The youngest of ten children, Gina Elaine Eubanks grew up in rural Clinton, Louisiana, participating in 4-H. Her 35-year career in higher education brought her back to her native state, where she serves as the associate vice president and program leader at the Louisiana State University AgCenter. In this role, one of her duties is helping coordinate research and extension programs in nutrition and food sciences.
“I come from what one would say is an Extension background. I was involved in 4-H all the way through school,” she said. After Eubanks graduated from Southern University in Baton Rouge with a bachelor’s degree, she enrolled and completed a master’s degree at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
For a very short time she worked as a buyer prior to accepting a teaching appointment with Alcorn State University in Lorman, Mississippi. She enjoyed college teaching, so she returned to OSU to pursue a PHD and upon completion she accepted a teaching position at Virginia Tech and then at Southern University A&M College.
In 1993, she accepted a job with Southern University Cooperative Extension Program as a home economist. During that time, she worked with limited resource families, farmers and youth. “We just didn’t work with the ladies of the house,” she said.
“I guess I’ve always been an individual that wanted to make a difference; to work with people,” she said. “I couldn’t see myself being an engineer sitting behind a desk, or a chemist mixing formulas and doing that. I’ve known for years growing up, that I was a people person.”
She is one of 28 members appointed to USDA’s Equity Commission in February 2022. Each commission and subcommittee member, who serve two-year appointments, brings a specialized understanding of their individual field and professional niche. Working together, the commission and its subcommittees will evaluate USDA programs and services and recommend how USDA can reduce barriers for accessing them by implementing transformative changes.
The Equity Commission held its first face-to-face meeting in May 2022 in Washington DC. “Every single individual came with a different reference point and all those reference points are valuable,” she said. “I’m not saying because I’m a black female that we need to help no one but black farmers. I’m giving that as my reference,” she said.
She said it’s the commission members role to listen for understanding and apply that understanding to develop recommendations for building equity.
“USDA has all the services. But the way in which USDA delivers those services can make the difference,” she said. “In other words, I can walk into an USDA office and ask one question and you answer the question. The service has been provided.”
But understanding that customer’s reference point, can help guide a more detailed and helpful response.
Eubanks described the concept of equitable services using a simple story about giving away shoes. “Let’s say everyone needs shoes, so I start giving out shoes. Then it’s equal,” she said. “But when I come in and give a person shoes that actually fit. That’s equity.”