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Representatives from the University of Michigan Ginsberg Center presented on their new efforts to improve community outreach at the weekly Monday meeting of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs. SACUA also appointed its next vice chair, discussed the possibility of “immediate past chair” as a sanctioned position and passed a resolution supporting faculty education on student mental health.

Ginsberg Director Mary Jo Callan said the Ginsberg Center, which will be celebrating its 20th anniversary next month, has undergone a strategic planning process to contemplate its future efforts regarding its mission of community-engaged learning.

“What does the University need us to be now?” she said. “We have a rich history, we are an endowed center, we’re an important asset to the University, but what is needed now, 20 years later?”

As a part of the strategic planning, Callan said the center spoke with faculty and community leaders and received fairly consistent feedback on certain topics, including the need to educate students before embarking on community projects.

“What we heard: One, we need to do more to prepare students before they engage with the community, really helping students understand their own identities, where they fit in, their own power and privilege,” she said. “Because when they go into communities, and especially social sector organizations … they’re disproportionately working with folks who are marginalized and our students disproportionately are not.”

Callan said other areas of concern included cultivating and maintaining relationships between faculty members and community leaders and facilitating these connections between the University and community organizations.

“We’re not trying to be the only door; we want to be a clear door in and out of the University,” Callan said.

Additionally, Callan noted many community and faculty members felt the center prioritized student needs over the center’s needs in the past, which she explained they hope to avoid in the future through renewed efforts.

In conjunction with this feedback, the Ginsberg Center has recently hired Neeraja Aravamudan as the assistant director for engaged learning with a primary focus on balancing community engagement. Aravamudan was also in attendance at the meeting and explained how they strive to commit to all three components of the Ginsberg Center participation: students, faculty and community partners.

“One of the other things we’re doing and we’ve been doing is that in every place that we are, we mention all of them,” Aravamudan said. “One of the things that’s really been happening among our staff is having conversations across those people that are facing the different stakeholders. Our communication, no matter which one of us goes out, is that it’s a shared voice … We recognize that each stakeholder has different interests but that we need to be aware that they’re all at play.”

SACUA Chair Bill Schultz voiced his support of the center’s commitment to balancing student, faculty and community voices as they move forward.

“Students have always come first, it’s leaned very strongly in that direction,” he said. “I appreciate that Mary Jo and Neeraja are working hard in building up the other two legs of that tripod.”

In addition to the presentation from the Ginsberg Center, SACUA nominated SACUA member Ruth Carlos as vice chair for the upcoming year. With no other nominations, Carlos was elected with acclamation.

SACUA also discussed the possibility of creating an official position for the immediate past chair of SACUA, so that in cases where the chair is in his or her last year as member, he or she would sit on SACUA as a non-voting member. SACUA will agree to present this position at the next Senate Assembly meeting.

Members also passed a resolution stating the Senate Assembly’s support of student health at the request of Central Student Government.

“The Senate Assembly supports developing centralized education for instructors and faculty to raise awareness of physical and mental health issues facing students and knowledge of supportive resources on campus to promote accessibility, self care and school-life balance,” the resolution reads. 

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