Vice Provost discusses progress on University’s DEI plan

Wednesday, October 16, 2019 - 4:52pm

Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion, Robert M. Sellers, discusses the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan for the university at the League Wednesday afternoon

Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion, Robert M. Sellers, discusses the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan for the university at the League Wednesday afternoon Buy this photo
Alison Roh/Daily

On Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of students, faculty and staff convened in the Michigan League Ballroom for an update on the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan from Robert Sellers, Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer for the University. 

The event, titled “Community Conversation: DEI ProgressUpdate,” focused on the University’s progress in regards to DEI. The session updated attendees on the progress of the University’s five-year DEI Plan, which is now in its third year.  

The strategic plan was launched in 2016. It features one broad university-level plan and 49 unit-level plans, specific to University programs and schools. The plan has three central goals: fostering an inclusive and equitable campus climate; creating a more diverse community of students, faculty and staff; and infusing diversity in scholarship and teaching. 

Sellers began the talk by summarizing the plan’s overall goal: impactful change. 

“Our plan is long term, sustainable, institutional, cultural change — the change being making the University a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community,” Sellers said. “I think it’s important that we start there, to understand that we are talking about cultural change.”

Sellers went on to discuss that while achieving change is not easy, the long-term benefits render it crucial to maintaining a reputation of greatness at the University. 

“By definition, that requires hard work,” Sellers said. “It means that the work has to be pervasive throughout the organization. It will take time… It also means the change must happen at multiple levels of the University… if we are going to make long term sustainable change.”

LSA senior Kyle Duffy said he attended the event because of his job on campus at the Office for Organizational Culture and Strategy.  

“A huge importance of our work is based on DEI,” Duffy said. “So, a big part of the DEI for the business and finance department is knowing what’s going on around campus. We came here to figure out what’s been going on… I am just interested to see what’s different.” 

Sellers went on to discuss specific points of progress within the plan. He explained the plan was implemented in conjunction with feedback his team had received from community members within the University. 

Currently, there are 37 action items taking place within the DEI plan. The items specifically target areas such as raising institutional awareness; aligning University policy, procedures and programs with DEI initiatives; creating inclusive cultural norms; and broadening institutional access. Sellers noted they were formulated through individuals’ direct participation at every level of the University. He said they did not come from personal directives from any University officials such as University President Mark Schlissel.

“These were not top-down handed initiatives,” Sellers said. “These action items were all developed from the initial planning process through focus groups, through social media opportunities… through town hall meetings and other kinds of meetings. These are not the president’s action items, these are definitely not my action items, these are action items that you all developed yourselves.” 

Sellers went on to discuss specific points of empirical evidence the strategic plan has made significant changes at the University. 

Rhonda Todd, director of academic success at the Ross School of Business, told The Daily she was motivated to attend the event in an effort to see the impact of the DEI initiative across campus. 

“The work I do for the Ross School of Business revolves around DEI, supporting students’ academic success,” Todd said. “I am always really busy in that building, and I wanted to consciously make myself get out of the building to get more on campus and get more involved with DEI work across campus, not just in our building.” 

She went on to discuss how, from her perspective, DEI initiatives are most successful when subunits, like the Business School, commit not only to internal improvements but think about changes in the context of the larger University. 

“DEI is important, necessary work,” Todd said. “Although we are making strides within our Ross community, it’s important to me to also be involved in the big picture. To do that, I must conscientiously engage.” 

Sellers concluded the discussion by announcing while areas for improvement certainly still exist, the plan has helped the University take steps forward.

“We understand that we have made a difference, and we are not the same University that we were at the start of this process,” Sellers said. “We still have a ways to go, but we are not where we were when we started.”