Plan-a-thon seeks input on strategic diversity plan

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 11:02pm

Afro-American studies professor Amanda Alexander speaks about “banning the box” at the LSA Plan-a-thon meeting in the Michigan Leauge on Monday.

Afro-American studies professor Amanda Alexander speaks about “banning the box” at the LSA Plan-a-thon meeting in the Michigan Leauge on Monday. Buy this photo
Claire Abdo/Daily

 

The College of Literature, Science and the Arts hosted the first of two workshops Monday to receive feedback and ideas from students regarding ways to facilitate a more inclusive and diverse climate on campus.

The workshop is part of LSA’s Plan-A-Thon, an initiative to help generate ideas before submitting a college-wide plan to enhance diversity at the school. The plan, which will be submitted on March 15 and implemented next fall, is part of University President Mark Schlissel’s strategic plan on diversity, equity and inclusion.

While this event aimed to engage students in the planning process according to event organizers, about half of the audience Monday was made up of faculty members. The room was setup to accommodate a large crowd, but only a few of the tables in the League ballroom were filled, with about 15 students and 15 faculty members in attendance.

During the workshop, administrators presented the current draft of the plan to gauge reactions to initiatives presented and brainstorm ways to improve.

Angela Dillard, LSA associate dean for undergraduate education, said the goal of the strategic plan was to find realistic ways to implement the goals of students regarding the climate on campus.

“We did want to come up with a way to help students build their own capacity to think about how you move from a good idea to something that might become a part of a strategic plan at something like a major university,” Dillard said.

Dillard said she thought the talk went well, but she was disappointed by the low turnout.

“I think students aren’t connecting to this process and it’s really tough to figure out how to get them to connect,” Dillard said.

Amanda Alexander, assistant professor in the Afroamerican and African Studies Department, discussed a variety of initiatives in the current draft of the plan, such as the Ban the Box initiative, which would remove questions about an individual’s criminal record from applications for admission the University. Another initiative in the draft plan calls for disarming campus police officers.

Alexander said her goal in pushing to include these initiatives is to help embrace potential students at the University and foster a greater sense of community.

“Whether it’s mental health, whether it’s being undocumented, whether it’s having a criminal record, there are all of these points of stigma and silence and shame that students don’t have here,” she said.

Matthew Countryman, associate professor of history and American culture, presented on the ways affirmative action and University policies impacted minority enrollment.

Affirmative action has been banned at Michigan public colleges since the passage of a statewide ballot proposal in 2006. In that year, Black students comprised 7.2 percent of the overall campus population. In 2015, Black students make up 4.82 percent.

Countryman discussed how last year there was an increase in underrepresented minorities in the incoming class, which he says could be due to less early applicants being accepted than in years past. Countryman said this change implies the University could make adjustments to the admissions process that might lead to more diversity.

“It’s shocking to me that a slight tweak in the process could produce this shift when we were told for 10 years that there was nothing the University could do,” Countryman said.

Faculty members also discussed how the language of plan itself may contribute to an insufficient conversation on issues of inclusion. Ruby Tapia, associate professor of women’s studies and English, said diversity may no longer be the optimal word for campaigns such as this due to it being overused, which she termed “diversity fatigue.”

“People feel like we don’t need to talk about these issues because we’ve already talked about them,” Tapia said.

Tapia recommended the word justice, which several participants said elicits a better sense of action. She also commended the inclusion of the word equity in the plan’s name.