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The University of Michigan released its year four Diversity, Equity and Inclusion progress report last Monday, highlighting improvements in affordability, enrollment and training. The full report is available here.
Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers pointed to the University community’s response to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor as examples of positive activism at the University in the DEI space.
“I am really proud of the DEI Summit in the context of COVID,” Sellers wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily. “I am very proud of the work that the Asian American community has done to support each other in the face of Xenophobic racism directed at them. Similarly, I am proud of the activism that I have seen both big and small in response to the unjust killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.”
University President Mark Schlissel commended student activism in a statement that accompanied the report.
“Advocacy and commitment are helping us to create new campus anti-racism initiatives,” Schlissel said. “Led by the Provost’s Office, these initiatives will build on the ongoing efforts across campus and will push our community to think critically about our institutions, foster timely scholarship and research, and build toward a better future for our campus and greater society.”
Sellers said he is proud of the Wolverine Pathways program, which received top billing in the DEI report. The program provides college-readiness instruction year-round for students in Detroit, Southfield and Ypsilanti. This year, 649 students enrolled, with 86 graduating and attending selective schools nationwide.
The program also introduced “near-peer mentoring” between participants and University undergraduates and summer programming in Ann Arbor for high school junior participants.
The LSA Collegiate Fellows Program, which seeks to bring in 50 liberal arts scholars in several fields who are devoted to improving diversity and inclusion, has included 37 entry-level faculty so far, with 15 entering the tenure track.
The report also highlights the Department of Organizational Learning’s “Cultivating a Culture of Respect” training, a required program for faculty and staff on creating a safe learning environment. The initial DEI program set a goal of having 100% participation by the end of 2019. According to this year’s report, 98% of faculty and staff participated as of June 30.
Despite this progress in instruction, some students say there is still room to grow in the classroom.
Public Policy senior Cydney Gardner-Brown is the vice speaker of Black Student Union. While she saw some good in the new DEI programs, she lambasted the University’s overall lack of progress.
“You’ve been working on this for four years, on top of the fact that the University is over 200 years old,” Gardner-Brown said. “You’re four years in, and you’re still saying that ‘the work is just beginning.’ Why is the work just beginning? That’s not something to applaud in my opinion.”
LSA junior Rebeca Yanes is the external director for La Casa. She says while she admires the strides the University has made, she has not seen an impact in her classes.
“I think there’s definitely still room for diversifying academics on campus, but also giving space and centering students of color on the issues that disproportionately impact them,” Yanes said. “I’ve seen this in a lot of my classes where students have to speak like on behalf of a whole community when that’s not really the way it should be. … I’ve seen professors who don’t know how to navigate that kind of situation and that student ends up feeling detached or marginalized.”
Gardner-Brown said she feels some areas of the University have outpaced others on DEI.
“Because I actually am studying Afro-American and African Studies, I’ve had Black faculty, Black GSIs,” Gardner-Brown said. “I’ve had people of color as my teachers. I would say that although the Ford School is not very diverse … the way the Ford School is run and the curriculum throughout … (it) has been far more progressive than any other educational curricula at any other institution at the (University).”
Yanes said she feels DEI staff have been receptive to student input, but they don’t actively solicit it.
“I know that the administrators are always open to have conversations with students,” Yanes said. “I think the initiative has mostly come from students to push conversations or … bring themselves into these kinds of conversations about making decisions regarding DEI. … I think the receptiveness is there, (administrators) are welcome to conversation, but the initiative hasn’t been there … to bring students into this space.”
Gardner-Brown agreed with Yanes, saying she empathizes with the struggle the University’s administration faces, but she still considers their efforts in DEI to be insufficient.
“I mean, there’s so many things (the administration) could have taken more initiative with,” Gardner-Brown said. “How they dealt with COVID-19, they could have taken more initiative, and pretty much every issue that we have problems with and they don’t, and people get hurt.”
Sellers wrote this is not the end of the University’s push toward a more inclusive space.
“The plan is a 5-year plan, it is not a 4-year plan,” Sellers wrote. “There is the opportunity to continue to make significant accomplishments. These accomplishments will be a strong foundation for our next plan — DEI 2.0. The fact that President Schlissel has made a commitment to there being a DEI 2.0 is huge. It means that we are one giant step closer to DEI being a part of the DNA of the institution.”
Schlissel concurred with Sellers and affirmed the University’s continued commitment to DEI.
“Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiative will continue for years to come — beyond the initial five-year strategic plan,” Schlissel said. “It must. There is much work to do.”
Gardner-Brown said the continued efforts need to focus on getting students of color on campus in the first place.
“The school does not seem to be making an effort to retain, to even recruit Black students. When I got to the University, we called ourselves the 4%,” Gardner-Brown said, referring to the rough percentage of Black students at U-M at the time. “That was when I was a freshman, and the number has actually decreased in terms of the amount of Black students that actually attend the University.”
Despite her frustration with the DEI plan, Gardner-Brown said she is proud of the efforts she sees, echoing some of Schlissel’s comments in the report.
“I’m going to be a very proud alum in just a couple of months, and I love the University of Michigan,” Gardner-Brown said. “And that, I think, ultimately, why I’m so adamant about it being a better institution because I love the fact that I came to the University of Michigan … I’m very, very, very proud of my alma mater, but because of that pride that I have, I am always going to be a critic, and I’m always going to hold (the University) accountable for the things that they need to do better.”
Daily Staff Reporter Dominic Coletti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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