On Jan. 10, University of Michigan President Santa J. Ono and Chief Diversity Officer Tabbye Chavous announced an update on the state of the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. The two discussed DEI 1.0, the University’s current plan for integrating DEI into campus initiatives, as well as the areas of progress and room for improvement, which would contribute to their transition in October 2023 to the new initiative — DEI 2.0.
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Tyne Lucas, senior program manager of the DEI Implementation Team, spoke on the timeline for the event’s progression.
“We started planning for this event last summer, and it was supposed to happen in October in conjunction with our DEI summit,” Lucas said. “But we really wanted to make sure that we had all of the relevant information as it relates to our DEI evaluation report ready to go in conjunction with this session. So we held it off just a little bit longer until that report is ready.”
Chavous opened the talk by describing her current plan and philosophy for DEI. She delineated three key goals for the plan: people, process and products.
“These three objectives are people impacting our recruiting, retaining and developing a diverse community process,” Chavous said. “(We want to create) an inclusive and equitable campus community and products supporting innovation, inclusive education, scholarship, research and service engagement.”
The first objective — people — aims to encourage diversity and inclusion within the campus community, fostering a sense of belonging for historically underrepresented communities. She specifically mentioned Wolverine Pathways, a program established in 2016 that offers support for minority students in higher education and familial and educational resources for middle and high school students.
“First (is) the ‘people’ objective, or enhancing diversity in the representation of our community,” Chavous said. “The Wolverine Pathways program has shown what the impacts are so far, with participants being over twice as likely to be admitted, and almost two-and-a-half times (more) likely to enroll at (the University) compared to their high school counterparts.”
The next step in the current initiative is process, which includes systemic changes to include DEI in culture and education. Chavous said she wanted to make a lasting institutional change by integrating DEI into all U-M actions.
“The pandemic … illuminated health disparities, renewed racial justice movements sparked by anti-Black and anti-Indigenous police violence, and the rise of anti-Asian and anti-Semitic hate acts along with one of the most divisive political election seasons in modern history,” Chavous said. (We want to) think about ways to address and view scholarship and teaching and learning activities related to these areas.”
The last objective is products — specific systemic changes in staffing and office infrastructure to codify DEI into the University’s processes.
“(The University) committed significant resources to support the campus-wide and specific planning necessary for strengthening DEI across campus,” Chavous said. “This included new infrastructures such as the creation of the chief diversity officer role and the reorganization of the Office of DEI to leading, working and partnering with our campus planning implementation.”
Chavous then asked Ono several questions about his personal experience with DEI and how he plans to incorporate it into his administration. Ono highlighted his personal experience with DEI, noting his upbringing in an immigrant family.
“(My brother and I were) brought up in primarily white middle-class neighborhoods, and feel very pleased to have done so,” Ono said. “But we also experienced some systemic racism targeted at us during school, so having been a target of racism, I know how much it gets in the way of a young person or young adult really achieving their optimum.”
In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Ono clarified his main initiative with the transition to DEI 2.0 in October 2023. He emphasized his commitment to making U-M members feel included, especially those who felt DEI 1.0 was unsatisfactory.
“(We were looking at) whether they felt an impact of the work from the 1.0,” Ono said. “And although the majority of people said yes, those who are underrepresented said they do not feel the impact of the 1.0 as much.”
Ono also spoke about increasing the scope of DEI and its importance as a nationwide initiative, apart from just on U-M campuses.
“So if we can scale (DEI efforts in terms of) that, and not just focus on three (U-M campuses), but many more in the state of Michigan, across the United States, then we should be able to scale up the progress that we’ve made during this first period (with DEI 1.0),” Ono said.
Ono also said he is committed to supporting students and spoke on working with the Black Student Union (BSU) on campus, dedicated to representing the interests of African American students. In an interview with The Daily, BSU speaker Kayla Tate, an LSA senior, voiced some concerns about the language used in the event.
“There hasn’t been a change in (the students’) experience really,” Tate said. “And they flew over that part. It was very self-congratulatory. I will say I am a bit disappointed President Ono had the perfect opportunity to name increasing Black enrollment as a priority and he didn’t. I think there’s this overemphasis on feelings of belonging when we’re asking for systemic change.”
Tate also emphasized specific policy needs, especially in terms of enrollment.
“(BSU prioritizes) an increase in Black enrollment to be at least proportionate with that of the state population,” Tate said. “(As well as) making policies that specifically address students’ unique needs.”
Daily Staff Reporter Amer Goel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.