Seven faculty members have received 2022 Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Awards, and another was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, for their contributions to the development of a culturally and ethnically diverse University of Michigan community.

Established in 1996, the annual award is given by the Office of the Provost in honor of Harold Johnson, dean emeritus of the School of Social Work.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Jonathan Ford Finks, Medical School.
  • Gary Freed, School of Public Health.
  • Odest Chadwicke Jenkins, College of Engineering.
  • Ramaswami Mahalingam, LSA.
  • Damani James Partridge, LSA.
  • Charles Ransom, University Library.
  • Sara Soderstrom, LSA, Stephen M. Ross School of Business, School for Environment and Sustainability.

Ramaswami Mahalingam

Mahalingam, professor of psychology and women’s studies and director of the Barger Leadership Institute in LSA, studies how certain lines of work are devalued, and their workers marginalized.

For more than 25 years, Mahalingam has investigated the production, perpetuation, and consequences of social marginality in many cultural contexts. He investigates fundamental questions in inequality and social justice, taking an intersectional approach. He is one of very few psychologists to study these issues of diversity and identities in different countries with very different cultural norms and hierarchies (India and the United States). In both countries, he examines issues of power and discrimination t various intersections of caste, gender, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. 

Mahalingam’s work has always focused on social justice, and currently, his scholarship has focused on using mindfulness to address social injustice. This is an extreme, innovative scholarly approach. His research explores how a lack of “privilege awareness” and prejudice could potentially undermine one's capacity to be compassionate. In short, Dr. Mahalongam identified a specific psychological process to promote inclusiveness in the face of discrimination and inequality.

His focus on equity and social justice is also embodied in his teaching. To examine parallels between race and caste, Mahalingam took African American students to India as part of the Global Intercultural Experiences for Undergraduates (GIEU) program to meet with Dalit women activists and explore the lived experiences of caste, race, class, and gender. In a second GIEU program, he took students to India to explore how Indian women negotiate and strive to empower themselves through mediation, challenging patriarchal norms in unique ways.

He currently serves as director of the Barger Leadership Institute (BLI). He redesigned the entire curriculum for BLI, aligning all the programs in a coherent DEI and social justice framework. Under Dr. Mahalingam's leadership, BLI created robust anti-racist and inclusive classroom training for student facilitators. Since Dr. Mahaliongam became director of the BLI, it has substantially increased the recruitment of URM students, which is the result of his continued efforts to hire a diverse body of student employees for our outreach teams and targeted partnerships. 

Patricia Reuter-Lorenz, Chair of the Department of Psychology states, “Dr. Mahalingam is an enthusiastic leader committed t0 diversity, equity, and inclusion. As a first-generation graduate hailing from a backward caste and class, he is committed to breaking the invisibilities of the marginalized student experiences.”

Mahalingam recently was invited to address the lack of diversity in higher education at a conference sponsored by Brown University, and he was invited to present at the Ambedkar International conference in Bangalore, India.

Content reproduced from an article originally printed in the University Record by Lauren Love, and the event program from the event honoring the awardees on Tuesday, May 10, 2022.