Reflecting on U-M’s anti-racism initiatives a year later


Nearly a year after the announcement of several new anti-racism initiatives across the University of Michigan, students, staff and faculty have had opportunities to discuss, listen and learn about how to build a more equitable and inclusive community.

I am proud of the commitment our community has brought to our anti-racism work during this challenging year,” said Susan M. Collins, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

“This work is inseparable from our mission and values as a university and we must continue to explore how diversity, with a specific focus on race and ethnicity, can be further advanced and infused into academic life and the educational and scholarly structure of the institution.”

The initiatives Collins announced in October 2020 — along with enhancing a number of existing ones — are part of a national reckoning on race and deep-rooted structural inequities. These initiatives attempt to address many of these broader societal issues of inequity as they exist on the U-M campus. Since then, real tangible changes have been made on campus, but there is more work to be done.

“Becoming an anti-racist institution is always a work in progress and seldom yields perfection,” said Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer. “It will take a continued, comprehensive and sustained effort, accompanied by accountability measures for us to create systemic change.”

Here is how U-M’s anti-racism initiatives have progressed:

Anti-Racism Tenure-Track Hiring Initiative and Research Support

To leverage existing expertise and enhance the university’s capacity for scholarship focused on dismantling systemic racism, the Provost’s Office worked with other academic leaders to lay the groundwork for hiring at least 20 new tenure-track faculty members to focus on anti-racism and racial justice scholarship. These faculty will be hired in clusters with common research foci, for immediate impact and critical mass.

Launched earlier this year, the three-year initiative will bring additional scholarly expertise in racial inequality and structural racism to schools and colleges across the Ann Arbor campus. Because these cluster hires will cut across departments, as well as schools and colleges, the program ensures a broader scope of impact.

It is also intended to leverage and extend the work of current faculty. In order to amplify that work and achieve transformative outcomes, the initiative includes a shared, collaborative infrastructure to support anti-racism research and scholarship.

During the first submission round in winter 2021, 15 of U-M’s 19 schools and colleges and the Institute for Social Research collaborated to submit 11 proposals for review. The initiative’s selection committee, which included faculty with deep expertise in research on anti-racism, selected two proposals for funding.

The first will bring three new faculty to the School of Information, the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy and the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design. Their work will focus on the way structural racism is produced and reproduced by information technology, design and technology policies, emphasizing the intersection of racial justice with the domains of data and artificial intelligence.

The second cluster will bring five new faculty to the schools of Information, Nursing and Public Health, the College of Pharmacy and the Medical School, all working on the use of data science methods to understand and reduce structural racism within health care, as well as racial health care disparities.

Proposals for the second round were accepted through Oct. 1, with proposals from all disciplines and areas of research and scholarship welcomed. Up to eight additional new hires will be approved for funding in this round.

Additional information about the initiative, funded proposals from round one, and the round two selection process can be found on the provost’s website.

To coordinate activities that support new and existing scholars whose research focuses on anti-racism, racial equity and racial justice, the provost also funded the National Center for Institutional Diversity to launch the Anti-Racism Collaborative.

The research-focused initiative provides the infrastructure to undergird faculty-led projects and create opportunities for collaboration among scholars from different fields. The collaborative has begun the work to identify, catalyze and support new connections, to promote interdisciplinary and intergenerational exchange and collaboration, as well as to enhance the sense of community and shared purpose among those doing this research.

To date, the Office of the Vice President for Research, and NCID have awarded nearly $500,000 in grants to eight research teams from across the university to explore complex societal racial inequalities that ultimately inform actions to achieve equity and justice.

Race and ethnicity curriculum

As schools and colleges evaluate their individual curricula, units across campus launched initiatives to explore, assess and enhance their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts and related course requirements.

The provost’s commitment was: “Every student who graduates from U-M must have significant required curricular content related to race and ethnicity — including on anti-Black racism — and all undergraduates must have taken at least such one course.”

While some schools and colleges had required students to complete a course related to race and ethnicity, this was not universal. Coordinated by the provost to be a campuswide initiative, deans from every school and college are engaging faculty, staff and students in this ongoing effort, focusing on the role of race and ethnicity within their respective fields and disciplines.

There were several overarching themes to the race and ethnicity work addressed by schools and colleges in the 2020-21 academic year.

In most cases, task forces in schools and colleges conducted curricular audits that reviewed current curricular offerings as well as timely course revisions and development of new courses.

Two approaches to deepen anti-racist curriculum also emerged. Undergraduate programs without a focused race and ethnicity requirement saw discussions and decisions resulting in new required courses. In programs that already required a focused race and ethnicity course within the curriculum, the reviews spurred discussions and commitments for ways to thread social justice, equity and anti-racism more broadly throughout the entire curriculum.

Enhancing faculty capacity to address structural racism, inequities and health disparities, as well as anti-racism, emerged as another theme. Faculty professional development includes workshops by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, training by external consultants, faculty reading groups and school-based teams proposing professional development plans.

Finally, investment in the anti-racist capacities of students began in several schools and colleges with bystander-intervention training and a specific version of Change It Up! with a focus on anti-racism. Various seminar series for undergraduate and graduate students have also been implemented.

Public safety task force

With an understanding that inequality permeates every aspect of American life, including public safety efforts, Collins and President Mark Schlissel, in consultation with the Division of Public Safety and Security and campus leaders, appointed a 20-member task force to help the Ann Arbor campus community better understand the status of policing and public safety, and ensure the implementation of respectful, transparent and community-responsive public safety services for all.

Members of the Advancing Public Safety at the University of Michigan Task Force were selected in January with a mission to study public safety efforts, identify problem areas, determine areas of need, recognize and leverage strengths, and generate actionable recommendations. The group issued its recommendations in May.

The university is already implementing key recommendations — including committing additional resources to the Police Department Oversight Committee and establishing procedures that ensure unified data collection practices — while recognizing that others will require further information, analysis and consideration.

DPSS has created a comprehensive dashboard on its website to track the progress made on the task force recommendations. Highlights to date include: 

  • Implementing increased training and modifications to the Police Department Oversight Committee’s procedures to explicitly include review of department policies and procedures.
  • Publishing summary data on arrests, citations, traffic stops and other department statistics and engaging 21st Century Policing Solutions, a global consulting firm, to work on further data analysis and presentation.
  • Sharing information about DPSS officer selection and training, the structure of DPSS, and the role of its divisions on its website.
  • Reviewing and updating the Mutual Aid Agreement that DPSS has with the city of Ann Arbor and other partners and establishing a regular cadence for such reviews.

Inclusive teaching liaison program

In partnership with CRLT, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion enhanced the capacity of faculty to utilize anti-racist pedagogy and curricula.

Faculty liaisons for inclusive teaching learned the fundamental principles of anti-racist teaching and are working with CRLT consultants to adapt principles to the instructional styles of their disciplines, fields and professions.

Utilizing a train-the-trainer model, the liaisons are expected to work within the structures of their schools to share the lessons learned from the year-long professional development experience.

Anti-racist professional development for DEI implementation leads

To reinforce anti-racism work across campus and to leverage the university’s established network of DEI implementation leads, ODEI is collaborating to increase anti-racism professional development opportunities for faculty and staff.

Currently, there are 104 DEI implementation leads in 50 campus units, all of whom plan and implement DEI efforts within the schools, colleges and campus offices they represent. Through both formal and informal mechanisms, ODEI provides the DEI leads with opportunities to learn and further develop anti-racist approaches in their current work and will develop anti-racism education and training for faculty, staff and students.


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