Schlissel reflects on diversity summit, Mizzou

Wednesday, November 18, 2015 - 11:33pm

After college campuses confronted issues of diversity and racial tensions last week, particularly on the campuses of the University of Missouri and Yale University, The Michigan Daily sat down with University officials to discuss how the University campus talks about race.

The conversation followed the University President Mark Schlissel’s campuswide diversity summit, which was held the week before Thursday’s two-year anniversary of the #BBUM Twitter campaign.

During the interview, Schlissel emphasized what he characterized as the University’s proactive strategy for handling issues of race, in comparison with how similar issues were handled on the campuses of Missouri and Yale.

“We didn’t launch the diversity, equity and inclusion strategic planning process in the setting of a crisis,” he said. “We launched it in the setting of an ongoing commitment to the public and the students that we serve and to build an inclusive community.”

University administrators have been in the process of creating a plan to address issues related to diversity throughout the year.

Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity, inclusion and academic affairs, said this mindset distinguishes the University from other institutions grappling with conversations on race and inclusion.

“We hope that the level of conversation is perhaps different from what happened at Missouri, that students feel that they have a partnership in trying to make this change with respect to the administration, that we’re in this together, that they don’t see it simply as it’s our job to change the University, but it’s all our jobs,” Sellers said.

The day after Schlissel’s diversity assembly, students also gathered on the Diag in solidarity with Black students at the University and Missouri. The timing of these events, Schlissel said, was impactful.

“The coincidence in timing was dramatic, and it allowed us to have even deeper, more important discussions, perhaps, that we might have absent at all these other events,” he said. “The commitment to this is ongoing. It started before and it will continue on because the challenges are ongoing.”

“I hope that we don’t end up in a situation where it’s us against ‘them,’ because we see ‘them’ as us, and there is no ‘them,’ ” Sellers added.

Schlissel said the diversity summit, which was attended by 1,100 students, staff and faculty, presented an opportunity for increased inclusiveness.

“Many people in our community don’t feel like they’re full, active participants, and they’re not accorded the same sense of inclusion in our community as others, and a sense of hurt and a little bit of anger came through,” Schlissel said. “And I think that was very important for all of us to hear, and to try to understand and to contextualize with our ongoing work on diversity and inclusion.”

In Tuesday’s interview, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, discussed the University’s established history of activism, and emphasized the administration’s history of responsiveness.

“This is the school that went to the Supreme Court,” Harper said. “It’s also an institution where students’ voices around change and imagining a different kind of world have always been part of our DNA, and we’ve always had a responsive administration, sometimes imperfectly, but always a responsive administration … Does that mean we’re there? Absolutely not. But I also keep trying to remind myself that we’re also not at the starting gate either.”

Two years after the University’s Black Student Union launched the #BBUM Twitter campaign to call attention to the experiences of Black students on campus, both administrators and students say their is more work to do to address the challenges faced by these students. #BBUM was launched on this day in 2013.

Harper pointed to progress on all seven of the demands raised by the BSU the following January, including plans to relocate the Trotter Multicultural Center and achieving a larger number of Black students in this year’s freshman class. Members of the BSU, however, have said they plan to continue calling on the University to do more.