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This article is part of a Michigan Daily series profiling four of the candidates seeking a seat on the Board of Regents this November at the University of Michigan.

University Regent Shauna Ryder Diggs (D) is running for her second term on the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents to expand financial aid initiatives and provide her expertise as a practicing physician to the board amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Ryder Diggs and fellow incumbent Regent Mark Bernstein (D) are running to keep their seats against challengers Sarah Hubbard (R) and Carl Meyers. Hubbard is participating in her first election for Board of Regents, while Carl Meyers is running in his third. 

As a University alum and the child of college professors, Ryder Diggs said her family commitment to education makes her a valuable member of the board. She also has experience serving on other community boards such as the Detroit Institute of Arts and Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan. 

Ryder Diggs said the accomplishment she is most proud of during her time on the board is supporting and expanding the Go Blue Guarantee. Ryder Diggs said she wants to ensure the legacy of the Go Blue Guarantee and other initiatives that will benefit students in the future.  

“There’s more work to be done and you have to be at the table to keep past accomplishments going,” Ryder Diggs said. 

After the board decided to freeze future fossil fuel investments amid consistent demands from the Climate Action Movement, Bernstein announced at the October regents meeting that the board will be looking into possible avenues to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Ryder Diggs said she is hopeful experts can find a path that allows the University to divest without sacrificing revenue for financial aid.

“What many people say is that we need our investments to bring the best return possible so that we can be able to give the financial aid that we want to give and expand the Go Blue Guarantee to give it to Flint and Dearborn,” Ryder Diggs said. “That definitely resonates with me, but I don’t think the two things are mutually exclusive.”

Ryder Diggs also supports extending additional support to the Flint and Dearborn campuses. 

With her experience as a physician to guide her decisions, Ryder Diggs said she is in favor of a reopening plan that requires more testing. She currently chairs the Health Affairs committee on the board and wants to continue using her expertise to guide the Board’s decision-making process during the pandemic.

“During this health care crisis, I have a lot of experience (from) when I was studying at U of M Medical School, in my residency and now as a physician in the community,” Ryder Diggs said. “(I work) with coronavirus day to day both with my patients and in other health care systems.” 

In the regents meeting that raised tuition at the University by 1.9%, Ryder Diggs was one of two regents who voted against the decision in both the original meeting and emergency meeting, the latter of which received backlash for leaving out public comments. Because the tuition increase was considered to be an insignificant amount to the regents’ budget, Ryder Diggs believes the University could have “absorbed that for a year” to prevent more financial burden on families during a global pandemic.  

“I feel that this global pandemic has created such economic uncertainty that it was just completely unwise to raise tuition at this time,” Ryder Diggs said. “I think that when there’s this level of uncertainty that we should not be increasing the financial burden on families.”

Part of the demands from the Graduate Employees' Organization’s strike advocated for defunding Division of Public Safety and Security in light of the George Floyd murder and multiple social movements over the summer. Ryder Diggs said she believes there needs to be more funding for DPSS, but it should be used ethically to remove racial bias from policing. 

Ryder Diggs also acknowledged the concerns about policing and advocated for awareness of racial biases that have proved harmful to marginalized communities. 

“You have to talk about racial bias,” Ryder Diggs said.  “You can't just ignore it or act as if it doesn’t exist. You have to have conversations and I think the University and educational environment can be the perfect place for people to have good conversations.”

In response to recent allegations of sexual misconduct against former Provost Martin Philbert and former University Health Service Director Robert Anderson, Regent Denise Illitch (D) announced the board is in the process of hiring outside firms to assist in cases of sexual misconduct based on the recommendations from the WilmerHale report. On multiple occasions, Ryder Diggs has expressed support for the hiring of these firms in order to have an external look on policies and campus culture as well.

“If we really want to make it a place where people are free from sexual misconduct, discriminational bias, we have to really work at it completely through the University,” Ryder Diggs said. “We all have to make the changes together. And it has to be a place where people feel they can work, play, live, exist without feeling they’ll be retaliated against without feeling that they'll be assaulted. These are things that we must achieve, and I think we can achieve them.”

While Ryder Diggs sees herself as a “people person,” the limitations of the pandemic have prevented her from usual campaigning during an election year. However, she has been making the most of Zoom calls to reach out to the community to ensure she is not missing any community voices when making decisions at the board meetings. 

“I think our role is to help be a part of the conversation and make sure that the University is listening to the different stakeholders’ voices,” Ryder Diggs said. “When I speak to different constituency groups on campus … I listen and I take the information back and try to be an advocate for the things that I think are right, reasonable and need to be heard. I definitely want to continue to be that type of regent on the board.”

Daily Staff Reporter Jasmin Lee can be reached at itsshlee@umich.edu

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