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Two weeks before University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel is slated to unveil his University-wide strategic plan for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, LSA staff members — a group that includes assistants, advisors and other non-professors working at the University— gathered to discuss their school-specific plan, voicing both praise and some hesitations about the long-term implementation of the plan.
Similar to LSA faculty and students, staff members listened to a presentation on LSA’s strategic plan — a first draft of which was released last week — but while only 40 faculty members attended the faculty forum, about 120 staff members were present at their Friday forum.
The LSA strategic plan is one part of the overall DEI initiative, with forty-nine units across campus spent the summer developing their own strategies, which administrators are now rolling into one school-wide plan. Schlissel will debut the overall initiative on Oct. 6.
Latisha Cunningham, LSA’s first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion officer, pointed to existing practices, such as staff recruitment and development, already in place in the college. In addition to reviewing best practices in every department and unit over the summer, Cunningham noted she administered an administrative forum survey across the college to gauge attitudes.
“LSA has deeply invested resources, time, energy and effort before this,” she told attendees. “We are just building on this … to the University’s overall strategic plan.”
Cunningham emphasized the inclusion in the plan of new cross-cultural and unconscious bias training for faculty and staff, referencing racial tension around the nation and even as close as Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, where protesters gathered after racially charged graffiti was discovered last week. Cunningham also said LSA would invest more resources into cultivating an equitable and inclusive environment through these training sessions.
“One of the most common things I’ve heard from people applying to start in our position is that staff would like to be equipped with the tools to have those hard conversations with faculty, other staff and also students,” she said.
Staff members present welcomed the initiatives, but also shared hesitation about its lasting effectiveness.
Jeff Harrold, academic standards and special populations coordinator in the Newnan Advising Center, said administrators need to balance implementation and expectations of the plan.
“This was pleasantly received, and I know a lot of work went into it,” he said. “How it works out will depend now on disseminating information … if it’s done right, people will be able to engage across units.”
Amy Harris, director of the Museum of Natural History, urged the DEI team to think about implementing more personalized plans, in addition to the administration’s overall initiative, to ensure accountability.
“There’s been great input from everyone, but as a unit director, I’m especially interested in how we can develop plans within our units and even take responsibility on an individual basis,” she said. “(An individual plan) can be aligned with where each person is, whether it be certain tasks they set for themselves, or a larger goal.”
She added that overall, she thought ultimately the strategic plan — while admirable — needs to reach all levels of the college.
“We need to bake this into our culture and not just have a plan that’s coming out of our central administration,” she said.
LSA Dean Andrew Martin affirmed the importance of accountability, arriving in the last half of the session to listen to attendees’ comments and address concerns.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and accountability is baked into this process. If this doesn’t work, I will not be the dean after a certain period of time,” he said. “Our expectations are high, and this is an exercise we’ve gone through as a campus before. Leadership … is on board, not just regard to our rhetoric but also the commitments we’re making financially to do the right things.”
Martin, along with Katrina Wade-Golden, director of evaluation and assessment for the Office of the Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion, and Academic Affairs, also previewed a staff census to be administered next spring to provide baseline data on broader campus climate.