Groups aim to tackle social issues, promote diversity and inclusion through interdisciplinary collaboration

Tuesday, June 4, 2019 - 4:23pm

Eight new groups were initiated by the National Center for Institutional Diversity in an effort to create multidisciplinary collaboration between University faculty, staff and students on important social issues such as diversity and inclusion.

The new groups included four new Think-Act Tanks: Advancing Social Science Scholarship and Teaching on Latino Youth and Families, Embodiment and Environmental Art Practice, Queer/Cuir/Feminist Group of the Americas and Museums and Publics: Engaging Detroit, Berlin, and the Future of the City.

In an email to The Daily, Director of the NCID and professor of education and psychology, Tabbye Chavous, explained the goal the NCID had in mind when establishing the new Think-Act Tanks.

“Think-Act Tanks are faculty groups dedicated to advancing a collective research agenda around pressing social issues in our society,” Chavous wrote. “The structure and foci of these multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional, and multi-generational research teams challenge the historical academic culture of working in silos and supports scholars to work with new colleagues across the campus and across the globe.”

Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, faculty lead of the Queer/Cuir/Feminist Group of the Americas, enforced how crucial it is to have people from different cultural backgrounds collaborate with one another.

“We bring scholars from across Latin America, the United States and Europe to discuss issues of queer sexuality in Latin America from a diverse perspective including activism, potential research and the arts,” La Fountain-Stokes said. “There is a great need for well-informed discussions for our gender and sexuality and their social implication and how they operate in the United States and internationally. Each country in Latin America faces very different struggles, because there are this historical tradition and cultural tradition of how gender and sexuality are dealt with in those countries.”

By helping scholars generate articles through the University on topics such as sexuality in Latin America, La Fountain-Stokes hopes to create more discussions.

“The goal of our Think-Act Tank is to bring together diverse scholars who are thinking and researching about sexuality and politics in Latin America regarding diversity or queer issues,” La Fountain-Stokes said. “The goal is to create a network among people, and also to generate knowledge and to share knowledge by publishing academic research through peer-reviewed journals.”

In addition to the Think-Act Tanks, the NCID also established four new knowledge communities: Asian Pacific Islander Desi/American Knowledge Community, Mapping Disability Inclusion Knowledge Community, Counting Invisible Diversity at U-M: Middle Eastern and North African Box Knowledge Community and the Undocumented Students Knowledge Community.

Chavous emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration when it comes to dealing with complicated social issues. She said promoting communication and cooperation is one of the primary goals of creating Think-Act Tanks and knowledge communities. 

“Academic culture has historically promoted individual faculty working in disciplinary silos,” Chavous wrote. “While those contributions have been important, we believe that drawing from diverse perspectives, including a variety of disciplinary theory, methods, and practices, can only increase our levels of understanding on a given topic.”

Mary Rose, staff co-lead of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi/American Knowledge Community, agreed having these new knowledge communities and the collaboration between staff, faculty and students is especially crucial to the underrepresented and diverse APID/A community on campus. 

“Our knowledge community wants to look into the availability of all institutional data on Asian Pacific Islander Desi/American, and that includes students, faculty and staff,” Rose said. “We are interested in doing this project because we are a very diverse group; there are over 40 different languages, let along ethnicities under this APID/A umbrella, and there is a lot of different needs and issues.”

All these new groups have been created under the office of Diversty, Equity & Inclusion’s Strategic Plan, which seeks to enhance demographic and cultural diversity on campus and promote the production and dissemination of innovative scholarship around DEI issues. 

While there have been significant changes and improvements within the University in terms of diversity and inclusion, Chavous assured the NCID is always looking to do more. 

“Our recent NCID efforts seek to ensure that DEI scholarship and engagement work are both valued and elevated as part of an intellectually rich institution,” Chavous said. “As outlined in the DEI plans and progress reports across various campus units, our campus has made strides in student recruitment, addressing campus and classroom climate, and supporting scholarly initiatives on DEI topics. But the DEI reports also highlight that we have more work to do to make the progress we want to make in order to realize our goals of diversity and excellence.”

Although the Think-Act Tanks and new Knowledge Communities are still in their early stages, many of them have already started planning for the upcoming school year. For example, La Fountain-Stokes and the Q/C/F Group of the Americas are planning on hosting the Queer/Cuir Américas Symposium in September this year, which aspires to create a public space at the University of Michigan for the discussion of LGBTQ Latinx, Indigenous and Afro-diasporic gender and sexuality.

“I am very excited about welcoming 15 scholars to Ann Arbor in September to have this conversation at the Queer Symposium,” La Fountain-Stokes said. “I think it is going to create a meaningful discussion of LGBTQ and sexuality in Americas on campus.”