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ANN ARBOR - Last year, the University of Michigan implemented a comprehensive action plan for promoting diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.
We sat down with Dr. Robert Sellers, who is leading the charge on the ambitious project and fills the new roles of Vice Provost for Equity and Inclusion, Chief Diversity Officer and the Charles D. Moody Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Education.
The new position seems to have been tailor-made for him.
Dr. Sellers has carried out extensive research on the role race plays in the psychological lives of African-Americans, developing with his students an empirical and conceptual model of African-American racial identity.
He shared his take on the campus climate, the Strategic Plan and his personal experience at Michigan as a graduate student.
What do you hope your background brings to this position?
"I hope my work as a psychologist gives me a perspective in terms of how different people are experiencing the world: What are their motivations; what are their fears. What are the strategies for making the kinds of change that we want to change?
"For instance, one of the things that’s been helpful, or at least has influenced my thinking and my approach, has been understanding that even though we usually think that attitude change leads to behavioral change, actually, much of the research suggests it’s the other way around; That behavioral change often leads to attitudinal change.
"So not to focus so much on attitudes in the sense that we’re preaching particular ideologies but more in terms of preaching practices that represent the value of diversity, equity and inclusion.
"Having been at the university as a graduate student and having been more involved ... It does sometimes give me a perspective of how people feel in various aspects of the university. And it also gives me perspective that -- for the 32 years that I’ve been affiliated with the university -- there have always been a number of people in a number of spaces that have worked very hard on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion all throughout this campus."