By Bithia Ratnasamy and Teona Williams, Co-Chairs, Rackham’s Multicultural Leadership Council
Over the past year and a half, the Multicultural Leadership Council, a coalition of graduate student leaders committed to the well-being and success of students of color at the University of Michigan, has met with key stakeholders to discuss and address concerns over the development and rollout of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plans. As a result of those conversations, we have arrived upon five guiding principles for students and unit leads to consider as they assess the newly released DEI plans:
DEI planning and implementation require both human and monetary resources. Resources need to be made available to pay those who are implementing DEI plans, including students, who have historically carried the burden of this work. These resources should also be used to increase staff capacity to support strategic plans. For example, units could hire permanent full-time staff with proven expertise in diversity planning and project management, or allocate percent effort towards DEI-related responsibilities within staff job descriptions.
Did your school allocate a budget for DEI programs and capacity building?
Leaders and administrators should take responsibility when their actions, or inactions, allow structural and interpersonal discrimination to occur, or if they fail to reach targeted metrics. Look for quantitative and qualitative accountability metrics, benchmarks, and timelines for achievement that are developed with collective input, and should examine not only representational diversity, but also other aspects of climate including perceptions, behaviors, and organizational practices. We believe that a well-defined and systematic process should be used to evaluate progress, making it clear when units are succeeding or failing to reach DEI goals.
Does your plan include metrics, and clear guidelines to ensure accountability of success?
For those engaging in DEI activities, rewards can include compensation, release from other departmental duties, or greater weight on this type of service contribution when evaluated for promotion or tenure. Positive contributors could be rewarded with special recognition from leadership, either as individuals or as teams, as has already been common practice across campus.
Does your plan include incentives to reward individuals or units for their leadership in DEI work?
Are metrics being publicly tracked? School units that are committed to DEI values must also possess a commitment to the transparency. Each strategic plan should outline steps to make information about DEI developments accessible online. Current and prospective students, faculty, and staff should be kept aware of advances within their school units, as well as failures to achieve desired benchmarks. We strongly believe that transparency is a powerful incentive for progress.
Is your plan easily accessible to all? Has the process for the implementation of the plan been clearly outlined?
For strategic plans to truly embody values of equity, DEI decision-making processes need to treat every voice in the community as having equal value. Planning leads and administrators should proactively solicit community input and guarantee a process where all stakeholders, including staff and students, are given equal say in what DEI plans look like. Strategic planning leads should be innovative and create multiple inclusive avenues for feedback, removing barriers to participation that may turn people away, provide incentives for engagement by rewarding those who offer extensive feedback, make sure that feedback mechanisms are in place both online and in-person, and be clear on how feedback will be incorporated, so that community members feel their voices are actually valued. When initiatives are being proposed, open forums should be hosted for consensus-building prior to enacting policy changes. These types of democratic decision-making procedures should be articulated explicitly in strategic plans.
Does your unit have a plan for future decision-making processes as part of the plan?
Transforming the campus climate is challenging yet important work. It demands an analysis of the infrastructure for diversity within organizations, and the courage to take bold and meaningful action. Evaluate DEI plans with a critical lens, using these tenets as a guide to help you provide feedback. Also, remember that these are “living documents,” intended to evolve over time. We expect school units to develop ambitious, sustainable, structurally-sound strategic plans that are guided by equity and transparency, and backed by the funds to implement them. We will not settle for anything less and we hope you will join us in doing the same.
Bithia Ratnasamy is a Master’s student in Urban Planning
Teona Williams is a Master’s student in Natural Resources and Environment