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DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION DISPLAYED AT THE

2019 UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN GRADUATION CEREMONIES

 

               When it comes to higher education’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, results matter most and, therefore, Edgar Guest’s poems comes to mind:

“I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day; 
I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way. 
The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear, 
Fine counsel is confusing, but example's always clear; 
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds, 
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

…And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true, 
But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do…”

During several University of Michigan graduation ceremonies, I recently observed how that University “walked what they talked” when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

For example, at my granddaughter’s nationally ranked School of Public Health’s graduation ceremony, the platform group included the Black Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, Martin A. Philbert; the Black Dean of Public Health, F. DuBois Bowman; and a very diverse faculty.  The faculty and administrators were warmly received by a very diverse student body in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, and nationality. 

In his remarks to the graduates, Dean Bowman struck a social justice and equity chord when he indicated, “Throughout your careers, you will be called upon to work on challenges large and small. No matter the circumstances, I want to encourage you to put people first in all that you do. Fundamentally, our work in public health is about helping as many people as possible.  …Stay true to our mission of creating a healthier, more equitable world for all—and everyone will benefit…”

Dean DuBois also spoke of being a servant leader saying, “Returning to a school that gave me so much, I am heartened to see what brilliant and talented students occupy our school, and are on their way to serve the people of world. And yes, I am using the word serve quite intentionally. In all things you do, don't just be among the "leaders and best" -- be among the best servant leaders. Though you came from different backgrounds and experiences, you will forever be connected going forward.”

Dean DuBois’ words were reinforced by the School’s commencement speaker, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. The graduation program indicated, “In 2018, Dr. El-Sayed ran for governor of Michigan on an unapologetically progressive platform, advocating for universal healthcare, clean water for all, debt-free and tuition-free higher education, a pathway to 100 percent renewable energy, and re-building the barrier between corporations and government...”  Dr. El-Sayed also emphasized the fact that he travelled thousands of miles to visit family in Egypt and observed the difficult conditions in which some of them lived, but as child living in a suburb, he could travel just a few miles to find the similar deplorable conditions in Detroit. 

What I observed during the University of Michigan’s Public Health ceremony was everything but the type of diversity and inclusion that focuses on how many of “each species of diversity” was in the room.   Rather, one of the nation’s very best Schools of Public Health derived its academic strength from a very diverse administration, faculty and student body.  Diversity and inclusion were not represented by an honorific appendage position attached to the senior administration.  Rather, the highest levels of academic excellence were displayed by people who had varied backgrounds and the realization of equity and social justice was embedded in the School’s mission.  The same was demonstrated at the May 4th Commencement.

During the May 4th Commencement, seeing the University of Michigan diversity and inclusion sermon in action included the following:

·        Provost Philbert set the tone when his remarks included an account of a Black alum who had struggled against segregation.  He also stressed the importance of graduates not simply being the very best in their fields of study, but also being the very best in terms of public service.

·        It was significant to note that the interim Dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts was a woman who happened to be a professor in the departments of Women’s Studies, Psychology, and Afroamerican and African Studies.  She is also described as “…committed to being an educator and student advocate who encourages dialogue across differences.”

·        In his statement to the class of 2019, President Mark S. Schlissel called attention to the new $10 million William Monroe Trotter Multicultural Center built in the center of the campus across from Angel Hall, the emblematic building for the Michigan campus.  By way of background, “The Trotter Multicultural Center, as it is known today, began as Trotter House, a Black student cultural center. African American students united under the Black Action Movement (BAM), to help students who experienced obstacles within their educational process. Trotter House was birthed out of this movement, founded at a rambling old house on the corner of South and East University Street, and named in honor of William Monroe Trotter (1872-1934) …”  All who take a campus tour, will see, not just hear about, the spectacular Trotter House.

·        Some of the most powerful statements during the Ceremony came from students.  Each responded to the challenges of adjusting to and, in turn, excelling on a very large and highly competitive campus.   A White male underscored the ability to overcome mental stress; a Black female pointed to the fact that she coped successfully while being deaf; and a Hispanic female ended her remarks with “I am undocumented and unafraid!"

An inspection of the graduates, faculty, and administration indicated that the University of Michigan’s world class recognition is truly a function of the fact that it is diverse and inclusive in practice as well as policy.  While doing so, it became [1] the first public university to raise $5 billion dollars; and [2] launched “a new financial aid program for in-state students that offers a “Go Blue Guarantee” of free tuition for up to four years for students with family income of up to $65,000.”

Lest we forget, it was the “Michigan Case,” (Supreme Court’s Grutter V. Bollinger) which launched the diversity and inclusion movement when the Supreme Court’s ruling stated, “…the Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the Law School's narrowly tailored use of race in admissions decisions to further a compelling interest in obtaining the educational benefits that flow from a diverse student body…”  The distinguished 2019 graduates are the fruits emanating from those roots.

Finally, it was made clear to me what is possible at the University of Michigan given that my granddaughter, Amani Danielle Echols (pictured), was selected as Senior of the Year; received the Women’s Studies 2019 Feminist Practice Award; and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. 

 

Jack L. Daniel

Co-Founder, Freed Panther Society

Contributor, Pittsburgh Urban Media

Author,  Negotiating a Historically White University While Black https://www.amazon.com/dp/1732433909?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860

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