Members of the University of Michigan community gathered in person for the first time in three years to hear messages behind the theme “DEI: Nurturing the Heart, Mind, & Soul” at the sixth annual DEI Summit.
The diversity, equity and inclusion community assembly and discussion took place Oct. 12 in front of a large crowd at the Power Center for the Performing Arts and was also livestreamed to a virtual audience.
The summit marked the end of the evaluation process of U-M’s five-year DEI 1.0 and the start of a yearlong transition into DEI 2.0. Three featured guest speakers addressed each of the summit theme’s three pieces.
President Mary Sue Coleman joined the assembly virtually. “Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is absolutely essential to this university’s excellence,” said Coleman, who emphasized that DEI work is of the highest priority for Santa J. Ono, who becomes U-M’s 15th president on Oct. 14. “It’s one of the values that I have most appreciated in returning to lead the university. It cannot be said enough: The more diverse we are, the stronger our academic excellence.”
Featured guest speakers Todd Boyd, Dena Scott and Sarah Hurwitz shared their personal and professional experiences, each centered around one of the theme’s three parts.
Boyd, a.k.a “Notorious Ph.D.,” spoke on the theme of the heart. Boyd, the Katherine and Frank Price Endowed Chair for the Study of Race and Popular Culture and professor of cinema and media studies at the University of Southern California, addressed the power of movies, music, art and other mediums to create connections across cultures.
Drawing upon his own childhood going to movie theaters in Detroit, Boyd said movies shaped his cultural perceptions of society and places around the world. He remembered viewing “blacksploitation” films as well as films featuring Asian actors, such as Bruce Lee, that pushed against the preconceived idea of the Black-white binary.
“The movie’s a seed, it’s a start. … If you treat seeds properly, they can grow into something very beneficial,” Boyd said. “I think about culture that way; it’s like a seed. It offers us the opportunity to get out of our own environment, and momentarily — the music we listen to, the movies we watch, etc. — perhaps, (we can) imagine how someone else might experience life.”
As an adult, Boyd said he visited cultural landmarks such as the Roman Colosseum and the Forbidden City in Beijing, and upon seeing them he thought back to the movies he saw as a kid.
“We all enjoy our own culture; we should continue to enjoy it. We should also recognize the opportunity it provides for us to make connections across these lines,” he said.
Scott, a clinical psychologist, spoke on the theme of the mind. As she was growing up, Scott said her family never talked about mental health.
After experiencing trauma at the age of 10, Scott went to a doctor who referred her to a mental health professional. She described visiting the professional with her mom and feeling stigmatized and stereotyped. This experience inspired her to pursue the field of psychology.
“I knew that there was a purpose, I knew that there was something that needed to be done that really connected and interconnected DEI … as well as mental health and wellness,” said Scott, who now is a psychologist with Headspace Health, which provides mental health care through mindfulness and meditation tools, coaching, therapy and psychiatry.
Headspace is currently in the process of introducing its platform to the U-M community. Scott said she hopes the program will help students give themselves permission to take time to care for their mental health.
Hurwitz, author of “Here All Along” and former speechwriter for former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, spoke on the theme of the soul. Although raised by parents who weren’t deeply engaged with their own Judaism, Hurwitz found herself as an adult joining an introduction-to-Judaism class.
“What I discovered in that class absolutely blew my mind: 4,000 years of crowdsourced wisdom from millions of my ancestors about what it means to be human,” she said. “There is no Jewish dogma or definition of God that one must accept or reject, but rather countless different ideas and experiences.”
Hurwitz started studying Jewish ethics and discovered that her growing connection to Jewish traditions made her feel more fully human and as though her existence truly mattered.
“It’s important to remember that so much of the work of spirituality and religion is not loud — it’s quiet, unfolding in soup kitchens and foster homes, and through daily acts of courage and activism and love,” Hurwitz said.
Other speakers at the event included:
Chavous acknowledged the progress U-M has made in its DEI efforts throughout DEI 1.0.
Such developments include Wolverine Pathways, a program that provides free college preparatory guidance for students from select communities, and the Trotter Multicultural Center, which celebrates cultural heritages and cultivates racial healing within student experiences.
“I’m incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made,” she said. “It is because of you, our university community, so many individuals, groups, units, organizations within it, that we are better today than when we began this process five years ago.”
McCauley cited several DEI initiatives led by the Office of the Provost including the anti-racism tenure-track hiring program and the Advancing Public Safety at the University of Michigan Task Force. She also noted the developments in U-M’s race and ethnicity curriculum, inclusive teaching liaison program, and anti-racism professional development experiences for DEI implementation leads.
“Our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, which have long been part of our university, have become an essential part of our very identity,” she said. “As we navigated through a worldwide pandemic and national racial awakening, our commitment to DEI has remained unwavering, and in fact, I would argue that we are more resolute today as a result of these experiences.”
The three featured speakers also took part in a panelist discussion moderated by Deborah Willis, assistant vice provost in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Diego Andrade-Cabrera, a senior majoring in sports management and co-president and founder of the Michigan Sports Business Inclusion Community, joined Boyd, Scott and Hurwitz on the panel.
Hurwitz said her time working with patients at the hospital has taught her that it’s hard to judge someone when they’re suffering, and that it can be impossible to know when another person is suffering. She emphasized that softening hearts toward one another can create a more inclusive, understanding space.
Boyd said during the pandemic, he found his mental health improved as he practiced social distancing. Without facing racial microaggressions and passive-aggressive situations from the outside world, he had time to focus on improving himself mentally.
“I think these conversations we’re having — talking about mental health, talking about diversity, equity and inclusion — these are contemporary conversations, but they have a much longer history,” he said. “We talk openly about mental health now in ways that we have not always talked openly about it as a society.”
Scott reinforced the idea that people should prioritize their mental health and actively seek out and claim what they need to become whole.
“So often we don’t claim the things that we need. We do for others without doing for ourselves. It’s OK to be whole in a way that’s whole for you,” she said.