Conversations about diversity take place at ‘U’, around the country as universities are challenged on Title IX policy adherence

Thursday, February 14, 2019 - 8:39pm

Title IX

Title IX Buy this photo
Sejal Lal and Roseanne Chao

 

At the University of Michigan and around the country, universities are engaged in ongoing discussions about diversity programs and Title IX adherence. The University has repeatedly stressed its commitment to its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives. But some people take issue with this type of initiative, claiming certain diversity efforts exclude men.

LSA sophomore Saveri Nandigama said themes of diversity, equity and inclusion have a historical place at the University. Nandigama, a member of South Asian Awareness Network and former Central Student Government chief of staff, said it’s important for the University to include student voices — which has been a problem for the University historically.

Nandigama specifically noted the three Black Action Movements and the Trotter Multicultural Center as times students had to make campus-wide calls for change from the University. She said the University has a good DEI presence on campus, but should take student concerns into consideration before students feel they must demand action through large-scale actions.

“The quantity of D, E and I initiatives is great, but the quality can definitely be greatly improved if there was more student input in the programming that’s done, and looking at the history of diversity, equity and inclusion on our campus, I think that’s very easily forgotten, but it’s important to go back to our history,” Nandigama said. “It’s important to get student voice into these D, E and I offices to sort of be proactive about ensuring that students feel like they have a space on campus before they feel like they need to speak out and they need to take larger efforts in order to feel seen and heard.”

In 2016, the five-year DEI plan, which promised $85 million over five years and included campus climate-related training, the creation of the new Trotter Multicultural Center and new recruitment strategies, was unveiled. According to 2016 Daily reporting, the plan was in part a response to recent student activism, specifically the #BBUM movement on Twitter and 2013 protests started by the Black Student Union.

The DEI plan made connections to social movements on campus, including Black Action Movement and debates over affirmative action in the last decade. Students protested the plan because they felt the student voice was not properly accounted for during the keynote speech at the plan’s launch.

The costs of DEI

Mark Perry, a professor of economics and finance at the U-M Flint, said he has seen what he’s called increased “administrative bloat” over his 25 years in the University system. He pointed to position changes related to diversity as part of this issue. Ultimately, he said this changing administrative landscape and the costs associated with it fall on students, families and taxpayers.

“This is very, very costly, and it’s one of the reasons that college gets more expensive,” Perry said. “In addition to all the administrative bloat and administrative growth that’s been driving up the cost of tuition, this is now a whole new part of subset of the bigger picture of more and more administrators making higher and higher salaries, and then burdening students and their parents with higher and higher levels of student loan debt to be able to afford this rising tuition that’s blowing up not because instructional costs are necessarily increasing or they're hiring full-time professors, they’re hiring more and more bureaucrats.”

Perry published a list of diversity officers at the University on his Twitter account. He said over 70 positions have been added and the money spent would be equivalent to giving in-state full tuition scholarships to over 700 students.

In response to a Detroit News editorial critical of DEI spending, University President Mark Schlissel wrote in a letter to the editor over 80 percent of the positions were created before 2016 and have had diversity duties added since their creation.

“In many cases, staff with the term ‘diversity’ in their job descriptions have added these specific duties to jobs they already had,” Schlissel wrote. “Everyone benefits from their work.”

University spokeswoman Kim Broekhuizen reiterated the message of Schlissel’s letter in an email interview with The Daily. She added there is also a DEI Implementation Leads Group, which is a group helping with department-level DEI work, but these are University employees doing this in addition to their other work.

“They help carry out unit and department level DEI goals and meet on a monthly basis to share best practices, engage in professional development activities and receive updates, information, tools, templates and other resources from central administration,” Broekhuizen wrote. “Many of these employees are not solely dedicated to DEI efforts but do so in addition to their roles and responsibilities within their department.”

National discourse on diversity and Title IX compliance

Perry filed a complaint in May with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights challenging more than 50 University programs, initiatives, organizations and scholarships. An OCR letter to Perry dated Jan. 24 said the department is opening an investigation into the claims.

Perry said his claims stemmed from males being overlooked and the University not taking action. He said the roles of employees who have diversity-related duties should be to ensure programs and policies work against discrimination against all groups equally. He specifically noted the case of men.

“From a legal standpoint it’s very clear and yet it seems like it’s never tolerated to discriminate against women or minorities, but discriminating against men is either overlooked or encouraged or even advocated,” Perry said. “That’s where this double-standard, I think, in the diversity industry, the Title IX enforcement and compliance is, so that’s where I think if they’re really doing their job, then they have to look at discrimination against men as a violation of Title IX — which it is — and they have to take that as seriously as they take discrimination against women.”

Perry is known for challenging a women-only lounge at Michigan State University in 2016. His complaint prompted a petition in favor of the lounge garnering over 6,500 signatures and the school converting the lounge into a study space for all students. Additionally, he has filed complaints with OCR against Wayne State University, the University of Virginia and the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

However, Perry is not the only person vocalizing his opinions on diversity programs and Title IX policy compliance on college campuses. Margaret Valois, a Virginia-based lawyer, filed a complaint with OCR against Tulane University for “financial discrimination” against men in awards and internship grants. Ultimately, Tulane reached an agreement requiring administrative training to prevent discrimination in funding and on-campus opportunities in the future.

