The Center for Social Solutions hosted a lively panel discussion yesterday, December 11, about diversity, democracy, and the Our Compelling Interests book series. The panel was moderated by Angela Dillard, U-M professor of Afroamerican and African studies, and joined by Interfaith Youth Core vice president Tony Banout; Rutgers University chancellor Nancy Cantor; UCLA professor of education, law, political science and urban planning Gary Orfield; and U-M professor of complexity, social science and management Scott Page.


Earl Lewis, founding director of the Center for Social Solutions, began the evening with some thoughtful remarks. In addition to continuing the Our Compelling Interests book series, Lewis noted, engaging with the community is a crucial factor in initiating social change. “It’s not just the production of the volumes that have been key—it’s also a series of public engagements around the country.” 


Dillard introduced the panelists with a few words of her own. “How we might leverage the promise and power of diversity as both a threat and an opportunity brings us here today to engage with these important scholars.”


The panelists began the discussion by addressing the importance of acknowledging the value of diversity. “It is urgent and critical to think about how we leverage diversity,” said Cantor.


The remaining panelists applied diversity to their own sections of expertise. “Embracing religious diversity is embedded in what it means to be an American,” Banout asserted. Orfield set in motion a conversation about realistic solutions with his statement: “We have an incredibly diverse and extremely unequal society, and there are a lot of things we could do. Universities have to have some tangible buy-in.” As such an established university, Michigan “can do things that other universities maybe can’t,” said Page. “We need a bottom-up diversity initiative.”


Cantor brought it all together with her proposal that we should initiate an “outside-in” approach to diversity, instead of solely addressing it internally. She sees the value in engaging in relevant opportunities outside of the university. Dillard left the audience with a final solution to contemplate. “Are we really thinking largely enough when it comes to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion? A solution to the problem might actually look like a third reconstruction of American society.”


The compelling conversation was followed by a brief reception, where attendees had an opportunity to debrief. Ryan Little, a junior at U-M who was in the audience, reflected on the discussion. “As we move into the future, diversity is at the forefront of our leaders’ minds.”


Yesterday’s panel discussion brought a number of valuable insights about the advantages of diversity, but it was just one of many conversations the center plans to have about the future of equity and inclusion in a democratic society. The next Our Compelling Interests discussion event is tentatively planned for fall 2020, timed in coordination with the release of the series’ fourth volume.