Five faculty members with expertise in inequality and structural racism joined the University of Michigan this fall as part of the Office of the Provost’s Anti-Racism Hiring Initiative.
They were the first wave of scholars hired under the innovative program that, since its launch two years ago, has sparked collaborations across campus and helped strengthen U-M’s robust scholarship on race and anti-racism.
The initiative eventually will bring 21 new tenure and tenure-track faculty members to the university. They will focus on important issues related to race and the environment, technology, health care, the arts and more.
“The hiring initiative was conceived of as an important facet of broader anti-racism initiatives being generated and supported by the Provost’s Office, with the understanding that using research and scholarship to address the challenges of racism, anti-racism and equity is core to the university’s mission,” said Sara Blair, vice provost for academic and faculty affairs and lead for the hiring initiative.
The initiative was one of several announced by then-provost Susan M. Collins in October 2020 amid a heightened national focus on racism and structural inequities following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Minneapolis police. It has continued under the leadership of Provost Laurie McCauley.
The initiative’s main goals are to deepen U-M’s expertise in research, scholarship, creative practice, teaching and engagement on issues of race and racial justice and tangibly impact education and society, all while building on the knowledge and work of current faculty.
“The importance of this work, building deeper knowledge of systemic inequities and fostering engagement with equity and anti-racism, is very clear,” McCauley said. “I am eager to welcome the new colleagues the initiative will bring to campus, and to learn more about how all the activity it supports will unfold.”
Units across the Ann Arbor campus were invited to participate.
During a three-round submission and selection process that ended last spring, 16 schools and colleges and the Institute for Social Research submitted 20 proposals requesting cluster hires around particular focus areas.
For each round, a committee made up primarily of tenured faculty with expertise in the areas of race, equity and anti-racism, as well as deans, reviewed and selected proposals to receive funding support. In all, six proposals encompassing 21 new positions were chosen.
The five faculty members who have been hired to date are:
- Antonio Cuyler, professor of music in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.
- Sherina Feliciano-Santos, associate professor of anthropology in LSA.
- Beatriz Manzor Mitrzyk, clinical pharmacist specialist and assistant professor of pharmacy in the College of Pharmacy.
- Megan Vaness Threats, assistant professor of information in the School of Information.
- Emilia Yang, assistant professor of art and design in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.
All positions are co-funded by the Provost’s Office and participating units except the Medical School, which has a separate funding agreement. The National Center for Institutional Diversity, which is based at U-M, and the U-M Office of Research are providing additional programming and research support.
David Gier, dean of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, who served on a proposal selection committee, said the initiative has a strong focus on collaboration and the creation of robust support networks for new faculty members.
“There was a lot of conversation about how we support these clusters and ensure the success of not only the individual faculty members we’re bringing on board, but their collective work,” he said. “We’re creating centers of activity that will activate broader groups of faculty across all the different barriers and silos we have naturally at the university.
“I feel that this is really, really exciting work, and work that is going to change the university in a fundamental way.”
In his role as dean, Gier supported a proposal that was initiated and written by faculty at SMTD and the School of Social Work called, “Advancing Anti-Racism through Arts-Based Social Work Practice, Arts Leadership, and Community Engagement.” Each school will make two new faculty hires.
“This was a unique, historic thing for the university, that the area of research we are clustering people around is anti-racism,” said proposal lead Rogério Pinto, associate dean for research and innovation and professor of social work in the School of Social Work, and professor of theatre and drama in SMTD.
Pinto said there are a lot of possibilities for anti-racism scholarship, research and teaching at the intersection of art and social work.
Alford Young Jr., professor of sociology and of Afroamerican and African studies in LSA, and professor of public policy in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and who also is the associate director of the Center for Social Solutions, was a member of all three proposal selection committees. He said the proposals reflected a commitment to interdisciplinarity and collaboration across units, something that can generally be an area of challenge at U-M.
“This was unique,” he said. “There was a kind of spirit of, ‘Show us how this is going to make every unit involved grow and develop in untapped areas.’ We weren’t just telling units, ‘Give us proposals that cover what you already do so you can do it again.’”
Young stressed that it will be important to have meaningful dialogue around how to retain the faculty members who are hired.
One successful proposal involved five schools or colleges: the College of Pharmacy, the Medical School and the schools of Information, Public Health and Nursing. The faculty members hired for this cluster will focus on using informatics and data science methods to detect, understand and reduce structural racism within health care, as well as racial health care disparities.
“We wrote the proposal at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time in which significant racial disparities were increasingly evident with respect to both getting the disease and the outcomes,” said Tiffany Veinot, associate dean for faculty and professor of information in the School of Information, and professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health, and a proposal lead.
Also at the time, Veinot said, there was renewed scholarly attention to biases in health care technology. “We felt there was a need for more research in this area,” she said.
Veinot said she believes the initiative is going to catalyze U-M “to become one of the most important places in the world for anti-racist and equity-focused health informatics research.”
Blair said the university’s existing faculty members are centrally important to the initiative.
“Our current faculty, who have longstanding and significant expertise across scholarly research fields and disciplines, and who have been doing work on anti-racism, equity and racial inequity, were at the center of decisions about where our campus community could most richly develop thought leadership,” she said.
Efforts are underway to fill the initiative’s remaining 16 positions. Hires can be made up to three years after a proposal is selected for funding.
Young said in the long term, he hopes the initiative “transforms our understanding of the deliverables in different scholarly fields.” He said research around race is still commonly seen as a secondary aspect of some fields and disciplines.
“The fact of the matter is, there are many academic disciplines where if you’re not well-versed in race, one can argue that you can’t really have good scholarship,” he said.
“The faculty who do work in this area, I hope the units regard them as informers about new approaches, new theories and new ideas. I hope that these products help shape the mainstream conversations in disciplines and fields of inquiry.”