President Mark Schlissel on diversity, equity and inclusion


Nov. 19, 2015

I want to begin by expressing my sadness and empathy for everyone affected by recent terrorist attacks in Baghdad, Beirut, Paris, and other cities around the globe. The loss of life is tragic, and I shared the shock and horror felt by many in our community who have ties to these nations.

By noon on Saturday, the day following the Paris attacks, the University of Michigan was able to confirm that all students, faculty and staff who were registered as traveling in France were safe. We did not have anyone registered as traveling or studying in Baghdad or Beirut.

We continue to make resources available to students affected by these tragedies through our Counseling and Psychological Services.

I hope we will actively support one another during this difficult time. We are at our strongest when we stand up for one another as a united Michigan family — and uphold the ideals of respect and compassion that are cherished values in our community.

Last week, our Diversity Summit gave us the opportunity to come together as a community as part of our months-long efforts to improve diversity, equity and inclusion at the University of Michigan. I thank everyone who participated in and planned the wonderful events of the summit.

The summit examined issues of inequality and diversity from multiple perspectives. I especially appreciated the opportunity to hear directly from people in our community during the Community Assembly and the Student Town Hall on Tuesday.

At both of those events and others throughout the summit, we heard some clear messages.

One message was hopeful. Our community is engaging very deeply in this important work. Many of the events were at full capacity. We heard good ideas that will be considered as part of our plans, as well as thoughtful input on the process itself.

Another message we heard was that in many areas, we are not living up to the values we aspire to. Members of our community discussed experiences that were not positive, and that sometimes were even painful.

These experiences were courageously shared by students, faculty and staff who feel like they do not have an equal opportunity to succeed, or are even at risk in our community, because of who they are.

We cannot reach our full potential as a university when there are so many amongst us who are experiencing the U-M community this negatively. We must do better, and we will. Ensuring that U-M is an environment free of discrimination is one of our most important responsibilities and a major objective of the campus strategic plan we are developing around diversity, equity and inclusion.

Our students have also shown support for the student protesters at Missouri and Yale, and shared similar experiences of how some are treated on our own campus.

I am very proud of our students for being engaged at a national level on the very important issue of racial justice in higher education. Racism and discrimination have no place on our college and university campuses, or anywhere in society.

Engagement at the national level is consistent with our university’s traditions, from the Gratz and Grutter Supreme Court cases to the amicus brief we filed in October in support of the University of Texas.

I thank all of those who shared their stories and ideas over the past week, as well as those who have been engaged with us throughout the process. You have given voice to many of the issues we must confront in our plans, and your contributions will make our university stronger.

I agree with the statement Clarence Page made at our Community Assembly. The summit gave us the opportunity to have conversations that we don’t often have outside of our own comfort zones. We came together as a community to listen, in some cases to learn to think differently about diversity, and to challenge one another’s views.

I want to assure everyone that our commitment to listening and collaboration will be a continuous one, even as we are fully immersed in the planning process.

We are also implementing changes as the planning is underway. Many of the changes are the result of student input.

We have completed major renovations to Trotter Multicultural Center, while also planning for a new facility. Our Change It Up bystander intervention program is now required for all students in our residence halls. Our faculty development program for teaching effectively in multicultural classrooms is being piloted in LSA this semester. And our schools and colleges have rolled out programs within the last year, as well.

I would further like to thank the members of the Black Student Union who joined Vice President Harper and me last Friday for breakfast, as part of our ongoing dialogue over the past year. Though the breakfast had been scheduled for weeks, the timing gave us the opportunity to discuss the nationwide campus issues of racism and inequality.

The students also shared their experiences on our campus and offered ideas on how we can more forward together.

As I said during the Community Assembly, a plan that is created in a vacuum from the President’s Office will not serve to rally the community around a set of shared values and goals and cannot succeed. We all have to share in developing this plan and contributing to its success.


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