After a year of planning, University of Michigan administrators are beginning to release and implement details in LSA’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategic Plan.
At the first LSA planning forum about the plan Tuesday, with about 40 students, faculty and staff were in attendance, Associate Dean Angela Dillard, highlighted the “Goals for Access” and the “Goals for Undergraduate Education” sections of the plan. These sections focus on improving aspects of undergraduate student life, including maintaining diversity in learning communities, improving on-time graduation rates and making study abroad opportunities more publicized so that all students are able to reach their full potential.
The full strategic plan will not be released until Oct. 6.
The plan, initiated in September 2015 by University President Mark Schlissel, aims to create a campus environment where every member of the University community feel welcome and had equal access to the resources and opportunities that LSA offers. Units within the University were each tasked with individually developing plans, which have now been combined into one campus-wide plan.
According to Dillard, parts of the plan have already been implemented. She cited administrators working to incorporate diversity criteria to justify faculty pay raises as one an example. She also said the LSA Opportunity Hub has established a laptop loan program, which has already loaned out 425 laptops to students from family incomes of less than $50,000, of which 40 percent are underrepresented minorities.
During Tuesday’s forum, LSA Dean Andrew Martin spoke of the importance of implementing the DEI plan because of how a strong emphasis on diversity strengthens the community.
“Now perhaps more than ever, we need to embrace that diversity makes us stronger and better,” he said. “ ‘Diversity, equity and inclusion’ must be more than a slogan.”
Martin highlighted a part of the called “Goal for Inclusive Classrooms,” which involves overhauling LSA’s Race and Ethnicity requirement by creating smaller sections with more of an emphasis on clear discussions and dialogues. Currently, LSA students must take one class designed as R&E before graduation, though the requirement has faced criticism from students over broad criteria for that designation. The College of LSA initiated a review of the requirement earlier this year.
Martin also emphasized that the implementation of the DEI plan will be effective only with the efforts of every member of the University.
“This will require real mechanisms for creating a campus environment where all students, faculty and staff feel valued and where everyone is able to take full advantage of the resources and opportunities that make LSA the premier public liberal arts institution,” he said.
Dillard also noted the importance of unity, saying a part of the plan responsible for connecting to various departments could use more detail.
“I think it’s a big hole in the plan right now,” she said. “It will take a lot of work and a lot of time … LSA is huge. We have over 70 departments.”
LSA senior Nicole Rutherford said that after consulting in a small group at the forum that while they were enthusiastic about opportunity housing and the positive impacts it could have for transfer students, they had concerns about some of the practical aspects of the plan.
"Some questions that we had, that you identified it as a hole, is the partnerships with departments, what that will look like," Rutherford said.
Some parts of LSA are also choosing to launch their own efforts alongside the University’s strategic plan. Trelawny Boynton, director of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student affairs, said at a different event Tuesday that MESA was in the process of creating a plan in order to reaffirm their place in the community.
“You all have I'm sure heard of a strategic plan that's happening campus-wide. Know that we're doing something that is our own strategic plan in MESA, so it's a good time to think about why we exist,” she said. “We think there's a compelling reason we just want to prove it to folks who still need to know and be reminded. So, I'm going to do a strategic process with a whole bunch of our staff involved, our student leaders, and a group of students that are going to guide me through that process.”
LSA senior Eitan Katz, who attended the forum, said that he likes the plan’s emphasis on administration and faculty overhauls because of their lasting presence at the University.
“To me, a lot of it really focused on faculty which I am really happy about,” he said. “Students come and go every four years, but faculty stay here for a lot longer and they can have a lot more of an effect on the University.”
However, Katz said he is concerned about the lack of planned student education on the principles of the plan, especially for first-year students.
“I didn’t see much of a focus on orientation,” he said. “And I think that’s a big thing because students are coming from all over the country and it’s a chance to have everyone together and understand what it means to have equity, diversity and inclusion on campus.”
Rutherford, in response to administrator’s comments, cited questions she had about how the programs within the plan would be evaluated.
"So I saw some of the measurables in terms of we know that this part has gotten off the ground if we receive this by this date, but I'm wondering about some of the back end," Rutherford said. "Are we seeing this program have the effect that we are hoping to, maybe some of the climate effects that we're hoping to see overall? And wondering at what point some of those evaluations might happen and in what way."