The University of Michigan announced today that it is launching what it calls a “strategic plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Entitled “Many Voices, Our Michigan,” it will provide $85 million in new investments from the publicly-funded institution over the next five years, while incorporating plans from schools, colleges, and units on campus.
University provost for equity, inclusion, and academic affairs Robert Sellers described three areas of the plan: the creation of an “inclusive and equitable campus climate,” the recruitment, retention, and development of a “diverse community,” and the provision of “innovative and inclusive scholarship and teaching.” “Because we are Michigan,” Sellers said, “that change can have an impact in higher education broadly.” Sellers has been nominated as the university first-ever chief diversity officer. He is expected to implement the diversity plan once he is confirmed, as expected, at an upcoming October 20 meeting of the University board of regents.
In addition to the $85 million in new investments, $40 million is already allocated annually to “diversity,” said the statement from the university. Today’s event capped more than a week of campus discussion about racial diversity and racism.
“In recent weeks, ugly and vile hatred have singled out groups in our community and sought to divide us,” University President Mark Schlissel said today. He was referring to fliers that appeared at the Haven and Mason dormitories on September 26. The messages sparked protests by various groups of leftists and racial minorities throughout the week. Subsequently, Schlissel met with more than 180 people to address student concerns. While he praised those who attended the event, he stressed the need for larger community engagement on the topic. “Just having this group here, it does us good, but we are not reaching enough people.”
The rally came after last week's discovery of racially charged "alt-right" flyers in various spots on U-M's campus. It also came two days before U-M President Mark Schlissel — who attended the rally — is set to unveil a major plan to increase diversity on the Ann Arbor school's campus.
"We are visibly standing for the African-American students who are feeling isolated," said nursing faculty emerita Patricia Coleman-Burns. "We, the faculty at U-M, stand strong for your right to exist on this campus. This is one of our core values. We know what we stand for."
On October 4, a rally of students and faculty assembled at the center of the campus. Some people bore signs saying, "Spread ideas, not hate." Provost Martha Pollack told the protesters, "Hatred has no place on this campus and we will not stand for hatred."
Last week, posters were found on campus that argued, for example, that white women should not date black men. Another poster depicted a “STOP!” sign that urged “Euro-Americans” to stop “living in fear” and “denying (their) heritage." The posters both carried an “Alt-Right” logo. Similar incident occurred at nearby Eastern Michigan University. At that campus, the letters “KKK” were spray-painted in red, white, and blue on the side of a university building. Another message said “Leave n******.”
Various groups have been focused on race and racism for several years at the University of Michigan. Students, for example, went on Twitter to use the “Being Black at U-M” hashtag and recounted claims of racial discrimination and intimidation. Later, the Black Student Union issued several demands, including the construction of a “multicultural center” on campus. When U-M Regent Mark Bernstein, a prominent attorney and a member of the Jewish community, offered to donate $3 million, black students objected to his request to have the building bear his and his wife’s name. Bernstein then withdrew the offer.
Among the students who complained about the gift was history student Austin McCoy, a member of the Black Lives Matter movement. McCoy has been active in groups critical of police shootings of civilians, and has also been involved in anti-Israel protests.
Black students insisted that the building instead should solely bear the name of William MonroeTrotter, the only black person for whom the university has named a building. The University has emphasized that Bernstein and his wife, Rachel Bendit’s history of civil rights advocacy, and their work with the American Civil Liberties Union, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, as well as a number of Jewish community service organizations.
Bernstein and Rachel Bendit never made any demands that their names be put on a new multicultural building on the University of Michigan’s campus in exchange for their generous gift. According to the Detroit Free Press, they wanted the gift to be used as a public gesture of a “white family’s support of multiculturalism.” “It was not our intention to diminish the Trotter name,” Bernstein said. “We have never sought to put our name on anything at the university... We wanted to show that we, as white Jewish leaders, are very supportive of the work being done."
Trotter director Jackie Simpson refuted claims that recognizing the names of the generous donors to the multi-cultural center served to erase the legacy of Trotter -- a civil rights leader of 100 years ago -- while referring to initial confusion caused by reactions to the gift—including the initial announcement by University President Schlissel at the April 21 Board of Regents meeting—that made it seem like the Trotter Center would be renamed.
Schlissel addressed the controversy in an open letter posted on the Trotter Center’s Facebook page. He drew comparisons to the Ford School of Public Policy, named for former U-M alumnus President Gerald Ford, which is housed in Joan and Sanford Weill Hall. “It’s still the Ford School, he said, "but the building is named after two donors who helped us realize the vision for the new facility.” Schlissel wrote.
The Michigan Daily interviewed a Black Student Union activist, Jamie Thompson, who said that even though the multicultural center would have still borne the Trotter name, she could not approve of recognizing the donation from the Bernstein family. “Black students have fought for the last 40 plus years to provide a space on our campus for ourselves and for the promotion of diversity on our campus,” Thompson wrote. “What will it mean for students, and students to come, to see building after building all named after white men? At the end of the day, the University will operate as a business," said wrote. Noting the that Trotter is not a college, Thompson said it serves no academic purpose but is instead a "social setting for students." "It serves as an environment for students of color," said, "to have a space of their own.”