Across the country, Republicans have attacked diversity, equity and inclusion offices on college campuses as being discriminatory, ineffective, and a waste of taxpayer money. They’ve introduced dozens of laws in 21 states to try to dismantle the work of these offices and, in some cases, shut them down.
Some universities have responded by suspending DEI policies and programs, others by removing the word “diversity” from the names of offices and the titles of officers. The opposite is happening at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, an institution that has played a pivotal role in the decades-long debate over race and college access. Instead of cutting back, it’s doubling down on its commitment to one of the nation’s most expansive DEI efforts.
The university has been detailing its work on a public website and in campuswide and community meetings. Employees whose jobs in some way touch on diversity were worried about the growing attacks, says Tabbye M. Chavous, who in August became vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer.
“Some institutions were preemptively tamping down their efforts so they wouldn’t be the target of inquiry or be noticed, and there was some concern we might go in that direction,” she says. “Michigan learned there’s nothing we can do to avoid scrutiny, so why not try to be creative and bold within the confines of the law to take every effort to still uphold the value of diversity in higher ed. We just have to be prepared to defend it.”
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During the first phase of its latest DEI plan, the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts started the Collegiate Fellows Program, focused on recruiting early-career academics with demonstrated commitments to diversity through teaching, research, and service. Over the first six years of the program, the university hired 50 fellows from a pool of nearly 4,000 applicants. Nearly all are now on tenure track. About 90 percent of the recipients are people of color, Chavous says, and nearly 70 percent are from underrepresented racial groups.
Faculty are offered mentoring and professional development, and because they’re brought in as a cohort, “they come in with a built-in network of friends,” says Elizabeth R. Cole, a professor of women’s and gender studies, psychology, and Afroamerican and African studies, who oversees the program. Cole also directs the National Center for Institutional Diversity, a campus-based program that researches the benefits, challenges, and opportunities for expanding diversity efforts. The center was started as a result of the state’s affirmative action ban.