University to launch several new anti-racism initiatives


The University of Michigan will launch several new anti-racism initiatives, and enhance a number of existing ones, as part of a national reckoning on race and as deep-rooted structural inequities in American life have been magnified.

The initiatives, as well as the university’s new George Floyd Memorial Scholarship, are designed to further advance the university’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, anti-racism education and the DEI Strategic Plan. 

“At the University of Michigan, we have a long history of offering programs and activities designed to advance our core values of diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Susan M. Collins, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “The initiatives we are adding will build on the extensive and ongoing work all across our campus.” 

The university’s new and updated anti-racism initiatives include:

  • Creating a task force on policing and public safety for the Ann Arbor campus.
  • Hiring at least 20 new full-time faculty members in the next three years with scholarly expertise in racial inequality and structural racism.
  • Expanding resources and infrastructure to support new and current U-M scholars working in the area of anti-racism.
  • Re-evaluating race and ethnicity curriculum requirements across the university’s 19 schools and colleges.
  • Strengthening faculty and staff professional development opportunities related to anti-racism. 
  • Incorporating ways to address structural racism in the university’s Democracy & Debate Theme Semester.   
  • Creating a task force to develop a community-engaged process for diversifying the names considered for campus spaces, facilities, and streets.

George Floyd Memorial Scholarship Fund

Inspired by a challenge from North Central University President Scott Hagen, U-M alumnus Marchell Willian presented to President Mark Schlissel the idea to establish a George Floyd Memorial Scholarship Fund at U-M.

Willian, an attorney in Illinois, gave the lead endowment to establish the scholarship fund designed to inspire others to increase support.

“This scholarship is one way we can enhance our university’s commitment to investing in student leaders,” Schlissel said. “It also will serve as a reminder of the work to be done to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment here at U-M, while honoring the legacy of all of those, past and present, who have continually called for us to strive for a better, more diverse and more inclusive university.”

The need-based scholarship will give preference to students who have participated in Wolverine Pathways, the college-readiness program that serves students from Detroit, Southfield, and Ypsilanti Community school districts, and who have demonstrated a commitment to bettering their community.

Since Hagen’s challenge in June, dozens of institutions across the country have announced the establishment of George Floyd scholarships programs recognizing George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis while being arrested for allegedly using a counterfeit bill. The U-M community can contribute to the scholarship fund though an online fundraiser.

Task force on campus public safety

The university is developing a task force that will provide a platform for the U-M community to come together to better understand the status of policing and public safety on the Ann Arbor campus, and ensure respectful, transparent and community-responsive public safety services on campus.

The group will examine public safety efforts on campus — identify existing problems, determine areas of need, recognize and leverage existing strengths, and generate actionable recommendations.

“Out of this unanimity of purpose, we have an opportunity to engage in a process that ensures that U-M’s Division of Public Safety and Security is the very best that it can be at providing public safety for all of our university and perhaps be a model for other campuses,” Collins said.

“Within our community, there are a wide range of strongly held views and proposed actions, often reflecting very different experiences. However, there is consensus that all people on our campus should not only be safe, but feel safe.”

The university is taking an inclusive approach in developing the task force’s mission and composition. The members will be identified and named by the provost after a broad array of groups on campus share input and recommendations. That outreach is underway, and will include an invitation for self-nominations to serve on the task force. 

“To be effective, this work must leverage and reflect perspectives from all stakeholders — undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, staff, parents, the Ann Arbor community and DPSS,” Collins said. “It must pay particular attention to the experiences and perspectives of our communities of color and others who are disproportionately impacted by challenging national policing policies and practices.”

New faculty members

In an effort to build on existing expertise and enhance the university’s capacity to develop cutting-edge scholarship aimed at dismantling systemic racism, a cohort of deans has laid the groundwork for hiring at least 20 new faculty members to focus on anti-racism and racial justice scholarship.

The three-year initiative, supported by a financial commitment from the Office of the Provost, will bring additional scholarly expertise in racial inequality and structural racism — including clusters of faculty focusing on social justice, health equity and environmental justice — to schools and colleges across the Ann Arbor campus.

“As an institution of higher education, one of our most important tools for combating institutional racism is our scholarship and research,” Collins said.   

These new hires will join a well-established and university-supported anti-racism research infrastructure, which will be enhanced with additional funding from the Office of the Provost through the National Center for Institutional Diversity.

Existing work at U-M such as the Prison Creative Arts Project, Carceral State Project and Poverty Solutions, among a few, demonstrate the university’s continued commitment to scholarship, teaching and broader engagement related to the issues of race and equity in the community, across the region and around the world.

Inclusive teaching training and professional development

To reinforce anti-racism work within the learning environment and to leverage U-M’s established network of DEI implementation leads, the current academic year will feature an Inclusive Teaching Liaison Program and greater professional development opportunities for faculty and staff.

DEI implementation leads are charged with planning and enacting DEI efforts within the schools and colleges and the 51 different campus units they represent.  The leads group was created at the onset of the university’s Five-Year DEI Strategic Plan in 2016. All told, there are 104 DEI implementation leads on the Ann Arbor campus.

To leverage the network — and the skills many of them have already developed in anti-racism over the course of their work — the university will invest in significant professional development for DEI leads so they can employ anti-racism techniques into their current DEI work. Using a “train-the-trainer” model, the impact of the group’s initial anti-racism training and greater capacity will be shared with the broader university community.

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion also will bolster its efforts with the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching to enhance the capacity of faculty to utilize anti-racist pedagogy and curriculum in the classroom.

The Inclusive Teaching Liaisons will learn principles of anti-racist pedagogy and will work with CRLT consultants to find concrete ways to adapt these principles to the instructional styles of their disciplines, fields, and professions.

