Diversity strategic planning stressed at University of Michigan Law

 by Lori Atherton

U-M Law
Faculty, staff and students have an opportunity to foster a more diverse, equitable and inclusive environment at the University of Michigan, but doing so requires their full participation in the diversity strategic planning process, according to Robert M. Sellers, U-M’s vice provost for equity, inclusion and academic affairs.

“I can’t promise you that this will fix everything, but I can promise that if you don’t participate wholly, things will not get better,” Sellers said recently during Michigan Law’s first Diversity Talk. “I don’t have the magic wand to ensure that this process will work and change everything exactly as we want it to be, but I do believe strongly that it provides an opportunity to move forward in ways that we have not been able to in the past.”

Citing the university’s commitment to diversity, “from the board of regents on down,” Sellers said the diversity strategic planning process is one that utilizes a “bottoms-up strategy,” which enables faculty, staff and students at all levels of the university to provide input on how to enhance diversity, increase the inclusiveness of the academic community, and promote greater equity throughout the university.
Plans developed at the unit level, which includes all 19 schools and colleges on the Ann Arbor campus, will filter up to administrative levels for input, until they finally reach the president’s office, he said.

“One of the things I’m most excited about in terms of the planning process is having it reside at the levels where we all live,” said Sellers, who chairs the committee charged with leading the diversity strategic planning process. 

“At other places,” he said, “the plan resides at the level of the president or Board of Regents. Few of us live up there and issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion are rarely up there. The issues are where we live, and the goal is to make sure students, faculty, and staff have as much opportunity as possible to give feedback,” especially since diversity not only includes issues of race, gender, and class but also includes issues of political persuasion, disabilities, and gender identity and expression, among others.

Noting that some people have “diversity fatigue,” in which they are skeptical of yet another diversity initiative, Sellers said that “history teaches me to be somewhat skeptical of the process, but being skeptical doesn’t mean I don’t put my energy forward.”

“It is like creating a massive statue from a huge block of marble,” he said. “You are knocking chips away from the block, and though you may or may not see the end of your [efforts], that should not stop you from knocking that chip away to get to the statue.”
In order for diversity to work, Sellers said, equity and inclusion need to be fostered within the university community so that people feel physically safe and respected and aren’t discriminated against for expressing their viewpoints. 
“There is a fundamental difference in being able to express your arguments in a respectful way, and folks being attacked,” he said. “You need to have an environment in which there is a respect for differences, but also one that’s inclusive, which means doing things differently than we’ve done them in the past.”

Michigan Law’s Diversity Talk series, co-sponsored by the Law School’s Program in Race, Law & History, invites university leaders to discuss the future of diversity at Michigan with the Law School community.