. 

Dean Diane Rowland, who assumed leadership of the college in August 2021, announced her intention to advance IDEA when she interviewed for the position. 

“What we hope to do in the college is support the wonderful grassroots efforts that our schools and departments are already doing in support of IDEA. But effective change also requires college leadership to spearhead cross-cutting initiatives, hopefully leading to a merger of both action pathways. This  approach supports a coordinated rebuilding of attitudes, beliefs, and awareness that promote equity,” Rowland says.

In addition to her consultation work for the college, Bannis is the assistant director of research administration at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and consults as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisor for ELEVATE Scholars in Orlando, Fla. 

Earlier this year, she was recognized by the University of Florida for Superior Accomplishment in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

Bannis holds Master’s of Education and an Education Specialist degrees in Counselor Education from the University of Florida. Her past work as a researcher and speaker centers on diversity and inclusion in leadership, Black experiences in predominantly white institutions of higher education, the alignment of organizational practices with cultural competence and developing a sense of community in virtual spaces.