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Introduction and Overview

The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion aims to create a campus environment where all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome and valued, and where all students are able to take full advantage of the resources and opportunities that make LSA the premier public liberal arts institution in the nation. Given our mission, our plan centers around the experiences of our undergraduate student population, especially those who face distinct challenges because of their social identities and economic status. We view this work as part of our special mission as a public university that prepares students as citizens and leaders across every professional domain.

The University of Michigan’s amicus curiae brief submitted to the Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas focused primarily on LSA as the largest college in the U-M system. The brief acknowledged insufficient access for students of color and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This has been particularly true for African American and for Native American students. In the years since the passage of Proposal 2, this problem has intensified; despite concerted efforts to increase the racial and ethnic diversity of our student body, including attention to admissions and providing generous need-based financial aid, the proportion of students from underrepresented minorities who apply to and matriculate at Michigan has dropped dramatically. While we could argue about whether these efforts were persistent enough, the conclusion reached is undeniable: These efforts have not “been sufficient to create significant opportunities for personal interaction to dispel stereotypes and to ensure that minority students do not feel isolated or that they must act as spokespersons for their race.”

The consequences of U-M’s mixed record in living up to our stated commitments to diversity are deeply felt by many members of our community. Alumni and long-serving faculty and staff remember, and often recount with pain, past efforts that did not meet their goals, or failed to sustain the progress they made. This failure has also produced tangible absences. By one estimate, there are 1,443 underrepresented minority students who would have been on campus, likely as LSA students, without Proposal 2. This loss of “critical mass”—which had already begun in previous years—is felt in classrooms, research labs, residence halls, student organizations, and on the Diag (Countryman, 2015).

It’s no surprise that students feel this absence keenly. In the winter of 2013, our students launched a Twitter campaign to narrate these experiences (#BBUM, or Being Black at the University of Michigan) that drew the attention of a national audience and that was deeply affecting to those of us on campus. The thousands of tweets took on an almost ethnographic quality:

For all of these reasons, climate issues and concerns run throughout the LSA DEI Plan. They constitute an ongoing challenge, as well as an opportunity for honesty, reflection, and action. Faculty, staff, and undergraduate and graduate students have been identifying problems for many years. Members of our community have felt isolated and disrespected based on their social identities, both visible and invisible. They have confronted racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia; they have suffered depression and stigmatization resulting from a lack of understanding and compassion. Asian and Asian-American faculty, students, and staff have felt left out of the conversation altogether. Diverse expressions of gender identities and sexual orientation have met with confusion and fear among peers, professors, colleagues, and supervisors.

Those with disabilities have felt insufficiently supported with both formal and informal accommodations for success in the workplace and in the classroom. The lived reality of social class and the first-generation status of faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students is, many feel, obscured by assumptions of who works and who studies at U-M. International students, faculty, and staff, who infuse our community with a much-needed global perspective, have also experienced social isolation and cultural misunderstanding. They have felt harassed in classrooms as both teachers and students, and mocked in our departments and units. In this regard and others, classrooms can be sites of incivility and disruption in which faculty and students feel under attack based on their social identities and social status and therefore unable to function effectively as learners and instructors.

For many, the problem is not that they have failed to speak, but the feeling that people in positions of authority have not listened. Few of us, it seems, feel fully included, welcomed, and embraced in a way that truly intertwines diversity and excellence. And yet, despite shortcomings, lapses, and failure to act, we want to call our community to a broader vision.

The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts shares the goals articulated by President Mark Schlissel at the outset of this campus-wide strategic planning process:

Diversity. We commit to increasing diversity, which is expressed in myriad forms, including race and ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, language, culture, national origin, religious commitments, age, (dis)ability status, and political perspective. We commit to acknowledging the power of diversity to advance our collective capabilities.

Equity: We commit to working actively to challenge and respond to bias, harassment, and discrimination. We are committed to a policy of equal opportunity for all persons and do not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight, or veteran status.

Inclusion: We commit to pursuing deliberate efforts to ensure that our campus is a place where differences are welcomed, different perspectives are respectfully heard, and where every individual feels a sense of belonging and inclusion.

A Climate for Intercultural Understanding: As a liberal arts college, we are dedicated to the promotion of what some scholars have come to label as “intercultural maturity.” The term encompasses an array of skills, including the ability to shift perspectives and to use multiple cultural frames, along with the capacity to create an internal self that openly engages challenges to one’s views and that considers social identities in a global and national context. Intercultural maturity not only allows for a deeper engagement of people from diverse backgrounds, but it also promotes appreciation for diversity in creative problem solving and collaboration. It is a prerequisite to any meaningful commitment to social justice. It is a goal worthy of a major research institution and its largest college.

