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Race on Campus

Engage in higher ed’s conversations about racial equity and inclusion. Delivered on Tuesdays.

From: Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez

Subject: Race on Campus: Bring Diversity to Your Budget Meetings

Welcome to Race on Campus. This week’s issue is about how one university is sprinkling its diversity, equity, and inclusion plan to every corner of its campus — including its annual budget meetings. Plus, we share what we learned from a panel discussion with Black student-body presidents, some of whom were the first at their colleges.

If you have ideas, comments, or questions about this newsletter, write to me: fernanda@chronicle.com.

Follow the Money

If you want to see what an institution values, follow the money. The departments and plans that a university invests in often reflect what it cares about.

So it stands to reason that the University of Michigan makes diversity, equity, and inclusion work part of its annual budget meetings. It puts the work front and center, says Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer.

“There is no other institutional ritual, for lack of a better word, that every single unit has to go through that is as consequential,” Sellers says. “It makes it very clear that this is something that is extremely important and needs to be on the leaders’ radar.”

During meetings with deans and administrators, departments are evaluated on recruiting, retaining, and developing a diverse community, alongside other annual benchmarks.The tactic is part of the university’s five-year strategic DEI plan, rolled out in 2016. Action items for each department are different, but the goal is uniform: Create a more equitable climate and culture at the University of Michigan.

DEI’s role in the budget process is one of the ways that Michigan practices the shared-equity leadership model for diversity, equity, and inclusion. Shared equity is a leadership structure that makes DEI the entire university’s responsibility, according to the American Council on Education. It’s not solely the work of one person or office.

Sellers compared shared equity to the university’s responsibility to be a good steward of its finances. That charge applies to everyone who touches university dollars, like student groups, department chairs, deans, and top leaders. The university has a plan for how to best use and distribute its money, but everyone who uses funds has a degree of responsibility.

A Direction, Not a Destination

Under this model, DEI work is incorporated into Michigan’s hiring practices, too.

A few years ago, Sellers says, he noticed that job candidates said they valued diversity but couldn’t answer follow-up questions on the topic. Now, every finalist for a dean position receives a copy of the DEI plan, along with the institution’s budget, student enrollment, and faculty information. That signals to job candidates that they need to prepare concrete ideas about how to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into their potential role at Michigan.

“We make it clear that this is a core value of the institution,” Sellers says. “If this isn’t something that’s important to you, then Michigan is probably not the place that you want to be.”

University data show that the approach could be working. There has been a small increase in minority tenured or tenure-track professors between 2016 and 2019 — the share of people of color in those positions rose from 20 percent to 23 percent.

A program formed in 2016 — with shared equity in mind — could build on that success. The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts’ Collegiate Postdoctoral Fellowship aims to recruit 50 scholars in five years who have an interest or specialty in diversity. These early-career faculty receive dedicated research time and funding to help them transition into tenure-track positions in the college.

The fellowship program helped correct two misconceptions, Sellers said. Michigan received 1,200 applications, eliminating the idea of a leaky or dry pipeline for diverse candidates. And because departments in the college chose if they want to offer fellowship finalists a position, they don’t feel like they are doing someone a favor or simply filling a slot. Sometimes, departments even competed against one another for a candidate.

In 10 years, Sellers says, he hopes that these fellows will be leaders in their departments.

Though this is the last year in Michigan’s five-year plan, DEI efforts will continue. Leaders will discuss what’s working and what to change, Sellers says. “Inclusion is not an initiative, not a destination. It’s a direction. —Fernanda Zamudio-Suarez

What We Learned from Student-Body Presidents

Last week, I teamed up with Jael Kerandi, a senior at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, to co-host a virtual conversation with four Black student-body presidents at predominantly white institutions about how they’ve been pushing for change on campus. Kerandi was student-body president when George Floyd was killed in May of 2020, and successfully pushed her university to scale back its relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department.

During the panel, I was especially struck by a point made by Roaya Higazi, of Ohio State University, about what she believes it’ll take to create more equitable campuses: “Oftentimes our universities want to really find a comfortable space in which they are respecting diversity, equity, and inclusion. But in order to do that, you’re going to have to make sacrifices that might upset a Board of Trustees, that might upset politicians, that might make folks uncomfortable.”

You can watch the full event on demand for free, but here are three other highlights.

The pressure of being a “first” can be exhausting.

The panelists said they were excited to show Black students and other students of color that they, too, could hold leadership roles at prominent universities. But that creates internal pressure, said Noah Harris, of Harvard University, because he feels he has a responsibility to recruit and advise younger students “to ensure that there are other Black leaders coming behind me.” Higazi said because no other Black woman had served in her role at Ohio State, she didn’t have anyone who came from a similar background to ask for advice and support. Students also described the toll of advocating for change while personally experiencing racism and processing traumatic events, like police killings of Black people.

Despite pushback, these student leaders are getting a lot done.

Danielle Geathers helped convince the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a campus holiday instead of Columbus Day. Harris is organizing a campaign to lobby Harvard’s Board of Overseers, a governing body made of alumni, in hopes of adding young alumni to the board who share students’ priorities and support increasing transparency. Higazi pushed for the renaming of an Ohio State building that honored John W. Bricker, a former governor who supported segregation. But it wasn’t easy. “We constantly had to deal with backlash and counterarguments” about Bricker’s positive contributions, Higazi said.

They’re frustrated by what they see as colleges’ inaction on racial equity.

Kerandi criticized the “well-written” university statements filled with “flowery language” that often come out after racist incidents. “I think what people are saying is, like, save your condolences, I’d like to see some action on this front,” she said. Harris said Harvard’s actions have continued to contradict its stated commitments to anti-racism. While he and other students talk regularly with top university officials, “there’s definitely a culture of them waiting us out.” Higazi added: “We’re pouring so much into institutions that, a lot of times, are not pouring back into us.” —Sarah Brown

Read Up.

  • Texas A&M University said it would stop using student “risk scores” on adviser dashboards after an investigation found that the software generating the scores disproportionately labeled Black students as “high risk.” (The Markup)
  • In Virginia, a new law requires five public colleges to start scholarship funds for descendants of enslaved people who worked at the institutions. (Black Enterprise)
  • Last week, the University of Kentucky president sent a message to the campus about public-records requests related to faculty members who work on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Turns out, the Young America Foundation, a conservative student group, requested records from one faculty member who researches, among other things, racial trauma and anti-racist training. (Lexington Herald-Leader)

—Fernanda

Fernanda is newsletter product manager at The Chronicle. She is the voice behind Chronicle newsletters like the Weekly Briefing, Five Weeks to a Better Semester, and more. She also writes about what Chronicle readers are thinking. Send her an email at fernanda@chronicle.com.