A group of panelists highlighted the University of Michigan’s anti-racism efforts and called on people to actively fight racism during a June 4 online discussion.
President Mark Schlissel and other university leaders said U-M has made significant progress in combatting racism — but still has a lot of work to do.
The discussion took place about a year after the university hosted a similar dialogue amid national outrage over the deaths of George Floyd and other Black men and women at the hands of police.
Katrina Wade-Golden, deputy chief diversity officer and moderator of the June 4 discussion, said U-M heard “loud and clear” the calls for tangible change and increased transparency.
“If we are to change the culture in the institution, the responsibility is going to be upon all of us,” she said. “All of us have to collectively act and contribute to the solutions.”
Schlissel noted thousands of people have been engaged in diversity, equity and inclusion work across the university. U-M is in the fifth year of a strategic DEI initiative.
Schlissel also talked about various anti-racism initiatives launched over the past year. They include an anti-racism tenure track faculty hiring program; the creation of a task force to study issues around public safety; and the establishment of a scholarship in honor of Floyd.
Schlissel said there are ongoing discussions in all 19 schools and colleges about extending and modifying the race and ethnicity requirement, and about how to infuse anti-racism principles more broadly into curriculum.
He encouraged people to be open-minded and patient with one another.
“The only way to make progress is to be able to talk to each other about these difficult topics,” he said.
Joining Schlissel and Wade-Golden during the discussion were Eddie Washington Jr., executive director of the Division of Public Safety and Security; Vice President for Research Rebecca Cunningham; and Earl Lewis, a professor in LSA and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. Lewis is co-chair of the Advancing Public Safety at the University of Michigan Task Force, which has worked for months reviewing the practices and policies of DPSS and crafting recommendations.
Two students, Shay Szabo and Elyse Thulin, also participated in the panel. Szabo said, as a Jewish-Israeli woman, she is particularly concerned about an increase in Jewish hate crimes.
“I’m very appreciative of conversations like these because we can collectively exchange ideas and thoughts that will contribute to ending discrimination starting at our own institution,” she said.
Washington said DPSS has elevated its community engagement over the past year, including through its work with the police oversight committee and the Advancing Public Safety Task Force.
He said the department is trying to be more responsive, accountable and transparent when it comes to its policies, procedures, organizational structure and funding. Building relationships is key to establishing trust, he said.
“We’ve listened, and we’ve listened to a variety of folks. We continue to do that,” Washington said. “We’ve assessed and we’ve made adjustments, and we will continue to do that.”
Cunningham announced the launch of U-M’s Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, which aims to generate knowledge and advance solutions that will prevent firearm injuries and deaths.
Cunningham said it’s unacceptable that among all ages, Black men are nearly 14 times more likely to die in a firearm homicide than white men, and eight times more likely to die in a firearm homicide than the general population.
“The institute has great promise for addressing inequality and injustice related to firearm injury prevention, including the racial disparities and inequalities, by bringing together and leveraging diverse expertise across our research community as well as our local community,” she said.
Cunningham said similarly, U-M has broad and deep research expertise on campus for addressing issues related to racism and racial inequality.
In closing, Schlissel noted there has been an important shift in the narrative around racism.
“It’s gone from diversity, inclusion and ‘racism is bad’ to a stance that one has to proactively combat racism, and I think that’s a change in discourse that’s going to provoke a lot more action than the way we’ve been approaching this in the past,” Schlissel said.