DEI progress report: U-M has made gains, has more to do

Robert Sellers speaking at DEI Community Conversations

The University of Michigan has made great strides in its effort to become more welcoming and inclusive but still has work to do.

That was the key message as Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, provided an update Oct. 16 on U-M’s five-year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan.The plan, which just entered its fourth year, strives to create sustainable cultural change that leads to a more diverse and equitable campus. Sellers said achieving the goal will require hard work and commitment.

“We still have a ways to go, but it is imperative that we understand that we have made a difference and that we’re not the same university that we were at the start of this process,” he told about 200 people gathered in the Michigan League Ballroom.

The DEI plan includes an overarching strategic plan that encompasses the entire university. There are also 50 plans for individual units.

The three main areas of focus are recruiting, retaining and developing a diverse community, promoting a more equitable and inclusive climate, and infusing DEI principles into teaching, scholarship and service.

Sellers said evidence shows the efforts are paying off.For instance, climate surveys conducted within the Business & Finance unit show more people feel like they’re treated with respect and have equal opportunities for success in 2019 than they did in 2017. And user engagement on the DEI website has jumped 146 percent from 2016 to 2019.

Students, faculty and staff have had chances to offer feedback on the DEI plan. Sellers said he was surprised to hear that some of their ideas, such as providing more DEI training and integrating DEI concepts into curricula, are already happening.

“Clearly, that suggests that we either need to do it better, or we need to do a better job of advertising and making known what is actually happening,” he said.

“We’ve had DEI training that’s occurring at all levels of the university, from students, faculty, staff, up through deans, the EOs (executive officers) and even the regents. Also, we have a number of initiatives focused on DEI curriculum. But clearly, we can do more in that integration.”

Sellers said a team of three experts who evaluated the plan noted several strengths, including comprehensiveness, transparency and a clearly articulated commitment from President Mark Schlissel and other senior leaders. The team also flagged areas where improvement is needed. For instance, it suggested improving DEI messaging to students.

Sellers noted that U-M is strongly committed to making the university more accessible to people across all income and ability levels.

“When we have a university that builds barriers for any members of our community, while they are hampered, we as a community are the ones that are the most impoverished by their absence and inability to access and achieve all they can achieve,” he said.

Sellers also offered a glimpse of some areas on which the DEI plan will focus in the future. They include integrating sexual misconduct prevention into DEI efforts, providing managers with additional tools, having an increased focus on DEI skill development, and continuing to plan for the Year 5 evaluation.

Near the end of the event, the audience broke into small-group discussions at their tables.

Ashley Reese, a staff member in University Housing, said she was drawn to U-M because of its institutional investment in DEI.

Later, another staff member, Emily Canosa, assistant director of U-M’s Sustainable Living Experience, said she would like to see DEI integrated more fully into the faculty and staff evaluation processes.

“It was very optimistic,” she said of Sellers’ presentation. “I think celebrating accomplishments is a really important thing, but we also have a long way to go, and they acknowledged it.”

This article was originally published in the October 17, 2019 edition of the University Rercord

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