Top leaders from a range of U.S. higher education institutions shared suggestions Wednesday on how to boost diversity, and the need to impress on host communities the universal value of their efforts to serve the underserved.

“We bring great value, those of us who serve the minority community, and we need to be funded,” Thomas H. Shortbull, president of South Dakota’s Oglala Lakota College, said during a panel discussion titled “Leadership, Diversity, And The Future Of Higher Education: A Systemwide Commitment” at Rackham Amphitheatre.

The event, which featured 11 leaders of higher-education institutions, was part of the University of Michigan’s Diversity Summit. The summit is part of a yearlong effort to create a comprehensive, universitywide strategic plan to improve diversity, equity and inclusion.

Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and a former U-M faculty member, served as moderator. He said rarely do leaders from community colleges, tribal colleges, liberal arts and historic black colleges and universities come together to share perspectives on the importance of diversity, inclusion and equity.

“Today’s gathering shows that knowledge production is not the exclusive preserve of the research university,” he said.

“I hope that the University of Michigan will continue to partner with colleges from these other sectors to learn and share best practices to advance the diversification of higher education.”

Higher-ed leaders on Wednesday’s panel included, from left, James Anderson, chancellor of Fayetteville State University; Nancy Barcelo, president of Northern New Mexico College; Susan Borrego, chancellor of UM-Flint; Jeffrey Docking, president of Adrian College; Willie Larkin, president of Grambling State University; and Earl Lewis, president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

Willie Larkin, president of Grambling State University in Louisiana, said he is trying to prepare students to go out into the world amid higher-ed funding challenges. “The state is trying to choke us to death but we are fighting, calm, cool and collected. I think being angry doesn’t help.”

Some on the panel suggested higher education needs to work harder when resources are short. “You’ve got to search for little things that work,” and build partnerships with other universities, Larkin said.

Christine Wiseman, president of Saint Xavier University in Chicago, said, “I’m trying to turn the conversation in terms the community understands that diversity is good for the economy and the population that remains here and works here.”

James Anderson, chancellor of Fayetteville State University in North Carolina, asked, “What is the true impact of diversity on white students?” He said the positive impact should be demonstrated to the public. One audience member suggested that diversity efforts should be part of accreditation criteria.

Susan Borrego, chancellor of UM-Flint, said that the group has work to do “around economic and racial issues on campus and in the community,” and Uroyoan Walker-Ramos, president of the University of Puerto Rico, suggested taking the experiences shared during the discussion and learning collectively from them.

“We have to do a better job of communicating with our community who we are and what we do so everybody knows we’re here for them,” he said.

Also participating as panelists were Northern New Mexico College President Nancy Barcelo; Jeffrey Docking, president of Adrian College; Kojo Quartey, president of Monroe County Community College; and Steven Simpson, president of Baker College-Jackson.

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