Turning ideas into intentional, actionable steps
The UM-Dearborn DEI working group continues to meet, generate ideas and review campus community suggestions regarding diversity, equity and inclusion.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives are a popular topic — but are they actually implemented? The campus DEI working group is collaborating with leadership and campus colleagues to ensure that UM-Dearborn is an institution that follows through.
UM-Dearborn Chief of Staff and Senior Adviser to the Chancellor Keisha Blevins, who serves as a co-chair of the campus’ Diversity Equity and Inclusion working group, says it’s important to ensure UM-Dearborn’s policies, practices and decisions reflect the campus’ stated commitment to DEI. Chancellor Domenico Grasso’s inaugural address highlighted the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion and Blevins says the Chancellor has emphasized this commitment by ensuring it’s a thread throughout the university’s strategic planning process.
“We have a diverse group of students, faculty and staff engaged in the strategic planning efforts. When we collected campus input, all areas — student experience and success, economic sustainability, and faculty and staff excellence — had suggestions for building upon our current efforts to foster an inclusive campus culture,” Blevins says. “DEI must be a component of everything we do — curriculum, student support, recruitment, how we interact with each other, everything — and our campus community gets that. Our leaders, faculty, staff and students care deeply about our campus and when you care about something, you’re not only willing to put in the work to improve it, you are accountable for following through. We all have a role in this, individually and collectively."
The DEI working group — which, in addition to Blevins, is led by English Literature and Humanities Professor Deborah Smith Pollard, and College of Education, Health, and Human Services Dean Ann Lampkin-Williams — has reviewed the ideas generated by the campus community during early 2020 Town Hall brainstorming sessions and other campus engagement opportunities such as the call for “big ideas,”and listening sessions. The group is also holding regular meetings to discuss campus needs. Recommendations from the working group will be shared later this semester, in the meantime, Blevins and Smith Pollard gave us a preview of some of the themes that have emerged.
Members of the campus community are creative — and would like more ways to collaborate and learn from each other.
Smith Pollard says there were a lot of DEI-related ideas submitted centered around student support — one that emerged is the idea of doing a better job, as a campus, of showcasing curricular efforts currently happening on campus, that are working, so that others might become inspired and implement something cross-discipline.
Among the ways the DEI working group recommends helping foster this type of collaboration: recognition programs, awards, grants, presentations and workshops.
Smith Pollard shared an example of the African and African American Studies (AAAS) annual event The Power Mixer, where students meet one another, members of the Black Student Union and AAAS faculty members. It facilitates connections despite their being in different colleges, disciplines and programs. She says experiences like this could serve as a model for other communities across campus.
In addition, Smith Pollard talks about how unlikely partnerships cultivate diversity of thought and better prepare students for a global marketplace. She said there are lessons that can be learned by talking with people who have created or organized successful DEI-focused experiences. “When thinking about the future, it’s important to recognize the work done well that is happening right here, right now. We want to make sure we uplift what we are doing right and don’t have valuable or relevant expertise, perspective or connections go underutilized.”
For example, campus’ Human-Centered Engineering Design degree program includes art courses in the engineering-based curriculum. She says it may seem like an unusual pairing academically — but those areas complement each other well and an understanding of both will benefit students and industry. Smith Pollard says highlighting successful examples where people cultivated diversity of thought may encourage others to create more diverse — academic and cultural — partnerships across campus.
The UM-Dearborn community wants to increase understanding and take action.
Blevins says the UM-Dearborn campus is proud of its diversity — but more intentional steps can be taken by defining DEI and demonstrating UM-Dearborn’s values through specific action.
She says increasing educational opportunities related to DEI is a good place to start. Training and development programs are priorities, with topics that could include unconscious bias training and how to have conversations around DEI. Blevins says, “when you have a better understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion, you are more comfortable and equipped to talk about it, which leads to a better experience for everyone involved.”
Blevins says another topic of training and development may be UM-Dearborn’s behavior expectations and campus values. She says those training sessions could take place at orientation — for both students and employees — and continue throughout a person’s time on campus.
“It shouldn't be a one and done approach,” she says. “The conversation around DEI needs to be continuous. We have to set goals, develop a plan, take action, incorporate accountability measures and maintain an unwavering commitment to our goals. And, from what we’ve heard and read from the community feedback, people are eager to learn, share their expertise and to act.”
Community partnerships can be strengthened by using a DEI lens.
The DEI working group is looking to build upon the established connections UM-Dearborn has in metro Detroit. Ideas they are pursuing include offering more in-person classes — when it is COVID-safe to do so — at the UM-Detroit Center, which is located in the heart of downtown Detroit.
Looking at mobility concerns, the working group is exploring ways to bring a SMART bus stop to campus so people with unreliable transportation can access campus through a service with several routes. “We want to remove education and employment barriers. And not having a way to get to class or work is definitely a barrier,” Smith Pollard says. “It’s important to provide opportunities and give ways to access the opportunities.”
A number of faculty members do research beyond campus borders and Smith Pollard says it’s important to continue this work. She attended the Halal Metropolis exhibit — created by the Center for Arab American Studies led by Director Sally Howell — in Detroit. The exhibit was showcased at several locations in Wayne, Washtenaw, Livingston and Macomb counties. “We have wonderful research on campus. But it’s good to take what we are doing and bring it into our communities.”
Smith Pollard says the working group is also exploring ways to create a space for those interested in community research to get answers from experienced faculty members to learn what went right and what can be done better.
“We want to know if there are processes that encourage collaboration — and what can UM-Dearborn do to enhance those? Or is there someone in another department of college who is working in a related research area? We need to learn from each other,” Smith Pollard says. “We are a small university that does great things — and further collaboration and diversity of thought will only improve what we do.”
Initial draft recommendations will be shared with campus by the end of March.
Do you have an idea for the DEI working group? If so, please email email@example.com.