Annual event highlights partnerships between U-M and Detroit

May 7, 2018

More than 300 campus and community partners strengthen connections at um3detroit.

A woman explains a poster to a man during um3detroit.

At um3detroit, Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-14) said Detroit has a reputation of strength; a fighting spirit that will only get stronger with education, investment and commitment. 

Tonya Allen, Skillman Foundation president and CEO, said it’s important for an “Our Detroit” framework to be adopted for the city to succeed as an equitable, just and prosperous place.

And Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said Detroit has turned a corner and she feels the positive momentum.

“I don’t like to use the phrase ‘Detroit’s coming back’ because it suggests this backward looking thing of nostalgia and the good old days. And, frankly, the good old days weren’t so good for everyone,” McQuade said. “Instead, think of it as a future Detroit. A Detroit that’s creating something new—an inclusive place for everybody [that] has opportunities for everybody.”

The three speakers addressed more than 300 campus and community leaders who attended um3detroit Thursday, May 3. The event—now in its second year and held at UM-Dearborn for the first time—was designed to encourage discussion on how all three University of Michigan campuses can strengthen research, learning and collaboration opportunities with Detroit neighborhoods, businesses and organizations. Participants have the opportunity to share their research and ideas, network and make connections for future work.

“There are so many who have an interest, both an academic interest and a practical interest, in being part of the progress of metropolitan Detroit,” said Chancellor Daniel Little. “To bring this group of activists, researchers and engaged scholars to the UM-Dearborn campus for this event—this catalyst for change—is an honor and a privilege."

Students at the event

The event included poster presentations, panel discussions about topics like supporting Detroit community-based organizations and the higher education challenges of first-generation and non-traditional students, and lightening talks—which were seven-minute faculty research presentations.

The lighting talks included topics like flooding as a public health and social justice issue, teaching math to students at underperforming schools, the importance of partnerships for early childhood education, finding funding for collaborative projects and more.

UM-Dearborn faculty members Lara Rusch and Francine Banner presented, “Holistic Justice: Detroit’s Street Outreach Court.” Banner said the specialty court—which organizes within the 36th District Court and is run by pro bono work—began more than five years ago to help marginalized people resolve minor violations, like not mowing the lawn, before fines build up. The volunteers hold court in soup kitchens.

"We are looking at this as a model not just within Detroit, but as a model for holistic justice perhaps more broadly,” said Banner, associate professor of sociology. “Unlike other court-ordered problem-solving courts, these are run on a stand-down model where clients—many homeless—are self-motivated to relieve fines and engage with the community. In exchange, clients must make a good faith effort to help themselves, like seek employment, enroll in a 12-step program, obtain a state ID card. In one case, a client needed to seek dental care.”

In closing the daylong event, U-M President Mark Schlissel said he noticed a common thread among the many ways in which U-M engages in and with Detroit. 

“There is consistency on what I’ve heard today: The idea of partnership,” Schlissel said. “The key idea that keeps coming up again and again is partnership. Faculty and students working alongside community leaders and community members, recognizing and respecting that each of us has something unique and indispensible to contribute. Partnership is key when trying to work on a common set of goals for the city of Detroit.”