“We’ve had the opportunity to hear from so many groups and individuals on campus that all want to see our university live up to our motto, leaders and best,” said Robert Sellers, chief diversity office and vice provost for equity and inclusion. “We’re continuing to take a deep and honest look at our institution, and look for ways to do more to confront racism and discrimination, and to achieve our ambitions for diversity, inclusion, and equality on our campuses.”

Race and ethnicity curriculum

As U-M’s 19 schools and colleges evaluate their individual ethos and curricula, units across campus are launching initiatives to explore, assess and enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts as well as race and ethnicity requirements.

While individual schools and colleges, such as LSA, the School of Education and School of Social Work have required students to complete a course related to race and ethnicity to graduate, such a requirement is not universal under U-M’s decentralized academic structure.

With centrally coordinated support, deans from every school and college will now oversee the effort, focusing on the role of race and ethnicity within their respective fields and disciplines. Faculty, students and staff within the schools and colleges will then determine the most appropriate way to incorporate the requirement into their curriculum. 

“We are eager to revisit the race and ethnicity requirement with students, faculty and staff from across the college to ensure that it feels sufficient and relevant to addressing systemic racism in the U.S. specifically, as well as beyond the U.S. context,” said LSA Dean Anne Curzan. “This requirement is core to our mission of fostering the next generation of rigorous and empathetic thinkers, creators, and contributors to the state, the nation and the world.”

Integrating content on identity and systemic anti-Black racism in the context of STEM and engineering design was recently announced as part of the College of Engineering’s latest proposals to address systemic racism and unconscious bias. The coursework would be incorporated into the existing curriculum where appropriate, and a new required course will examine historical context and societal impact.

“We are building a framework to ensure every member of the engineering community is educated about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, beginning with a focus on race, ethnicity and unconscious bias,” said Alec Gallimore, Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering.

In addition to work within the schools and colleges, the Office of the Provost, through the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, will partner with the Division of Student Life to engage students, faculty, administrators and other relevant stakeholders to build extracurricular programming that provides students with a broad understanding of racism, privilege and oppression. 

The goal of this programing will be to provide students with practical and useful skills to interact respectfully and productively across differences inside and outside of the classroom. 

Democracy & Debate Theme Semester

Earlier this year the university launched the Democracy & Debate Theme Semester, a unique opportunity for teaching and learning about free speech and the exchange of ideas, democratic engagement from a global perspective, and what it means to be a member of a democratic society. An anti-racism focus also was an integral element of the semester’s design. 

The theme semester links courses and events from across the university and incorporates online learning opportunities, as well as voter engagement through the Big Ten Voting Challenge.

Programming, such as an upcoming screening and panel discussion, emphasizes the importance of active engagement in the democratic process, and has integrated discussions about current events and social movements.

The Democracy & Debate Theme Semester in partnership with ODEI is showing the film, “John Lewis: Good Trouble.” Following several small and socially distanced in-person screenings in the Michigan Union, Sellers will moderate a virtual panel discussion exploring the impact of the late Georgia congressman’s 60-plus years of social activism and legislative action on civil rights, voting rights, gun control, health care reform, and immigration.

Naming campus spaces

To increase community input and diversity to the options considered for the naming of campus buildings and other spaces on campus, a task force consisting of faculty, students, staff and administrators will be launched in the 2021 winter semester.

Ultimately, building naming decisions — including changes — rest with the elected Board of Regents, but the new task force will be charged with crafting and piloting a process that more effectively develops a diverse pool of potential names for campus spaces.  The goal is for more named campus spaces that reflect the breadth of backgrounds and perspectives of people who have vitally shaped U-M’s teaching, research and service missions.

Other efforts on campus

These initiatives spearheaded by the Office of the Provost come as a number of departments around campus have announced a variety of additional anti-racism efforts. 

Earlier this month, the U-M Museum of Art shared a Black Lives Matter banner installation at the front of the museum’s Alumni Memorial Hall entrance. The museum also has shared its full Anti-Racist Action statement that details its plans to “build a more inclusive museum.”

Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability, recently announced an equity and justice initiative. In a letter to the SEAS community, Overpeck shared a number of actions the school will undertake to create an environment that advances equal rights for all, and recognizes the intersectionality among issues of race, identity, gender, socioeconomic status, religion and background.

The actions include, but were not limited to: acknowledging SEAS’ history of anti-Black racism, co-creating and co-owning DEI planning, working toward equitable representation in the faculty, staff and student body, and establishing an ethics and accountability board.

The College of Engineering is launching two major proposals this year, including sustained, pervasive education around issues of race, ethnicity, unconscious bias and inclusion for everyone in engineering, and a new center for DEI that will work horizontally across the college and ensure the work is not siloed.

Among myriad offerings within LSA, the “Just Community: A Reading and Action Program for Racial Justice” initiative provides a framework for discussion on the history and pervasiveness of systemic racism and meaningful ways to combat it.

The project is currently highlighting the work of Bryan Stevenson, a civil rights lawyer and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. Stevenson’s best-selling book, “Just Mercy,” which was also adapted into a feature film, chronicles his early work defending poor and wrongly incarcerated individuals.

“The passion and enthusiasm we’ve seen throughout the U-M community as we move the university toward a brighter, more inclusive future is exciting,” Collins said. “There is more to be done but we know the impact of our work will contribute to a more equitable and just world.”



  1. Elliott Brannon
    on October 21, 2020 at 4:33 pm

    I wonder if these initiatives are in line with the history of UM administrators “responding to black campus activists by making racial inclusion and inequality compatible” as described in Undermining Racial Justice:

    It would certainly be interesting to use this book as a lens to help understand why UM may be supporting these initiatives as opposed to others.

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