Last year the faculty leadership at the university level and within the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts announced Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Strategic Plans. These efforts emerged from overlapping conversations on our campus and nationally about the future of higher education. Anthony Mora, the outgoing chair of the History Department’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, sat down with History staffer Gregory Parker to talk about the department’s own efforts.
Mora is currently an associate professor in History and American Culture. His research focuses on the Latino/a experience in the United States, and his current projects include an investigation of the historical relationship between African Americans and Mexican Americans in the Midwest and a biography of the fictional character Zorro. This past April the university honored Mora with the Harold R. Johnson Diversity Service Award.
Gregory Parker: Could you talk a little about how the History Department approaches diversity, equity, and inclusion? How do these efforts fit with the college- and university-level initiatives?
Anthony Mora: Our history department has long been committed to thinking about a diversity of perspectives and viewpoints when interpreting the past. So many of our faculty, staff, and students have been working tirelessly on these issues for decades. A number of things converged for us, though, to create a specific Equity and Inclusion Committee back in 2015. Students brought us a number of concerns which prompted us to ask whether our department is as welcoming as we want it to be. We also recognized that the national demographics are really changing rapidly. As an example, one in five school-age children currently identifies as Latina/o or Hispanic. In order for us to train the next generation of scholars, we need to grapple with that reality in a meaningful way.
At the same time there were ever-expanding circles of discussion about these same issues. After #BBUM [Being Black at U-M, a student-led social media campaign] the campus engaged in serious introspection. This occurred alongside national conversations like Black Lives Matter and responses to anti-Mexican and anti-Muslim rhetoric. We have also seen students and faculty mobilize on our campus through efforts like Indigo, a group working to ensure that Asian and Pacific Islander Americans are included in diversity discussions and leadership positions. In a history department those are things that we can help put into context through our research and teaching.
I want to emphasize, though, we are not only thinking about race and ethnic identity in DEI. To be successful the committee needs to be constantly aware of gender, sexuality, and economic class, and countless other social identities. It is how all those intersect at different points for different students that impacts their experience.
GP: So, diversity, equity, and inclusion isn’t just about numbers of students of particular underrepresented groups or people of color within the department—it’s also an issue of climate, and how we can be more inclusive for students already here.
AM: That is such an important point. Even though we’re always conscious of what our department looks like in relation to national demographics, we’re never actually making decisions in order to get to a certain number. For a long time I think the presumption has been that if we did better in terms of increasing numbers then everything else would fall into place. In any workplace, though, you have different experiences and different sets of knowledge. If there is still just one dominant way of writing or doing history that excludes other vantage points or new ideas, then that’s a problem.
GP: What accomplishments can the committee highlight?
AM: The gender neutral restroom in Haven Hall is a tangible thing that we can point to as a major change. It was simply astounding to me that the number of gender-neutral restrooms on this campus really lags behind what should be in place. Most of our other work as a committee, though, has been a bit more abstract.
GP: You also coordinate a partnership program with the University of New Mexico (UNM). Can you talk about that a bit?
AM: I do! The UNM-Michigan Pipeline Project is an LSA-funded project to build institutional relationships among humanities departments on the two campuses. UNM is a good choice because it is a traditionally Hispanic-serving institution that also has a significant Native American population. Each year two groups of faculty will travel to the other campus to present their research. While there, they will meet with students in senior classes to talk about the graduate programs at their respective campuses. We also have a visiting scholar program for UNM faculty members who have a sabbatical and would like to come to Ann Arbor. The first, Michael Ryan, will arrive next year and be based in the History Department.
GP: I know that you also helped develop another pipeline initiative called the Michigan Humanities Emerging Research Scholars program, or MICHHERS for short. Can you tell me about that?
AM: We are so proud that History jumped on board MICHHERS as one of the pilot departments along with English and Linguistics. MICHHERS brings students from across the nation to Ann Arbor for about ten days to learn what graduate work is like within specific humanities disciplines. It’s a highly competitive process with just four slots open in each department. Once students are selected, they are paired with a faculty member in their discipline to think about how to revise a piece of scholarship they’ve already written with an eye towards applying for graduate school. While on campus they also attend seminars in their department that emulate what it is like to be in a graduate seminar. The MICHHERS program has been such a success that it has expanded to include the other departments, like Romance Languages and Literatures, Women’s Studies, Sociology, and Classics. This is one of the ways we’re thinking about getting the creative talent we know is out there interested in careers in the humanities.