Graduate students express concerns with diversity plan at second forum

Thursday, September 22, 2016 - 11:16pm

Rackham student Elena Simpkins discusses enrollment issues related to diversity and inclusion at Angell Hall Thursday.

Rackham student Elena Simpkins discusses enrollment issues related to diversity and inclusion at Angell Hall Thursday. Buy this photo
David Song/Daily

 

At the second feedback forum for LSA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan Thursday night, which focused on how the plan relates to graduate students, some audience members expressed concerns about lack of input students had on the plan.

The DEI plan outlines prospective goals for LSA programs over a five-year period, including the implementation of a variety of programs including a diversity component of criteria for faculty raises, more funds for application fee waivers and improvements in recruitment processes for graduate students. It is part of a larger campus-wide effort launched by University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel last year.

The forums, which are slated to address concerns from a number of different groups in LSA, aim to allow student input in the revision process.

The majority of the audience members Thursday night, however, were faculty members. Among the students that were in the audience, some drew attention to the lack of involvement from graduate students. Social Work student Brittney Williams said the scarcity of graduate involvement, both tonight and at other times, was caused by the scheduling of the events.

“A lot of students have voiced concern that a lot of events like this happen at times that are more convenient for faculty and staff,” she said. “These are great, but I think there would be more participation and more student input if they were at times that are more accessible to students.”

Some attendees also raised concerns of what they described as the fragmented nature of the planning process, noting that LSA released its DEI plan in August, and University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel will release the campus-wide plan on Oct. 6.

LSA Assistant Dean Liz Cole facilitated the event and presented specific portions of the plan that relate to Rackham students. She discussed improvements in the recruiting process, additional master’s transition bridge programs and partnerships with minority-serving institutions, which are designed to foster a more diverse climate for graduates.

She also fielded criticism from students, saying many components of the plan would grow and change as time went on.

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about assessments for these different kinds of programs and we do think that there’s a lot of accountability built into the plan,” Cole said. “I can’t guarantee that we will succeed in all our goals in five years, but I think there’s going to be of course adjustments all along the way.”

Along with criticism, however, there were also multiple aspects of the plan that the audience members pointed to as positives. Economics Ph.D. coordinator Laura Flak said she particularly appreciated the planned implementation of seminars and tests for admissions officers on bias.

“The thing that’s most exciting for me is requiring the admissions chairs to attend these trainings on implicit bias,” she said. “Just across the board, from my personal experiences, oftentimes people become chairs because they’ve been around for a long time, have experience that sometimes comes at the expense of being well informed in terms of campus climate and education about implicit bias.”

She also said she appreciated the continued attempts to make campus a more open and welcoming space, such as the plan.

“I’m excited in the fact that it just helps perpetuate the general feeling of ecology in the University as a progressive environment, as a welcoming environment, a very open environment for all kinds of ideas and thoughts and people,” Flak said. “That just constantly makes me happy, this movement towards being more progressive.”

Kinesiology graduate student Elena Simpkins said she was optimistic about the plan,but also noted that she had some doubts, reflecting on both her graduate and undergraduate experiences at the University.

“We’ve witnessed pushes for these things before and still felt the same at the end,” she said. “I’m here because I have some glimmer of hope. But it’s still hard because there are times when I feel like things that I hear from the president or other people don’t always line up with actions. And it makes it hard sometimes to fully believe that what is going to happen in five years is going to be different than what we have now.”

Williams, who also attended the University as an undergraduate, said while she has experienced little positive change in campus culture, she remains optimistic.

“It’s really, really difficult when you’ve got over a decade behind you of observation and experience at the University and it still feels like there’s not as much hope as you wish there were,” she said. “But I do have hope.”