Many of the University’s recent efforts to improve diversity on campus have focused on the student experience, such as hosting dialogues on campus climate and packaging admissions and financial aid decisions in an effort to enroll more low-income students.
However, a dialogue hosted Thursday by the Staff Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion focused entirely on staff and faculty.
The event, part of the University’s week-long diversity summit, largely centered around a report released in August by the staff committee, which was charged with gathering data and crafting recommendations on staff hiring, promotion and work climate.
Darlene Nichols, a committee member and the foundations and grants librarian at the University, said the report found that about 75 percent of the staff surveyed felt good about working at the University.
“That’s a great thing,” she said. “However, it’s not perfect. Particularly for those staff who identified as racial or ethnic minorities, they question the University’s commitment to diversity, because when they looked around, they didn’t see a lot of people like themselves reflected among their colleagues, among the leaders in their departments or at the University administrative level.”
In Fall 2014, 69.9 percent of employees at the University’s Ann Arbor campus were white. When only considering faculty, the population is 72.5 percent white. Women made up 41.2 percent of the faculty.
During the discussion, attendees broke into groups to give the committee feedback on their process and final report. Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources who lead the staff committee, said feedback would be incorporated into the committee’s strategic plan.
“When we do the strategic planning action planning next term, we will reflect what we learned today and that should influence the overall direction of the strategic plan,” she said.
The report chiefly suggested the University include the concerns and aspirations of staff members in University’s larger diversity strategic plans. They also touted efforts to increase awareness about the value of diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as respect, in the workplace.
In particular, they recommended the University invest in training for staff involved in recruitment, hiring and promotion processes. Along with training, they requested the University enhance current leadership training to include elements of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Nichols noted that because of the University’s status as a federal contractor, it is an affirmative action employer. That means it has target numbers for hiring underrepresented groups. However, in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, it only hired four members of those groups out of a target of 27.
The committee’s recommendations also called for the creation of an independent ombuds office, responsible for resolving the concerns of staff members. The aim: encourage staff to feel comfortable addressing workplace issues.
During the dialogues, many attendees said they were excited by the training and ombudsperson proposals because of their potential to be measurably implemented and achieve tangible results.
Event facilitators requested that the Michigan Daily not directly quote or record the small-group discussion portion of the event.
Speaking during the event, Linh Nguyen, associate director of the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, said there was a need to create a confidential ombuds because not all units have an environment where staff and faculty feel comfortable talking about experiences with bias or discrimination.
“(It’s the) need to have someone who can hold that in confidence, support you through that, and connect you to the resources you need so that they can bring that to a larger space,” she said. “And that the unit or the department can really address it intentionally and specifically so we can actually move and resolve issues that were experiencing as staff, because we know that that impacts the rest of the campus climate.”
Overall, Thomas said from her perspective, the proposal for an ombuds and for increased training were the most mentioned during the event.
Other proposals were met with a more muted reaction, based on concerns that some of the committee’s recommendations could be more difficult to initiate in ways that would hold individuals accountable for success.
Multiple attendees also said though they thought the work of the committee was insightful, they worried the University would still be grappling with the same issues in the future if their recommendations failed to take hold within the larger University community.
Residence educator Miriam Rosado, who attended the event, said she thought the conversation was valuable because it seemed more substantive than past discussions.
“Right now, we have sort of the overall comprehensive formula, where we can really start the kind of work that we really need to do around diversity,” she said. “So I think this is much more comprehensive than other initiatives that I’ve seen — and that’s what really excites me. Because we have all the information and the data, we know where the barriers are and the challenges, and so then we could really begin the work.”
John Lofy, an assistant campaign director in the Office of Development, said he thought the dialogue was a valuable experience.
“It was a terrific opportunity to hear what the University is planning, to hear from my colleagues around the University who really care about this and want to do right by the University and its staff,” he said.
Thomas said she thought the Diversity Summit overall is an instructive experience for the University.
“The challenge that we’ve heard, the anger that we’ve heard, the stories that have been told, the enthusiasm we’ve heard for the way (Schlissel) is doing it this time is very, very encouraging,” she said. “This president has said that he wants to hear everybody’s voice, and therefore we’ve created a process of diversity, equity and inclusion strategic planning that should give everybody an opportunity to be heard about the Michigan we want to be.”