Our campus has been a trying environment for many in the last year. The divisive national dialogue, volatile campus climate and the University of Michigan’s shortcomings on the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center report have made it difficult to see the University as the symbiotic community we all hoped it would be. As we navigate these times together, we wanted to reach out to you, our fellow Wolverines, to remind you of what lies in the core of the University’s ethos: You belong here.
Whether you’re new to Ann Arbor or are toward the end of your Michigan experience, you have a right to a welcoming campus community where you feel safe, included and empowered. We at Central Student Government know the University has not always succeeded in providing that, especially to our students whose identities are underrepresented or underserved. CSG’s purpose is to act as the voice for all students, conveying their concerns and working to ensure the University upholds its commitment to enriching the future of all of our peers. Recently, the concerns we’ve heard have centered around our campus’s inclusivity and safety, so we wanted to start an open discussion about our efforts to ensure this campus is a welcoming environment for all visible and invisible identities.
As we navigate the implementation of the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, CSG seeks to expand the current administrative and academic focus and turn toward what many Wolverines consider to be the most critical element: everyday, peer-to-peer interactions. We recognize that large, institutional changes are critical to ridding ourselves of systemic injustice, but we feel our Michigan community has lost its focus on improving the Michigan experience in the short term as well. Our peer-to-peer interactions impact current and soon-to-be Wolverines and illuminate the experiences and struggles of our peers, hopefully allowing us to better understand our diverse environment.
By transforming campus buzzwords such as DEI, inclusivity and diversity into more digestible concepts, we can initiate a cultural shift that encourages ownership and accountability on campus. Accordingly, the executive branch of CSG created two new positions this past summer: an executive diversity officer and an external relations officer. In addition to improving CSG’s internal inclusivity, representation and accessibility, these two officers are establishing a student organization liaison program that, among other initiatives, will help student organizations construct and pursue individual, self-created Diversity and Inclusivity plans.
CSG hopes to use the institutional and existing culture surrounding student organizations as a mechanism to improve campus inclusivity. As we work to make the campus more welcoming and safe, we must remember that academic and administrative initiatives can only go so far. New students often join student organizations to create a more navigable community. It is a disservice to students, and to the ideals of the University, when students feels unwelcome because they do not see their identities reflected in the organization’s membership. The identity barrier serves to perpetuate a sense of exclusion. We at CSG have seen our organization suffer from a similar negative feedback loop, and as we address our own shortcomings, we hope to help other student organizations do the same. Accordingly, we are proud to introduce our new initiative: the Narrative, Equity and Transformation plan.
The new NET plan will allow student organizations to benefit from reviewing their recruitment strategies, reflecting on their leadership and membership compositions and expanding inclusive social event programming. The NET plan will help organizations reconsider simple logistics like meeting times and increase general awareness within organizations. The CSG team will administer a demographic survey of the organization’s membership, work with current leaders to identify and reduce barriers for participation, offer inclusive programming and social event options and help create multi-year strategic plans.
Though the impact may not be immediately apparent, CSG believes its commitment to promoting inclusive practices within student organizations will be a worthy investment in shifting campus climate and culture toward one that is more accepting and welcoming of diverse identities. Our journey will inevitably have obstacles; we won’t always get it right, but all of us as student leaders must lead by example for the students in our organizations — and other leaders on campus.
We are asking you, our peers, to join us in confronting the issue of inclusivity within our communities at the University. Ensure the organizations you’re a part of opt into CSG’s new liaison program and NET plan, and hold your organization’s leadership accountable for pursuing inclusive change. It’s on all of us to help current and rising students commit to the cultural change. If we strive to be the Leaders and the Best, then it is time for a Michigan experience open to all.
Daniel Greene is the Central Student Government president and Lloyd Lyons is the Central Student Government executive diversity officer at the University of Michigan. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.