About 15 student leaders from organizations in the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering gathered Thursday night in Chesborough Auditorium on North Campus to hold a student-led review of the University President Mark Schlissel’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan.
The forum, sponsored by Engineering Student Government, is the first review in the College of Engineering to be restricted strictly to students to discuss the DEI plan — a five-year initiative launched earlier this month with the goal of improving campus diversity. The DEI plan includes strategies for each individual college at the University to cater to its own needs for diversity.
Attendees discussed racial, gender and identity diversity in an effort to expand upon earlier town halls held by the college and further the concerns raised in the college’s statement about the plan previously published in The Michigan Daily.
At a town hall organized by the College of Engineering on Oct. 11, Engineering Dean Alec Gallimore and members of the DEI planning team outlined the college’s goals to attendees. Engineering graduate student Abbhinav Muralidharan said in an interview before the Thursday event he felt it was productive to have a different dynamic than forums held in the past, especially with no faculty or administration present.
Thursday’s review consisted of an open dialogue during which student attendees discussed the contents of the College of Engineering’s strategies for improving diversity — specifically the plans for driving innovation and fostering creativity while reflecting the changing diversity in higher education nationwide. The Michiagn Daily was asked not to record because students were told their identities would be protected if they were concerned about speaking out during the review.
Students vocalized concerns about what they described as the vagueness of a phrase “compelling reasons for diversity” as well as the prioritization of its main objectives and whether the strategic objectives can be applied to each of their organizations in narrowing the college’s gender and minority gaps.
Attendees also discussed whether mandating or exposing incoming freshmen to diversity-based classes — similar to the required AlcoholEdu class, in which freshmen must take an online course outlining the risks of alcohol and drug use before arriving on campus, or in intro-level courses — would have merits, as well as the struggles the University faces as being a public institution in a state that prohibits affirmative action.
“It feels like the student orgs aren’t really having a sense of ownership with (the DEI plans),” Muralidharan said. “It’s relatively difficult to implement a plan like this — it’s very easy to talk about ideas, and we’ve been doing that for a while now, but the actual implementation, whether it’s just the logistics or figuring out how each student org works, is particularly difficult.”
Engineering graduate student Chris Reynolds, a member of ESG, echoed Muralidharan and said an active response from administration would be ideal.
“There’s not much room for where the students come into play,” Reynolds said. “We feel especially that student organizations can do a lot to help the college move along and perhaps even make higher goals. … They still feel like there’s been a missing aspect of listening.”
Both Muralidharan and Reynolds stressed the significance of diversity plans that not only affect the University and colleges within the University, but also alter the structure and climate within student organizations.
Engineering senior Rebekah Andrews, ESG president, said she will be meeting next week with Brian Noble, associate dean of undergraduate education in the College of Engineering, to establish collaboration between students and administration in order to improve diversity.
“There are certain members of the administration that definitely are (receptive to the students’ input), certain members that definitely aren’t,” Andrews said. “There are a lot of things when you come from a stance of privilege that you don’t realize that make it really difficult for minorities and people who maybe aren’t as privileged. … Nobody was actively trying to make me feel unwelcome in my engineering class, but we still need to recognize that it happened and maybe mitigate some of that.”