As students enjoyed themselves on the sunny Diag this past Thursday, the campus reaction to University of Michigan President Santa Ono’s first month in office was similarly warm and positive.
The Michigan Daily spoke with 20 students Thursday afternoon in the Diag to ask how satisfied they were with Ono’s performance thus far. Several students mentioned how they appreciated Ono’s engagement with the student body in his first month. Others said they have not formed many opinions about the president in the past month but added they enjoyed seeing Ono join the U-M Orchestras in concert.
LSA sophomore Harrison Haywood IV said it has been encouraging to see a University president who is willing to step into the shoes of students. From eating in dining halls to reposting posts from student organizations on social media, Ono is making it clear he wants to understand what it’s like to be a Wolverine, Haywood said.
“I would like to see (Ono) consistently interacting with students and different student organizations to ensure that students are being heard and that their needs are being met,” Haywood said. “He’s already been doing a good job with that. We know that it’s important and vital that a president is in the field and actively seeing their campus.”
LSA senior Jade Turner described her friends’ and her own reactions to Ono’s presence on campus. For Turner, Ono’s efforts to make connections with and identify important issues for the University community are a mark of what will be a successful presidency.
“One of my favorite parts about the new Ono presidency is his Twitter account, and it looks like he’s really involved,” Turner said. “It’s clear that he cares about this community and listening and learning about the people that make it up.”
Students also described the unique circumstances under which Ono is entering the position of president, in the wake of former president Mark Schlissel’s removal from office early this year.
“I was kind of surprised not to see a woman put into the position,” Turner said. “However, I think the next best thing … was to put (Ono) into the presidency.”
LSA freshman Mateo Beltran said Ono is someone who could bring a fresh perspective to campus.
“A lot of people are saying that it’s a good thing that we have someone from outside of the University, someone who is different from people we had in the past,” Beltran said. “I’ve heard he’s very popular, so I’m excited to see what he can do.”
Several students also discussed Ono’s commitment to improving mental health and well-being on campus. LSA junior Iris Funaioli mentioned the University’s adoption of the Okanagan Charter and her hopes for it to be a focus of Ono’s presidency. The charter, adopted by the University in September of last year, calls for the prioritization of mental health in all aspects of campus culture at post-secondary schools. It also promotes leadership and global collaboration around health and well-being in campus communities.
“I know that we adopted the Okanagan Charter for well-being,” Funaioli said. “I think it would be really great if (Ono) started making efforts to put more funding towards student mental well-being.”
Another issue students care about is the future of DEI at the University. Specifically, students mentioned the Black Student Union (BSU)’s “More Than Four” platform. The University is in the midst of a transition between its initial Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Five-Year Strategic Plan, known as DEI 1.0, and its next strategic plan, DEI 2.0. The transition involves a currently ongoing year-long evaluation of the content and related actions of DEI 1.0, which will guide the structure of the second initiative, launching in October 2023.
In this transitional period, the BSU has announced its “More Than Four” Platform which urgently calls upon the University to address its four points: increasing Black student enrollment, explicitly combating anti-Blackness, rectifying the structural flaws of DEI that systemically neglect Black students and the University’s social responsibility to invest in the public good through K-12 education. The platform outlines the importance of each point and discusses alleged harms stemming from the University’s hesitance to accept the points.
Engineering senior Rohan Erasala said the BSU’s four points have garnered attention from students. Erasala said he hopes Ono would address BSU’s complaints.
“I would like (Ono) to address (the platform) in some way,” Erasala said. “I would like to know what he thinks about that movement, and I would like to see if he could do anything about it.”
LSA sophomore Ebony Roach also emphasized the importance of the BSU’s platform. Roach would like to see the University become a more inclusive environment under Ono’s presidency.
“I appreciate that (Ono) has been engaging with the student body more and making a statement on what’s been happening with the Black Student Union,” Roach said. “I hope he takes this momentum and new hope that everyone has and he does something with it and tries to make positive change for some marginalized communities here at the University.”
Turner recognized the importance of widespread action at the University while emphasizing her excitement about Ono’s presidency. She said addressing student concerns requires action from the whole administration but having buy-in from the top will be beneficial going forward.
“Of course, I don’t think that one man in one position of power is going to change a lot of things,” Turner said. “But I think (Ono’s) presence is having a positive impact already, so I’m very optimistic for the future.”
Daily News Contributor Bronwyn Johnston can be reached at email@example.com.