Dean of undergraduate education discusses LSA diversity strategy

Monday, April 18, 2016 - 11:11pm

Angela Dillard, associate dean for undergraduate education, gathered with about 20 students on Monday in the LSA Student Government office to update attendees on the most recent draft of LSA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan. The goal of the meeting was to inform members of LSA-SG, in addition to other students involved in the formation of the plan, of the plan’s progress.

Dillard said the plan cannot be finalized and released to the public as it is pending review by the Office of the Vice-President and General Counsel. She passed around one copy of the document, but none of the pages were allowed to leave the room.

“We want to have stuff in the plan that’s about real commitment,” Dillard said. “This is one of the reasons that the plan is not public right now. Before you put this stuff out there, you really want to make sure that this is legally doable and financially possible.”

Dillard spent most of the evening discussing the incorporation of student ideas into the revised plan, including a renewed focus on transfer students, the Race and Ethnicity requirement, the Comprehensive Studies and STEM programs.

During the Plan-A-Thon Week in February — an opportunity for students to engage in workshops and submit ideas to be included in the LSA DEI Plan — the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program Diversity Council stressed the need for greater inclusivity of transfer students, according to Dillard.

Dillard noted that LSA admits more transfer students than any other college on campus and hopes to double its numbers in the future. She also emphasized a stronger focus on community college transfers and a dedication to working with tribal colleges– institutions run by Native American tribes– to increase the presence of diverse students.

Dillard said a significant aspect of aiding transfer students is ensuring the community is receptive to them.

“It’s not just about getting people here, but keeping them here,” Dillard said. “What does it mean for us to have a transfer-receptive culture? To really be able to welcome that part of the student population?”

Included in the five-year goals regarding transfer students are plans to increase the current transfer population in LSA and to develop a mentorship program for incoming transfer students. The goal is to expand the resources available to this population and bridge gaps in access.

The section entitled “Student Access” highlights the expansion of programs, such as the Comprehensive Studies Program, which work to enroll and retain diverse students and to create a more level playing field upon arrival at the University, regardless of prior background education.

CSP provides academic support and guidance for a diverse group of students including underrepresented minorities, first-generation students and those from under-resourced high schools. Dillard said the plan focuses heavily on providing more services and support to such programs.

“Those kinds of things that create structural inequalities that ripple forward through educational institutions and then on through society, so we want to focus our attention on that kind of stuff, structural issues, issues that have really hit that spot around access and equity,” she said.

However, she also pointed out an increase in the size and scope of CSP and similar programs is not enough on its own. The plan additionally aims to close all instances of graduation gaps across the student body to ensure that everybody not only graduates at the same rate, but also with a strong academic record, Dillard said.

LSA freshman Kyra Hudson, a research assistant on Dillard’s Understanding the Race and Ethnicity Requirement UROP project, is in support of the efforts to build upon CSP. She added that she would like to see more people on campus educated to eradicate some of the biases and negative opinions associated with the program.

“I feel like a lot of people see it as something that, if you’re in CSP, you’re taking the easier route, and it’s not like that,” Hudson said. “It’s just a place where people can go where there’s an environment with resources you didn’t have before. It needs to be something that’s more heard of and accessible to more groups of people.”

Dillard also opened up the dialogue to issues surrounding unequal access to the STEM field, pointing out that many first and second-year introductory courses tend to weed out poetential STEM majors. The plan hopes to address this issue by emphasizing inclusive classroom practices.

She cited several efforts to create a pipeline for females, first generation students, underrepresented minorities or of low socioeconomic status and other populations to pursue STEM majors. For example, in the fall 2016, the University will participate in the Posse STEM Program — developed in 2006 to aid colleges and universities in increasing the number of diverse students who pursue degrees and careers in STEM fields.

The group also talked about the Race and Ethnicity requirement, a topic that most students provided feedback on during the earlier planning stages. During her presentation, Dillard included input from the Michigan Community Scholars Program.

The Plan-A-Thon inspired the idea to establish a Student Advisory Committee on Race and Ethnicity, which would allow students the opportunity to formally and informally provide feedback in the redesign of courses and offer support and recommendations for faculty and GSIs who struggle to make their classrooms inclusive environments.

LSA-SG responded positively to this idea and welcomed efforts to gain greater input from the student body.

LSA junior Aditi Rao, LSA-SG vice president and member of the curriculum committee, noted that she was the only student on the Race and Ethnicity course approval committee last year who had experience with Race and Ethnicity courses. As a result, she encouraged the formation of a Student Advisory Committee on Race and Ethnicity, believing it would provide an opportunity to accurately represent student opinion.

“It’s hard to being the one student that is providing input because they all rely on me,” Rao said. “I can’t speak for 18,000 students … you need more voices.”

Anderson was also in support of the creation of such a committee; however, she expressed the importance of having diversity within the group.

“I think it’s just really important to have a diverse group of students on there to reflect all different backgrounds, majors, interests so you can see it from different, multiple points of view,” Anderson said.

At the end of the event, Hudson commented on the plan’s well-roundedness and how it included almost all identities on campus.

“People think that stuff isn’t getting done because it’s obviously a process and it moves kind of slow, but being here made me realize that the University is doing stuff; it’s just a slower process,” Hudson said. “They are committed to making things better. It’s just that there’s a lot of institutional barriers they have to get over. Our voices are being heard; these things that we go to do matter.”