Perry held up the Tulane University agreement as an example of the outcome of OCR investigations into diversity programs. He said there are parallels between his complaints and those made against Tulane.

“Tulane University was just challenged on a bunch of similar programs,” Perry said. “They were found to be in violation of Title IX, so they’re now under sanctions from the Office for Civil Rights in Dallas for programs that are very similar to the ones that I challenged at the University of Michigan, and so they’re now under orders from the Office of Civil Rights to open up all these programs that previously discriminated based on gender… The outcome at Tulane, I think, should be a precedent for what happens at Michigan.”

Similarly, Harvard University has recently faced a flurry of lawsuits related to Title IX, diversity and discrimination. One pair of lawsuits, known unofficially as #StandUpToHavard, was filed by Greek groups and three anonymous students. The lawsuits claim a school policy barring students involved in single-sex finals clubs — a select group of fraternity-like student organizations recognized by the school — and Greek organizations from holding campus leadership positions, varsity team athletic captaincies and school endorsement for fellowships violates the U.S. Title IX policy and the Constitution, as well as the Massachusetts state constitution and Civil Rights Act.

In another case, a transgender woman is suing Harvard and one of its Office for Dispute Resolution investigators for alleged discrimination and retaliation against the plaintiff after she reported an admissions officer for sexual harassment. All three lawsuits are ongoing.

Broekhuizen said because Title IX decisions are made on an institution-by-institution basis, rulings made on programs at other campuses like the decision at Tulane University, do not influence University decisions.

“A ruling at Tulane University — which is specific to the programs/policies at Tulane University — does not impact our policies and programming here at the University of Michigan,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The University of Michigan, as an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer, complies with all applicable federal and state laws regarding nondiscrimination and affirmative action. The University of Michigan is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight, or veteran status in employment, educational programs and activities, and admissions.”

DEI student opinions, involvement

Kinesiology junior Jackson Schleuning, secretary of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said he doesn’t take issue with the intentions of DEI, but feels University resources should be placed directly into the classroom.

“I believe the intentions are good behind the efforts,” Schleuning said. “The resources could better be used if those are funneled directly back into the classroom. What strengthens us as a University and community is being one of the most high-level institutions in the nation and I believe that comes with having highly funded classrooms.”

Broekhuizen recognizes any program will garner differing opinions from students. She referenced the first and second-year progress reports for the five-year plan to show the impact of the program on campus. As of today, she said 92 percent of the 2,177 individual action items are already implemented or in progress.

In regards to student input, Broekhuizen said there are many avenues for students to share their thoughts. For instance, one 2018 DEI Summit Week event, hosted by the Office of Student Life, was a student-designed event that gave students the opportunity to discuss possible approaches to campus climate-related issues, as well as give input on the proposed Trotter Multicultural Center interior finishes and programming.

Additionally, Broekhuizen also said many individual schools and departments have diversity committees comprised of students and faculty. She said all students are welcome to contact the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion to share their thoughts. Broekhuizen also noted a new student advisory planning group in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which students can join if interested.

“The university’s dedication to academic excellence for the public good is inseparable from our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Broekhuizen wrote. “DEI is central to our mission as an educational institution to ensure that each member of our community has full opportunity to thrive in our environment. Student are always welcome to share their thoughts, opinions and suggestions of the DEI Strategic Plan — and any other initiative, project or event on campus.”

While Nandigama said the University should increase its student input in DEI work, she acknowledges it has taken positive steps forward. She also emphasized the importance of publicizing DEI services.

Nandigama said it is important students feel like the spending is being used in a way that improves their University experience. She specifically noted the inclusion of diversity duties within the roles of University employees as a way the University is working to make students feel included.

“We’re hovering around 5 percent Black enrollment and yeah, that’s a small population, but you want to make sure they come here and they have as great of a Michigan experience as someone who is a part of a community that has 20 or 30 percent enrollment here,” Nandigama said. “In order to do that, you need to put in time and you need to put in resources, so it’s good to see, it’s honestly really affirming to see the University put in and commit to putting in that many resources to make sure students feel safe and heard on this campus as much as possible.”

Nandigama also said her experience, and the experience of some friends in student organizations, working with the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs has been positive. She said the office helped support her organization and acted as a mouthpiece in the greater university. Nandigama also mentioned the Program on Intergroup Relations as a program that is making the campus more inclusive and equitable.

She said it is important the University facilitates Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programming the same way students interact with the University.

“Think about a student’s daily life,” Nandigama said. “They’re probably not going to only interact with LSA students, for example, or if they’re in Kinesiology, just Kinesiology students, for example, and so I think the way in which we approach DEI as a University should be the same way students approach the University. D, E and I approaches should be intersectional within departments at the University, just as we interact with different departments of the University and students in different departments every day.”

Correction: This article has been updated to include Mark Perry's title.