Panelists discuss challenges, successes in DE&I planning process


The emerging theme from the University of Michigan’s yearlong strategic planning process for diversity, equity and inclusion was that it took a multitude of voices to form the many plans reflective of the shared values of the campus community.

That was the topic during a Thursday conversation at the Power Center for Performing Arts, as leaders from various strategic planning units came together to discuss the challenges and successes they realized throughout the process.

The panel conversation followed the university’s unveiling of its campuswide diversity, equity and inclusion plan. Newly recommended Chief Diversity Officer Rob Sellers presented the outline of new plan, while Regent Mike Behm, President Mark Schlissel and Provost Martha Pollack spoke enthusiastically about the goals of the plan.

The panel was moderated by Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources, and included planning leads Will Sherry from Student Life, Elizabeth Cole from LSA, Dr. Okeoma Mmeje from the U-M Health System, Robert Scott from the College of Engineering, and Leti Rastigue from Facilities and Operations.

Discussing the challenges and successes of U-M’s diversity planning¬†process are, from left:¬†Laurita Thomas, Elizabeth Cole, Robert Scott, Leti Rastigue, Dr.¬†Okeoma Mmeje and Will Sherry. (Photo by Austin Thomason, Michigan Photography)

With the unique bottom-up approach the university took to the planning process, it was imperative to present as many opportunities as possible for engagement, says Rastigue, who works as a human resources officer.

“We wanted to engage a large, diverse group of people, and it was kind of a challenge for us. We wanted to get bus drivers off the buses and to get people off the midnight shift, so we had to find different ways to engage our community,” she says. “Once we did, they really shared great ideas that really enriched our entire process.”

Cole, an associate dean in LSA, said the college was able to engage its community by pledging to students that the unit plan would incorporate at least seven of their ideas. She says the college hosted “planathon” sessions, where students could come together for collaborative sessions to help create the best ideas for helping the unit increase its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

In the Health System, Mmeje, an obstetrician-gynecologist, said a major challenge in gathering feedback and input was to help staff members overcome the fear of retaliation if they expressed ideas that challenged their supervisors.

“I think we did a good job of hosting town-hall-style community engagement sessions and anonymous surveys,” she said. “That created a safe environment for our workers in the Health System and we got some great feedback in order to help shape our plan.”

Sherry, director of the Spectrum Center, and Scott, director of diversity initiatives at CoE, both expressed similar goals, both of which centered on action, not just visions.

“The DE&I strategy positions us to be proactive instead of reactive, especially in today’s social climate,” says Scott. “And actions speak louder than words. It’s important to do a lot of listening, but it’s also important to go out and actually do things. That will show any naysayers of this that we’re actually serious.”

Added Sherry: “We need to make students and staff comfortable in building inclusivity into everything they do.”


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