University outlines ambitious measures in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan

Thursday, October 6, 2016 - 11:33pm

The University of Michigan’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, launched Thursday, will include campus climate-related training, the creation of the new Trotter Multicultural Center and new recruitment strategies.

The plan also outlines strategies to provide more financial support to departments that conduct research on diversity, equity and inclusion-related issues and the expansion of the Inclusive Teaching Professional Development programs. Major reports will be released after years three and five, and the University will administer a campus climate survey.

The University-wide five-year plan includes 49 individual unit plans, which are individualized for the schools, colleges and administrative, athletic and other departments within the University.

“The campus-wide plan is a set of actions for today,” University President Mark Schlissel said at the plan’s introduction on Thursday morning. “We cannot live up to our full potential as a university unless everyone has an equal opportunity to contribute and to benefit.”

The University will commit $85 million over the next five years to fund DEI efforts, in addition to the current annual fund of $40 million a year.

The plan was in part a response to student activism, specifically the viral twitter #BBUM movement and student protests started by the University’s Black Student Union in November 2013. The plan’s text makes connections to social movements as far back as the Black Action Movement of the 1970s up to debates over affirmative action in the last decade.

“It is our imperfect history coupled with our strong tradition of student activism and striving for change that has led us to this next concerted effort to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment for our entire campus community,” the report reads.

Student activists protested the release of plan Thursday, though, interrupting the keynote speech to demand more student involvement. After anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim fliers were posted on Central Campus, multiple student protests and statements have criticized the administration’s DEI initiative as too farsighted and lacking in immediate solutions.

Two committees were established by the administration to conduct research on the strengths and weaknesses of inclusion at the University prior to planning the DEI. These two committees, the Provost’s Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Staff Committee on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, similarly concluded the University could do more to recruit and retain a diverse campus and create a more culturally sensitive environment.

Preparation for the five-year plan began last September, and during this period the University hosted more than 200 engagement events across campus to incorporate the voices and opinions of students, faculty and staff in the new plan.

Katrina Wade-Golden, director of evaluation and assessment for the Office of the Vice Provost for Equity, Inclusion and Academic Affairs, agreed on the landmark significance of the initiative, and applauded the plan’s rollout Thursday.

“Given the historical day we are experiencing in the University’s history, today went really well,” she said. “There’s been a high level of energy and excitement, and I think people are really grabbing hold to that.”

All 19 schools and colleges, academic affair units, student life groups and the athletic department were divided into 49 planning units, each of which released a unit-specific plan. All of the planning units include the same three strategies. These campus-wide strategies are to create an inclusive and equitable campus climate, to recruit, retain and develop a diverse community, and to support innovative and inclusive scholarship and technology.

Creating an inclusive and equitable campus climate

The plan aims to recognize the diversity of identities — including racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, socioeconomic and political — at the University and ensure campus is welcoming to all differences. A theme consistent throughout the plans is the commitment to providing climate-related training across levels of students, faculty and staff.

This fall, the University is piloting a culture training program for students that will ultimately include the entire freshman class in five years. The training will require a preliminary assessment to evaluate the students’ cultural sensitivity levels. Participants will receive a unique training program based on assessment results targeting specific areas for cultural development. At the end, students must take a follow-up assessment and receive a certificate for completion.

In addition to the pilot program, all students will have access to training through an online Web portal. Incoming faculty and staff and executive leadership will also undergo similar professional development, though the plan makes no mention of current faculty members.

Another component of this strategy is the construction of the new Trotter Multicultural Center,which will serve as a hub for support and engagement of students of color. Approved in April after years of demands from Black students for a more central location, the new center will provide space for student organizations to hold events learn about heritage and culture, ideals espoused by the strategic plan.

The new building has been one of controversy, especially with the University's Black Student Union, which wants to ensure the center is a safe space for students of color. As recently as July, Regent Mark Bernstein (D–Ann Arbor) withdrew a $3 million donation to the center after a controversy over naming rights.

Recruit, retain and develop a diverse community

Under this theme, the DEI aims to increase the number of diverse groups on campus. The plan outlines a variety of new student recruitment strategies, including increasing engagement with local K-12 schools.

As of Fall 2015, the Office of the Registrar reported University enrollment to be 56.2 percent white, 11.2 percent Asian, 4.6 percent Hispanic, 4.1 Black and .2 percent Native American. While the DEI plan does not institute any target numbers or timelines for diversifying enrollment, it highlights that 70 percent of unit plans— in addition to University-wide policies—include mechanisms to broaden outreach for students, faculty and staff.

Much of the plan’s solutions refine existing models and programs such as Wolverine Pathways, which focuses on providing college readiness skills to lower socioeconomic status communities. Cohorts currently contain currently students Southfield and Ypslianti district schools, and will expand to Detroit next fall. Program participants can apply to the University and, upon acceptance, receive a full four-year scholarship covering tuition and other academics-related needs. In an interview with the Daily in November, though, Schlissel said the success of the program depends on private donors — there was no indication during the plan rollout whether the program will receive more consistent University funding.

Similarly, the plan strives to increase SES diversity at the University through the existing HAIL scholar program, which provides financial support to applicants from underserved communities.

The plan also mentions increasing support for first-generation students, Native American students, and minority graduate students through partnerships with external tribes and institutions.

Some student groups on campus have already been nudged to increase diversity within their own organizations. After Schlissel and Harper spoke to Greek Life organizations about the devaluing nature of party culture, branches met to create a diversity task force. Last semester, the Interfraternity Council, the Multicultural Greek Council, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Panhellenic Association worked together to create a separate subcommittee attempting to provide President Schlissel with recommendations on how to create a more inclusive environment, specifically in Greek life.

Panhellenic President Lexi Wung, an LSA senior, commented that the community wanted to create a safe space for respectful and inclusive learning.

“We really wanted the Greek life community to represent what the DEI plan is aiming to create because we can be a great example,” Wung said.

Support innovative and inclusive scholarship and technology

The final component of the plan focuses on strengthening the University academically by providing financial support to the departments that conduct research on diversity, equity and inclusion-related issues. When planning, the administration investigated how the different colleges on campus integrated diversity and inclusion into their curriculum.

The plan includes the expansion of the Inclusive Teaching Professional Development programs, which include workshops offered by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching that train faculty in creating inclusive classroom environments. CRLT will also offer teaching workshops for graduate student instructors.

The National Center for Institutional Diversity housed within LSA will also expand its network to include a unique, University-specific component. NCID—which focuses on cross-departmental collaboration through its Diversity Scholars Network will work with the University to create a Distinguished Diversity Scholars program for faculty with expertise on diversity topics

Evaluating Progress

The University will use a variety of metrics to update the campus community on progress — major reports will additionally be released after years three and five — and will track trends such as participation in programs and the overall demographic composition of campus.

The Provost’s Office will also administer a University-wide campus climate survey next semester to determine a baseline standard for equity indicators and attitudes, though the plan does not specify what metrics will be spotlighted.

Though the rollout emphasized overarching initiatives, Wade-Golden, who will oversee the climate survey’s data collection, said the plan’s strength lies in its multifaceted approach.

“Our respectful units have engaged the plan in a way that is most meaningful in their area and appropriate for their context,” she said. “Centrally, we’re committed to providing support. … I’m encouraged about the energy we’ve been able to harness so far on campus, and I’m looking forward to leveraging that in an intentional way.”