It’s 8 a.m. on the first day of my freshman year of college. I rushed to put on my best outfit, excited to start my first day. As I walked into my first class, a burning sensation came over me, and my smile slowly faded. Everyone is looking at me and my clothes, now not so “in style.”
Everyone has on a pair of cowboy boots and jeans, and I had on my favorite pair of Jordans. I felt so out of place. I searched for something familiar, something kind. Then I saw another girl in the corner that had the same smile that I had when I walked into the classroom. I approached her, and the room no longer seemed so foreign. This was my first day of college as a minority in agriculture.
I grew up in the city of St. Louis. I did not come from a small town, where there were only 300 people and everyone knew everyone else. I did not have beef or dairy cattle growing up, nor did I my family live on a farm. Instead, I came from an urban environment. I came from a city where it would take a lifetime to know everyone. Yet, my passion for agriculture and the animals only grew stronger as I got older.
“Why did you decide to go into agriculture?” This is a question I have been asked every day since I came to MU.
I chose agriculture because, at one point in my life, I was exposed to a rural environment, and I fell in love. I fell in love with the animals. I fell in love with the open spaces, the hard work and even with cowboy boots.
College wasn’t a hard transition for me personally. I had learned to take care of myself at a young age, but being in agriculture was a whole different transition entirely.
According to MU’s enrollment database, there are only 94 undergraduate African-Americans in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources (CAFNR) this semester, and there are only 123 other minority students in the college. Those numbers do not compare to the 1,806 non-minorities in CAFNR.
“Academically it all feels the same,” said Briana Conway, minority majoring in animal science. “Socially, however, it is very different, if you take into account the interactions outside of class. We come from two different worlds.”
Conway was that familiar face for me my freshman year. Coming from Milwaukee, she understood what it was like being a minority in agriculture with little agricultural background.
Every year during syllabus week, the professor would go around the room and make us tell a little about our background. Every semester, most of the class would tell about their childhood in small towns that I had never heard of, and I would just say, “Hi. My name is Deja, and I’m from St. Louis.”
Previously, I had the opportunity to have a roommate who was a non-minority and was from a small town. From this experience, I got to learn how different our backgrounds really were. We would have many conversations comparing our completely different lifestyles. She would talk about hunting season coming up, and I would talk about the new episode of my favorite reality TV show. In general, most people from a rural environment often stereotype minorities from TV or from the few minority friends they may have had in their hometown. Because there are often so few minorities in rural areas, they often place us in the category as “city folks.” Most think that “city folks” wouldn’t know what to do if placed in their boots. Being from the city and also a minority, I felt like I really had to prove myself.
Samone Mitchell is the president of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, otherwise known as MANRRS. This organization is specifically for minorities in agriculture within CAFNR. She believes that you really have to go outside the intimidation of being the only minority in the room and branch out to make friends outside of your normal circle.
I believe that being a minority in agriculture is an advantage. We offer something to agriculture that not everyone can give. We offer a different outlook on something that we all love. Rural or city, black or white, CAFNR is about a family in diversity, and that is something that our industry needs to grow.
When I think about this, a saying from Socrates always resonates in my head, “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”