Five years after the University of Michigan launched the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan 1.0 in 2016, over 50 members of the U-M community gathered at the Trotter Multicultural Center to celebrate the successes the University has made in terms of DEI work over the past five years and look forward to the future.
The event included an opening speech by Chief Diversity Officer Robert Sellers, performances by student organizations and remarks by DEI leaders on campus. Upbeat pop music filled the basement of the Trotter Multicultural Center as people wandered around tables and filled their plates with pulled pork sandwiches and macaroni and cheese.
Event organizer Tyne Lucas, Executive Assistant to the Deputy Chief Diversity Officer and Director of Implementation for the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, said the event was meant to accompany the DEI Virtual Summit that also took place Monday. The University is anticipating the next phase of its DEI strategic plan, called “DEI 2.0,” in 2023.
“Today is the culmination of five years of hard work for everyone across the campus,” Lucas said. “We really just wanted to take a moment and pause and acknowledge all of the accomplishments that we’ve made (in the past five years) knowing that we still have a lot of work to do.”
Sellers opened the event by discussing the progress the University has made over the past five years in making DEI a core principle and an intrinsic value for the University.
“We are not the same institution that we were five years ago,” Sellers said. “Five years ago, if you said DEI, people would’ve thought you were talking about the Digital Education Initiative. Five years ago, if you said DEI was a core value of this institution, you would have an argument.”
Though the five-year DEI plan — which was an $85 million investment — was formed in 2016 to create an inclusive and equitable campus environment, student groups on campus have called out the University for the lack of progress in diversifying the student and faculty bodies. The Students of Color Liberation Front, a coalition of racial and ethnic justice organizations at the University, released anti-racist demands last February that called for reaching a 10% Black student enrollment benchmark as Black student enrollment has declined over the past 10 years.
Sellers concluded his speech by saying the University has the ability to influence other universities outside of Michigan and Ann Arbor due to the University’s national reputation.
“We have an opportunity to not only change the University of Michigan, but an opportunity to have an impact in higher education (as a whole),” Sellers said. “(The) University of Michigan is uniquely situated, rightly or wrongly, such that what we do, other people are looking at.”
Sellers then opened the floor to begin student performances, which included a performance by the Korean pop-dance group K-Motion, a rendition of the song “My People” by Music, Theatre & Dance graduate students Bo Shimmin and Natalie Sherer, and a spoken-word piece called #iRun performed by Music, Theatre & Dance junior Andrew Otchere.
Rackham student Kierstyn Worthem said she attended the event to see firsthand how the University valued and celebrated DEI, especially as a new student on campus. Worthem said the biggest takeaway she had from the event was that there were people on campus who valued and cared about different identities and experiences.
“(Today has shown) there are people working here who care about my identity as a Black woman and my success here and who care to enhance my experience,” Worthem said.
In an interview with The Daily, LSA junior Chanel Barnes, member of the supervisory board for the event, said the event showed how DEI was a core value of the University and that events like this are necessary to foster conversations and make change.
“I am here because this is what we’re supposed to be doing all the time, diversity, equity, and inclusion are three pillars that need to be advocated for on campus,” Barnes said. “As a Black individual … I’ve always felt less than, but this space here creates a moment of dialogue and change.”
Todd Ester, assistant dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and clinical assistant professor at the School of Dentistry, spoke later in the event about the progress the University has made since they launched the strategic plan in 2016, such as making faculty report DEI plans in annual reviews and providing services to support DEI initiatives in both research and classroom settings.
“This allows us to be active and responsive to things like the Black Lives Matter movement, the movement of Muslim students on campus, and anti-Asian (hate) movements,” Ester said. “It helps us deal with ableism and the issues (faced) by the LGBTQ community in a very upfront, a very positive and a very timely way.”
Lucas said she hoped the celebration showed what the University was capable of and looked forward to the progress the University would make with “DEI 2.0.”
“This is not the end, this is the beginning of DEI 2.0,” Lucas said. “We’re excited, even though we’re celebrating what has happened over the past five years, we’re excited to see all the work that’s gonna come after this.”
Daily Staff Reporter George Weykamp can be reached at email@example.com