What difference can we make in 5 to 10 years?

March 6, 2024

UM-Dearborn looks to the past and present in a multiyear initiative to build a more inclusive and representative future.

Photo of students in the Renick University Center

A painted portrait of Blenda Wilson, UM-Dearborn’s third chancellor reminds Middle East and Iranian Diaspora Studies Professor Cam Amin why looking to the past is essential to looking forward.

“This vibrant portrait (of Chancellor Wilson) hangs in the archive. It’s like she’s keeping us company as we’re doing our work,” Amin said of Wilson, who served as chancellor from 1988 to 1992 and did extensive outreach in Dearborn and Detroit to create educational bridges for Arab American and Black students. Wilson was also the first Black female executive to hold an office in the University of Michigan system and the first woman to head a four-year higher education institution in the state. “I want to make sure we remember and preserve the impact she, and many others, have had on our university.”

Photo of IHP UM-Dearborn leaders Marlaine Magewick and Professor Cam Amin
With the portrait of former Chancellor Blenda Wilson's portrait guiding them, IHP UM-Dearborn leaders Marlaine Magewick and Professor Cam Amin work in the campus archive.

Amin, director of research for the Inclusive History Project-Dearborn, is leading the UM-Dearborn-focused effort for U-M’s Inclusive History Project, a multiyear University of Michigan presidential initiative designed to study and document a comprehensive history of the university’s three campuses and Michigan Medicine that is attentive to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“No matter where you are, there is a prehistory that matters — and we want to make sure we examine university history and include previously overlooked, underrepresented voices,” Amin said. “The Inclusive History Project is all about raising up and celebrating the people in our community, while also addressing mistakes made in our past and present in an effort to build awareness when planning for the future.”

Here are a few things to know about UM-Dearborn’s Inclusive History Project.

‘There is power in being real’

Amin said the UM-Dearborn story began in 1959 — so it seemed like a logical place to start. 

Many people know Ford Motor Company gifted the land to U-M to start a Dearborn Center training school for business leaders and engineers. And that it was renamed to UM-Dearborn in 1971 when it began admitting first-year and sophomore students.

But Amin wants to go beyond the highlights. “The role of this project is to have our campus be open and honest about itself,” he said. “Everyone has a curated version of themselves and institutions are no different. But we need to remember that there is power in being real.” Even centering this initiative on the establishment of the campus in 1959 requires inquiry into the earlier history of the university and the local community to tell the story more fully.  It also requires following the through lines to the present and accounting for subsequent developments.

To understand both the progress and missed opportunities of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at UM-Dearborn, Amin said “The 1959 Project” will do focus group research, in addition to archival development and oral histories. “We are keeping the theme open-ended because, as the project builds out, we want to give it room to grow in any needed direction. These conversations will guide us in the next five years, 10 years and beyond.”

Currently, the IHP team is exploring putting together a university history timeline for the project and would like to hear from UM-Dearborn community members to give feedback on what they’d like to see on it. “We want to know: what would you like to see on a history timeline that would resonate with you?”

Also, starting in the fall, the team will host focus groups to learn more about faculty, staff, student, alum, community and retiree experiences. More information about how to get involved will be sent out in late spring.

Making the UM-Dearborn archive more digitally accessible.

Digital Humanities Coordinator for IHP-Dearborn Marlaine Magewick — a 2020 UM-Dearborn history graduate who did multiple UM-Dearborn history faculty-led research projects as a student — said she spends much of her time in the UM-Dearborn archive. And she’s found some interesting information when it comes to the ebb and flow of UM-Dearborn’s identity.

For example, in the late 1980s, Chancellor Wilson supported a marketing campaign that acknowledged some of the concerns students grappled with when comparing themselves with students on the Ann Arbor campus. “Her message was, ‘We are not Ann Arbor, but we are best in our class. We are important and we are good at what we do. We build bridges in our community and beyond to transform lives through education.’ She wanted to emphasize that we are part of the university, but have our own identity.”

Magewick said that messaging continues to resonate with today’s population and it was eye-opening to see that it’s been decades in the making.

“I am learning so much about our university through the UM-Dearborn archive and am working to create a larger digital library so others can access this information too. Access to this information and the creation of digital exhibits will empower people to dive deeper into IHP research and better involve their classes with this work.”

Magewick said the IHP team is currently working on transcribing the archive’s oral histories. And, in an effort to find and document early UM-Dearborn experiences, Magewick wants to connect with retired faculty and staff for oral history interviews. Interested in speaking with her? Reach out to [email protected].

There is funding to support involvement.

The Inclusive History Project aims to support a variety of initiatives that have the potential to become on-going enterprises that continue to inform new lines of inquiry on the history of DEI at the University of Michigan, One of the frameworks for guiding funding decisions is “Origins and Trajectories.” Magewick and Amin said there are many avenues that can be explored through “The 1959 Project” framework — and the more involvement, the more successful the project will be. 

The IHP is accepting funding proposals for research and engagement projects that educate the university community and raise awareness about the university’s past with regard to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“This is our university and everyone deserves to have ownership in this project,” Magewick said. “If there is a DEI initiative someone wants to look into, they have an opportunity to do that. Please put your ideas forward. IHP, and the funding support it offers, makes it possible for us to collectively work on this together.”

Faculty, staff, students and units are invited to apply by April 5 — as individuals or as collaborative teams — for two types of grants: mini-grants up to $3,000 and large grants up to $25,000. Accepted proposals are to be awarded in late April. For UM-Dearborn students interested in this project, there are internships available. Apply by March 15.

Want to learn more about IHP as a whole? There’s a March 19 IHP Showcase at UM-Ann Arbor. It will also be streamed for remote audiences. The IHP-Dearborn LibGuide offers additional resources to learn more about the IHP, DEI and campus history.

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.