The University of Michigan-Dearborn released the findings of its 2022 Campus Climate Survey on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The survey found that students overall deemed the U-M Dearborn campus a “welcoming” environment, though many students expressed difficulty accessing important resources, especially in the area of food insecurity.
According to the report, 10.2% of all U-M Dearborn students and 18.8% of Black U-M Dearborn students identify as food insecure. In an email to The Michigan Daily, Keisha Blevins, chief diversity and inclusion officer at U-M Dearborn, said the University has taken steps to address food insecurity.
“Our campus has been aware of issues of student food insecurity for over a decade,” Blevins wrote. “One action we have taken on our campus is to launch a Student Food Pantry, which has officially been in operation since 2013.”
The Student Food Pantry is housed under Dearborn Support, a program that also provides critical incident support services and various health and food resources to U-M Dearborn students.
In an email to The Daily, Dearborn Support Coordinator Maddie Drury said the University is working to address food insecurity on campus, in large part by advertising the resources they provide through weekly student emails, flyers across campus and various events.
“Dearborn Support is very new, and we continue to connect with faculty, staff and coaches as referral sources,” Drury wrote. “Just as we have over the last ten years, we continue to monitor pantry usage and use those numbers to fuel ongoing efforts that include making sure students are aware of this resource, addressing barriers, expanding hours/staffing and so on.”
Both Drury and Blevins spoke on how food insecurity is reliant on other disparities, highlighting the importance of also providing support for students’ access to technology, legal aid and physical and sexual health resources.
“We are also working to expand relationships with partners in the areas of transportation support, financial help and child care,” Drury said. “Dearborn Support also advocates for students going through critical incidents like illness, injury or loss of a loved one.”
U-M Dearborn student Fallyn Foster, president of the Black Student Union on the Dearborn campus, said she feels it is difficult to connect with students on a commuter campus like U-M Dearborn. In an interview with The Daily, Foster noted that students were not always aware of the various resources available to them on campus.
“We’re trying to get some engagement and … we started doing all these events,” Foster said. “It’s a commuter campus, and we’re all just coming and going.”
In an interview with The Daily, Drury acknowledged the unique challenges a commuter campus present, agreeing that students are sometimes only on campus for a limited time.
“I think we get folks who come to campus, they attend class and then go directly home,” Drury said. “So if we have flyers, for example, hung up in our student union, it’s possible that a student would not see those flyers.”
In order to connect with students, Drury said she has explored various avenues of contacting students, including the weekly student email Dearborn Support distributes with information about resources, as well as the online portal VictorsLink that connects students with organizations and events on campus. However, Drury said challenges remain for U-M Dearborn as a commuter campus.
Foster said she hopes to see members of the U-M Dearborn administration working to connect with students on a deeper level. She added that she would like to see the administration build a stronger relationship of trust with the campus community before continuing to analyze the results of the Campus Climate Survey or plan DEI initiatives.
“I think (members of the administration) have to get their face out there, get more involved on campus and get on a personal level to then get student trust,” Foster said. “I think it has to start with the staff and the faculty members of the school trying to build their relationship with students first and then putting their information out there, and not just putting it on a bulletin board.”
Foster added that she would like to see more engagement with new and transfer students at U-M Dearborn. As a transfer student herself, Foster said she had to find out about organizations and opportunities on campus on her own.
“I think there really needs to be more involvement and engagement with new students right off the bat, instead of them trying to figure it out on their own,” Foster said. “And I think we can go from there.”
Foster said she believes the results of the survey could be of use to students and student organizations, particularly when looking at student mental health and the ongoing impacts of COVID-19. She also made note of a piece of data from the survey where 50.7% of Black student respondents said they feel “valued as an individual at U-M Dearborn.”
“My goal, as (BSU) president, is … to try and find the other 49.3% and try to get them more involved and more in contact with people of their race,” Foster said.
The University will also continue using the data from the survey to form focus groups composed of students, faculty and staff to discuss the survey’s findings. In an email to The Daily, Blevins, who wrote on behalf of herself and Pam Heatlie, Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office director and coordinator, said the administration would focus on areas of the survey where data was not consistent with their goals for a “welcoming and inclusive” campus culture.
“We feel it is important not to make assumptions about what the data means or make decisions on that limited information,” Blevins wrote. “For that reason, our next step is assessment and engaging our community on various topics, whether through working groups, focus groups, existing programs, or other interactions.”
Blevins said she and Heatlie were encouraged by the scale of the response and the broader sentiments of the respondents. Compared with U-M Dearborn’s 2017 Campus Climate Survey, there was greater diversity of identity among 2022 respondents.
“We were pleased with the participation rates for the survey and the diversity of the survey respondents,” Blevins wrote. “Survey responses show that U-M Dearborn is generally rated as a ‘respectful,’ ‘friendly’ and ‘welcoming’ place.”
Blevins also described the types of questions that arise from the survey which will be used to determine the scale of food insecurity on the U-M Dearborn campus as well as the best means of addressing it.
“One way we may use the survey data is to compare the reported instances of food insecurity with usage of the food pantry,” Blevins wrote. “… We will review the data and seek to determine what it means within the context of our campus community and programs.”
Daily Staff Reporter Bronwyn Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.