U-M Professor Patricia King and her co-author Marcia Baxter Magolda (King and Magolda, 2005) argue that the goal—and benefits—of intercultural maturity ought to be a dimension of undergraduate education, and ought to be part of our work to prepare young people to enter professions and workplaces, play leadership roles in their communities, and be compassionate individuals and good citizens in a diverse democratic society. Intercultural maturity is also a goal for those who work on campus as faculty and GSIs, as researchers, as members of the staff, and as members of the administration.

Acknowledging what has worked is as important as being honest about what has not. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, LSA has been home to successive waves of innovation in undergraduate education. In the late 1960s, students fought for the right to determine the course of their own education, and University faculty and administrators listened, built a host of new programs, and adopted new pedagogies, including those that would come to be labeled as community based, student driven, and engaged. We founded programs such as the Residential College and the Pilot Program, Project Community in the Department of Sociology, and Project Outreach in psychology, followed in later decades by the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) and the Program on Intergroup Relations (IGR)—both of which also took seriously the challenge of meaningful diversity on the Ann Arbor campus and, ultimately, created national models.

These programs, in turn, helped to recruit and retain a diverse range of faculty and professional staff. Indeed, there is nothing fundamentally new about commitments to hiring and retaining women and faculty and staff of color, which was a hallmark of the Michigan Mandate and which has been part of ongoing efforts to reshape the composition of the faculty. Cumulatively, these past efforts constitute a base on which to continue to build. 

Serious work around diversity, equity, and inclusion will also require ongoing research of the kind we have been generating on the Ann Arbor campus for decades. This moment of strategic institutional thinking and planning gives us new opportunities to harness the research and assessment capacity of our faculty and staff.

Working closely with ADVANCE and the Women of Color in the Academy Project, along with a host of academic centers and institutes—including the National Center for Institutional Diversity, which transitioned to LSA in July 2016—will allow us to promote cross-disciplinary research and scholarship development by engaging in its direct production, supporting the work of others, and disseminating promising, evidence-based findings from affiliated scholars, faculty, and graduate students.

We do not believe that students should be expected to “solve” climate problems, but we do want them to be involved. While we are institutionally obligated to better train our faculty, staff, and administration to acknowledge and address climate and interpersonal and personal issues that interfere with student learning and educational success, we should also help students to increase their capacity to deal with issues that will shape their lives and careers after college and graduate school.

One encouraging model for this work has been created by the Division of Undergraduate Education’s (UGED) Climate Committee, which includes professional staff and faculty from UGED units, as well as student members. Its mission is to improve the campus climate so that all students at Michigan feel welcomed, supported, and respected regardless of their background. By educating students, faculty, and staff about issues of diversity and inclusiveness, by continuing their education and skill development, and by speaking against acts of bias, racism, and cultural appropriation, they are working to enhance the cultural competency of as many members of the College and University community as possible.

The committee conducts this work in several different arenas. They develop communications to address climate issues on campus and explore ways technology can be employed to scale up efforts to educate students and increase their sensitivity to issues of diversity and inclusiveness. They plan College-wide events in connection with MLK Day, including some specifically geared toward supporting student leaders and opening up spaces for them to network and interact. They develop programs on professional development and identify best practices for student-facing staff. They collaborate with faculty and staff to explore and develop inclusive pedagogies. They promote a broad vision of intergenerational leadership designed to empower students to make change.

Being a leader at one’s best must include a commitment to access, equity, and inclusion. Leadership happens at all ranks and levels and involves being accountable to each other, to the institution, and to the high expectations laid out in our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and excellence.

In particular, we will be looking for ways to establish more mechanisms for accountability to ensure all of the College’s programs are accessible to all LSA students, including incorporating higher standards around inclusion and equity for faculty members who serve, or who would like to serve as directors, chairs, supervisors, and deans.

