The work of Naomi André, a women’s studies and Afroamerican and African studies professor at the University of Michigan, is in the humanities and the work Matthew Diemer, a U-M education and psychology professor, is in the social sciences, but both professors’ work relate to the pressing issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. That’s no coincidence. André and Diemer are both part of the Diversity Scholars Network, a network of professions dedicated to researching social issues and their consequences.
André is a trained musicologist and studies how race and gender considered in opera and musical theater. Currently, she’s studying operas discussing Black experiences and how they’re being used as a space for empowerment. Diemer is a developmental psychologist, and researches “critical consciousness,” which explores how youths in marginalized groups conceive of and challenge a society that limits them.
The Diversity Scholars Network was created within the National Center for Institutional Diversity after 1990s and early 2000s Supreme Court cases questioned the University’s affirmative action policies. University scholars at the time conducting research proving the importance of a diverse student body. In an email interview, NCID director Tabbye Chavous said this showed scholars the influence their research can have in strengthening diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
“A primary goal of the DSN is to continue to promote and catalyze innovative scholarly work and collaboration among scholars to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in both higher education and the broader society,” Chavous wrote.
The network has more than 500 participants from over 200 institutions nationally and some internationally. But it also aims to achieve its mission on the University level. The NCID is part of the University’s strategic DEI initiative, and it uses the network to connect scholars across campus so they can work on the DEI goals together.
In addition to researching important diversity issues, another way the network helps advance DEI goals is by involving scholars of diverse social identities.
“If the DSN recruits and supports faculty who are diverse in terms of their identities, then that seems to have a pretty natural effect of recruiting students of these identities who share those interests,” Diemer said. “And if you have a critical mass of those people it helps people feel supported and thrive. It serves a really important function that way, creating a more diverse student-base, faculty base and staff base.”
To encourage the network scholars at the University to interact, DSN hosts a number of talks and events for people to share ideas and experiences. For example, the NCID’s Research and Scholarship Seminar Series features participant research and discussions on how the research can be applied to current issues. These events can help publicize scholars work around campus. André has attended only one of these events, but receives emails from the network telling her of other scholars’ work. She loves knowing there are other people out there researching and caring about the same issues she does.
“I find it as this wonderful, almost candy store, just this wonderful resource where I get all these emails telling me about these wonderful things that are happening,” André said. “It really does make me feel connected to this larger community, and particularly because it’s right here on campus.”
This social aspect of the network is something Diemer also appreciates. According to Diemer, having a network of people that support your research is critical, especially because the scholarly world doesn’t always consider diversity research to be as legitimate as other types.
“I think the DSN plays a really important role in helping people with certain interests come together, find like-minded colleagues, feel supported, find collaborators,” Diemer said. “The University and the academy have gotten better, but for a time, research on diverse populations would be seen as not valuable or not real scholarship in some ways, so I think that DSN helps create a space for people who sometimes feel that their work is not viewed as rigorous.”
André expressed an interest in the DSN hosting even more talks, especially ones with current, pressing issues that would inspire her to immediately make room in her busy schedule.
“Trying to find a way to get us together in person more would be great,’ André said. “My feeling is they’re doing a good job, but I haven’t seen anything where I’ve felt, ‘I have to go to this.’ I don’t know what that would be, but something that was about the current state at Michigan or something that felt really pressing to now, I might think, ‘Oh maybe I should go to that.’”
Diemer echoed this sentiment, saying he’d enjoy convening with members of the network outside the University more often, while acknowledging the possible time and cost difficulties in scheduling such meeting.
Meeting in person frequently might be complicated, but Chavous mentioned how the DSN helps scholars from different institutions communicate through public writing opportunities and through national convenings like their 2016 “The Future of Diversity Scholarship” gathering.
Luckily for André and Diemer, giving scholars more opportunities to meet and communicate nationwide is one of the areas Chavous said the DSN is working to improve on, as well as making sure scholars from all disciplines are represented within the network.
“Like all communities, we hope the DSN can continue to grow and improve, based on our assessments of how the network is meeting its goals and serving its community,” Chavous wrote.
One example of NCID efforts to grow and improve is their launch last year of the Emerging Diversity Scholars Network. Working as a sort of feeder for the DSN, the EDSN aims to help doctoral students develop research skills and enhance their networks in the diversity scholarship field.
“The main purpose of the EDSN is to foster and support the next generation of diversity scholars, and we hope they will join the DSN after graduation to continue to connect with DSN members conducting diversity scholarship from around the world,” Chavous wrote.
This support of post-doctorate scholars is something André is especially pleased about, as it shows the University and NCID’s investment in this type of research.
“I’m really happy the University is doing this,” André said. “For a lot of us we mainly interface with it online, but that’s doing really important work for my well-being to know Michigan is really supporting scholars. Having these collegiate post-docs here, Michigan is putting its money where its ideas are. I’m thrilled with it, I would love to see it grow.”