PhD student Brandon Allen receives an award from President Mitch Daniels

My Purdue View

Brandon Allen

PhD Program

Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication


Portsmouth, Virginia

I worked for the USDA for about two years. I was asked to be the keynote speaker for Kentucky State’s Ag Discovery program in 2015. It helps non-traditional students like underrepresented minorities and women get exposure to agriculture. But the audience represented the same familiar faces.

At the same time, lots of protests were happening around the country. I thought, “Somebody has to put social justice into agriculture.” By that, I mean the mission, who we have working in ag, and the problems we think ag can solve — like food deserts, the Flint water crisis and water quality.

When I heard what happened to the people in Flint, I started thinking about all the implications of not having water: bathing, cooking, infants who need formula. So I said, “Let’s do something,” and that’s what [fellow graduate student] Amonté Martin and I did. The donations just took off.

Traveling to Flint and interacting and engaging with people was such an enriching experience.

When they presented me with the One Brick Higher Award [for his extraordinary community service], they got me good. My advisor, Dr. Levon Esters, set the whole thing up, asking for help with a presentation. Then President Daniels came up, called me over, and explained the award. I didn’t know they don’t give it out that often!

My dissertation focuses on chief diversity officers at 1862 land-grant universities. I hope to collect data on diversity officers at these institutions, using critical race theory as my theoretical framework, to look at what background they have, how they respond to student protests, what statements they put out, and what constraints they have.

If I stay in the field as a faculty member, I hope to develop a research center in agriculture that focuses on the different components of social justice and how they intertwine with ag. That’s what my hope is: to make social justice as much a part of ag as plant science or animal science.