In a November 2015 editorial published in the Michigan Daily just ahead of the Diversity Summit, LSA faculty members Martha Jones, Amanda Alexander, and Matthew Countryman, along with graduate student Austin McCoy, wrote: “The Diversity Summit is an opportunity to talk about hard questions. What can we learn from the examples in Berkeley, New Haven, Missouri, and elsewhere? How does our University address incidents on campus? Can we prevent them in the future? Will the diversity initiative tackle issues like policing and racial profiling? How might the University’s strategic plan foster a safe, inclusive, and equitable climate? How will the University address racial tensions in classrooms, residence halls, elsewhere on campus, and in the Ann Arbor community?” (Alexander, et. al., 2015)

Here are some of the hard questions members of the campus community ought to be asking:

  • Is it time to Ban the Box? There is evidence that including a question about past criminal charges and convictions on college applications has a chilling effect on applications with criminal justice involvement. A New York Times editorial by Vivian Nixon cites findings that nearly two-thirds of those who checked "yes" in the felony box never completed the application. The University of Minnesota passed a Ban the Box resolution earlier this year and dropped the question about misdemeanors. Is it time for U-M to do the same? (Nixon, 2015)
  • How do we assess the status of campus/community/police relations? Should police on campus disarm? Are we pursuing policies and practices that criminalize our students, especially African American and Latino men? Do students of color suffer increased levels of police scrutiny and even harassment on campus and off? Do policing practices have a differential impact on students, faculty, and staff from communities in which a police presence is viewed and experienced as threatening?
  • How do we tackle issues of student—and faculty and staff—mental health and wellness? The LSA Dean’s Office recently partnered with students from Central Student Government and the Ann Arbor chapter of Active Minds to encourage LSA faculty to incorporate a suggested syllabus statement and to commit to working together to give faculty members more and better advice, training, and resources for recognizing and advising students experiencing distress. Surveys show that 24% of University of Michigan students have thought about suicide, and 42% have said they have felt “so depressed that it was difficult to function at least once during the school year.” Why are so many members of our community suffering? And how do we partner with units such as CAPS and University Health Services to provide services for those who need them?
  • How do we improve our relationships and connections with the city of Detroit, where the University of Michigan was “born” in 1817? The challenges are in many ways symbolized by the difficulties in establishing and sustaining the MDetroit Connector Bus Service between campus and the U-M Detroit Center. Why has establishing and maintaining this service felt like such an uphill battle? What are the challenges faced by the administration in supporting this free service to members of the University community? What does the future of the U-M Detroit Center hold? How do we continue to support and grow programs like the Semester in Detroit?
  • How do we not only recognize the problem of Islamophobia on campus and its impact on students, faculty, and staff, but also craft strategies to combat it? At the invitation of the LSA Dean’s Office, an Islamophobia working group, comprised of student, faculty, and professional staff members, has created a roadmap for the College and the University. Their report (see appendix D) identifies the experiences of Arab, Muslim, and MENA (Middle Eastern and North African) students, staff, and faculty, and suggests ways for the administration to build upon the initiatives that it has already implemented to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus environment for these populations. They offer suggestions for resource building, crisis support, and education. We urge the leadership of the University to give all due consideration to this important document, both because of the pressing nature of the underlying issues and the viability of the proposals, and because this ad-hoc group represents a strong model for institutional change. Over 40 individuals, including students, contributed to this document, and the College is grateful to Evelyn Alsutany for her leadership.
  • How do we reaffirm our commitment to both equity and inclusion, on the one hand, and intellectual diversity on the other? This issue was raised early on in the context of our student-oriented “Plan-A-Thon” event, and the issue returned to the forefront in the wake of the 2016 Presidential Election. One response to this is our new “LSA Democracy in Action Fund,” which provides grants ranging from $500 to $2,500 to support students, faculty, and staff to do the challenging work of advancing genuine democratic engagement on campus. There is more information on the LSA website about the LSA Democracy in Action Fund

A Final Introductory Note

The LSA DEI plan includes both firm commitments as well as more speculative possibilities. Some initiatives are already underway, others have been moved to subsequent years of what is forecasted as a five-year process of implementation. The initial draft was released for LSA-wide discussion and comment in August 2016. Throughout the fall term we received valuable feedback from the College community that has shaped this final “Year One” version. Of particular note is the formal response submitted by Indigo: The LSA Asian and Asian-American Faculty Alliance – a group that is itself a product of the LSA DEI process. Among their recommendations is establishing a clear distinction among parts of the plan designed to serve all students, faculty, and staff; diverse students, faculty, and staff; and underrepresented students, faculty, and staff. They also note the need for targeted, specific strategies for equity, access, and inclusion of populations like Asians and Asian-Americans especially around issues of leadership in units, departments, the College, and the university overall.

While many of the goals that structure the Six Sections of the LSA DEI Plan aspire to create a more inclusive environment for all members of the campus community, different strategies will indeed need to be deployed to address specific barriers to full participation. This principle will be essential as we continue to move from planning to implementation.