Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs vice provost hosts talk on diversity plan

Thursday, October 6, 2016 - 8:23pm

Rob Sellers,Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs, answers questions about how the university will respond to bias reports at a live talk hosted as a part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan unveiling at the Union on Thursday.

Rob Sellers,Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs, answers questions about how the university will respond to bias reports at a live talk hosted as a part of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan unveiling at the Union on Thursday. Buy this photo
David Song/Daily

 

Multiple University administrators gave a talk Thursday afternoon to an audience of about 200 students, faculty and staff as part of a series of events held for the official launch of University President Mark Schlissel’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan.

Rob Sellers, the University of Michigan’s vice provost for equity, inclusion and academic affairs, later accompanied by Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones, discussed the main goals of the five-year plan, which is intended to increase diversity on campus and provide a welcoming environment for all demographics. Schlissel and University Provost Martha Pollack were also present.

The DEI plan, initiated a year ago and launched Thursday morning, will allocate $85 million in resources to implement a series of specialized strategies throughout all 19 University colleges and other units across campus. The diversity plan will include campus climate-related training, the creation of the new Trotter Multicultural Center and new recruitment strategies. The plan also outines strategies to provide more financial support to departments that conduct research on diversity, equity and inclusion-related issues and the expansion of the Inclusive Teaching Professional Development programs. Major reports will be released after years three and five, and the University will administer a campus climate survey. 

In introductory remarks to the event, Schlissel expressed his excitement for the plan’s implementation. He also addressed a common criticism levied by student protesters after several racially charged incidents on campus earlier this week — that the plan is too forward-looking and doesn’t address current issues — saying that some strategies would be put into effect immediately.

“We want to tap into the diversity of our community in all its different forms to learn how to make every individual in this campus feel equally welcome, equally included, equally valued, and we want to make our campus look more like the broader society we’re serving,” Schlissel said.

In his remarks, Sellers discussed a number of the plan’s individual strategies, including climate-enhancing initiates, actively recruiting a more diverse student body through outreach programs and supportive, innovative and inclusive scholarship and teaching.

If the Board of Regents approves it, Sellers is slated to become the University’s first-ever chief diversity officer, which Schlissel announced Wednesday morning. As a new executive officer, he would be tasked in part with carrying out the plan.

Sellers, who accepted the position early Thursday morning, outlined what the role would look like at the talk and also highlighted that the plan was intended to serve as “living documents” — ones that can be altered and modified as necessary throughout the next few years of implementation.

“My office will also be in charge of overseeing the implementation of the plans,” Sellers said.

Among climate-enhancing initiatives, Sellers highlighted a plan to create comprehensive resources for students experiencing hostile campus climate, something of particular relevance in recent weeks.

“We are working on a set of initiatives that first and foremost make our existing bias-response efforts more visible and more accessible, and we’re also working to make them even more effective and to build up those strengths,” Sellers said.

Jones, who spoke briefly, echoed Sellers’ sentiments and said she encouraged active student involvement, particularly with regard to new student advisory boards currently in the works on this issue.

“We’re going to innovate,” Jones said. “We’re finalizing this fast because we need to get this work going.”

Overall, students who attended the event said they had a positive reaction to the plan, though many of those interviewed expressed a desire for more details.

LSA junior Ryan Dingle said she attended because, as an residential advisor, she often hears concerns about a communication gap between administration and students. She stressed the importance of the DEI plan in helping to improve those relations.

“One thing that we talked about at our table was the visuals, and as a student, hearing that (the University is) going to do something but not actually seeing the change,” Dingle said.

Dingle said, overall, she is confident in the plans the University has laid out, but said she still wanted to see tangible progress.

“I’m excited to see their (benchmarks) of how far they’ve gone, but my one big thing is I want them to focus on telling the students what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” Dingle said.

Engineering sophomore Adam Racette also said he felt the University was genuine in its intentions for diversity, though he noted he was not sure if these strategies are long-term solutions and would have liked to see more details about potential student advisory boards and faculty and staff training sessions.

LSA sophomore Ayah Issa, diversity and inclusion chair for Central Student Government, said she came to the event to improve diversity among her own organization.

“To actually be bringing in students and having them speak in more than just an audience way and having us in tables to communicate with each other is alone in itself a step forward in engaging students,” Issa said. “A lot of what’s mentioned is stuff I see happening. There’s a lot that you can doubt, but I haven’t felt that way.”

Echoing the sentiments of other students, though, she said she did have a few concerns about how the University was going to decide which student organizations and identities they would reach out to, and how they would ensure the plans would happen now rather than later.

“I need to see it happen, because action always speaks louder than words,” Issa said.