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Decisions are made by people who show up. We would like to thank all of the LSA students who asked hard questions and submitted thoughtful ideas at the public forums hosted by the University and by the College. We are especially grateful for submissions through our Plan-A-Thon’s open call for ideas. We committed to incorporating at least seven student-generated ideas in our draft plan and to following up with those students who self-identified and signaled a willingness to be further involved.
One student in particular attending the Plan-A-Thon Workshop reviewed draft sections of the LSA plan and contributed significantly to the sections on transfer students. She stressed the need for better understanding of the unique situations of some transfer students and what it takes not only to get them here, but also “to keep them here.” She is a strong advocate for expanding the transfer connections program and providing transfer students with mentors. “I am grateful for the experiences that I have had at U-M as a transfer student (even when challenging),” she writes, “because it has made me want to help students who come on the path after me.” Her ideas and feedback appear in the section on new transfer student initiatives under “Access.”
We received multiple submissions, from the UROP Peer Advisors and others, insisting that “LSA needs to stop discussing these issues in generalities like ‘diversity’ and state exact, specific goals.” They feel that enrollment and retention of a diverse pool of students is of the utmost importance, and is a topic “that LSA either tries to tactfully avoid or ignore [sic] entirely.” “There should be a sharper distinction,” another, anonymous submission states in a similar vein, “between effective actions that make meaningful changes to systemic issues and the kind of cosmetic gestures that divert school resources away from where they are needed. Projects that focus on positive PR for the school, or creation of endless committees and workshops and panels do not have a tangible result.” This cautionary note runs throughout various sections of the draft plan, especially those dealing with the Comprehensive Studies Program and ways the College seeks to retain diverse students.
We also received multiple submissions that were highly critical of the LSA Race & Ethnicity Degree Requirement, which the UROP Peer Advisors deemed “a waste in terms of everyday application” and for which they included several “corrective” solutions. All of the submissions, totaling over 25 by various individuals and groups, will be forwarded to the LSA Race & Ethnicity Review Committee, which has been conducting an assessment of the requirement this year and whose final report is due to the College by May 15. Some of this student feedback has been incorporated into the section of the plan on Inclusive Classrooms and Pedagogies.
Several proposals, including the ones submitted collectively by students within the Michigan Community Scholars Program, advocated the need for student advisory committees to “keep us honest” and provide student perspectives on pressing administrative decisions across a range of initiatives: R&E Student Advisory Committee; Admissions Policies LSA Undergraduate Student Advisory Committee; “STEM for Women” LSA Undergraduate Advisory Committee; and “Administrative Diversity Accountability” Undergrad Advisory Committee. The design—and the implementation—of the LSA DEI plan will benefit from the involvement of undergraduates themselves as both advisors and, where appropriate, as leaders.
We also received a submission calling for a DEI student ambassadors group and at least three other proposals for student advisory involvement in the administration of the R&E requirement. While we want to follow up with those students who have volunteered their time, energy, and insights to working on these initiatives and who want to be involved, we are equally committed to respecting the sentiments among other students that this should not be their responsibility.
Another group of MCSP students, as well as two anonymous individuals, submitted ideas for “Diversity Through the Arts” programs that we also want to think seriously about as we begin to move from the plan to its implementation. This may be a place for a cross-school initiative incorporating units such as Arts Engine and the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities.
Thanks, Awaken Ann Arbor, for the submission on incorporating mindfulness as “one of the keys to making significant progress in regards to diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University,” because it is important to “focus on the root of any issue if we want to make real changes.” The submission notes the growing body of research on mindfulness, including a 2011 Harvard study that “shows how mediation changes the brain, making us more compassionate and less judgmental” as well as the work of Veronica Rabelo, a doctoral student in psychology and women’s studies at U-M, on connections among social identity, mistreatment, mindfulness, and compassion.
We are equally grateful for the submission by an LSA undergraduate majoring in math on the need to address barriers to equity and inclusion in undergraduate STEM education. “As a woman in mathematics, I have experienced firsthand how challenging it is to feel like you belong in the program that you want to be a part of,” she writes in her two-and-a-half page proposal. We want to formally welcome her to what is a growing conversation on our campus and nationwide. All department chairs across the College recently received copies of LSA Professor Eileen Pollack’s The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still A Boy’s Club in hopes that it will serve as a call to action for our community to acknowledge the problems and seek meaningful solutions. Her ideas have been incorporated into the section of the plan on STEM education.
At the #withDeanMartin student forum on the LSA DEI plan, one student asked: “What about international students?” The submission by the Student Advisory Group of International Student Engagement, titled “M Global Student Network,” provides the makings of a possible answer to this question. The proposal itself is intriguing. In the summary paragraphs, they write:
“The MGlobal Student Network is designed to offer structural opportunities that increase international and domestic student engagement and transform the U-M campus environment into a more accepting and integrated community. With an integrated community, students are able to build innovated connections that broaden perspectives and ideas. The MGlobal Student Network will be visible and available for faculty and staff members to utilize. Faculty and staff members can provide their intercultural expertise and serve as mentors. Furthermore, this network will continue to build strong leaders and develop cultural and social activities/opportunities that will change the way we see ourselves, others, and the world around us. Students will gain a better understanding of multicultural issues in society and become better prepared to deal with these problems in their own social groups and in the wider world. We believe this fits into the University of Michigan’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategic plan because we want to help build an environment where students can develop an understanding and appreciation for multicultural diversity through active engagement. The cultivation of a global mindset and intercultural competencies enable international and domestic students to interact and learn from each other outside the classroom, and gain valuable experiences. Through an innovated network, we can begin to change the campus climate and give students the initiative to learn, grow, and explore their cultural backgrounds in ways never done before.” We are looking forward to more conversations with this student group, with colleagues in the International Center, and elsewhere.
And thanks, Anonymous, for calling our attention to the need to incorporate intellectual and political diversity into our broader perspective. They ask us to consider the degree to which conservative students constitute an “underrepresented minority on campus” facing their own distinctive challenges around acceptance and belonging. They call our attention to the possible tension between free speech and creating safe spaces on campus. They also advocate for “more events dealing with politics that have both sides represented,” such as a “Yale Political Union-type of academic forum/lecture series where different political perspectives are represented.”