Approximately 50 University community members attended the first of three diversity forums slated to be held this semester as a part of University President Mark Schlissel’s diversity initiative Tuesday night.
Hosted by the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, the forum featured a presentation on Schlissel’s strategic plan, followed by a question and answer session during which audience members offered ideas for and critiques of the plan’s structure and focuses.
Rather than charging an executive team with dictating a course of action, Jackie Simpson, director of the Trotter Multicultural Center and a member of the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion team, noted during the event that the initiative calls for strategic plans from 49 distinct campus units.
Each unit was appointed a planning leader, and should have conducted research on the state of internal diversity last semester according to the plan’s public timeline. This information, in addition to various town halls and focus group data, will be rolled into one University-wide strategic plan by next fall.
“At the end of the day, we will have down about 100 crowdsourcing sessions,” Simpson said. “This is starting bottom up.”
Many attendees at the event, however, were skeptical of the multifaceted design. Rackham student Oleta Johnson said when she approached her advisors in the College of Pharmacy, they had no idea they were supposed to be collecting the data.
“I see a lot of movement but no actual planning,” she said. “There’s a lot of emphasis on we’re going to talk to the students and then do whatever. I also still don’t know how a lot of the faculty feel about this.”
Attendees also discussed a variety of diversity issues on campus, including hiring practices, gender inclusive bathrooms, mandating dialogues on race for incoming freshmen and expanding the Detroit Connector’s services.
Social Work student Mary Naoum said she thought the Connector was central to student work toward advancing diversity.
Though it was announced in June 2015 the Connector would be discontinued, it has continued to opperate and the University is considering options for it’s future use.
“Recently, in an effort with the School of Social Work to expand course opportunities in Detroit, I sent out a survey to my classmates and the feedback I got back about challenges to doing courses despite their interests was a lack of transportation,” she said. “So it’s not just me, it’s not just students who live in Detroit, it’s students University-wide who want to do this work in Detroit, but are limited by transportation.”
A portion of the conversation also discussed questions raised in a Michigan in Color piece published Tuesday in The Michigan Daily. The piece criticized funding mechanisms for the the diversity initiative, charging that there are currently no funds allocated specifically to it.
In response to the piece and other related concerns raised at the event, Rob Sellers, vice provost for equity, inclusion and academic affairs, cited University resources that he said have already been allotted to diversity programs. He noted in particular the Trotter Multicultural Center’s relocation and the Wolverine and HAIL scholarship programs.
He said ultimately, a definitive budget for diversity-related initiatives could not and should not be determined yet.
“We don’t want to assign a dollar amount until the (diversity) plan is in place,” he said. “We want the plan to drive the dollar amount, and to have a number doesn’t make sense for us without knowing what the actual plan is.”
Additional town halls are scheduled for this Wednesday and in coming weeks. The DEIT also announced during Tuesday’s event that they plan to organize more opportunities for students and faculty members to contribute directly to the planning process.