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UMSI staff honored with Distinguished Diversity Leaders Award

A graphic with a laurel, headshots of eight staff members, the UMSI logo and the text "Awarded: Distinguished Diversity Leaders"

Thursday, 01/04/2024

A team of UMSI staff has been honored with a Distinguished Diversity Leaders Award from the University of Michigan. The award, which originated in 2008, spotlights the hard work and dedication of staff members who contribute to a diverse, welcoming and inclusive campus environment. 

Recipients include project lead Barb Smith and team members Jacques ChestnutRebecca EpsteinClaudia LeoJames ReitzBrian SchmidtColum Slevin and Todd Stuart. To strengthen inclusivity and interfaith understanding in the U-M community, they developed a comprehensive web guide on 60 religious holidays, featuring detailed fact sheets and a Google add-on calendar.

Previously, the U-M Office of the Provost’s website contained a list of approximately 20 holidays accompanied only by a date. The expanded resource offers a description, pronunciation guide, appropriate greeting, common practices and additional details for each listed holiday. The team collaborated with local religious leaders to ensure the fact sheets’ accuracy and authenticity.

“Their project to transform a standard listing of religious holidays into a comprehensive web resource stands as a testament to their determination to foster inclusivity and understanding within our U-M community,” said Heidi Skrzypek, director of human resources and executive support at UMSI, who nominated the team. “The project has become a valuable tool for the academic and medical campus scheduling and calendaring system by providing guidance on ensuring respect to everyone’s faith observance.”

The team, which was previously honored with a UMSI Award for Impact in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, has been contacted by local and national institutions requesting use of the resource. Skrzypek emphasized that the project has served “as a bridge and model to institutions extending beyond U-M.” 

“Seeing our work embraced by so many and making a difference is truly rewarding,” Smith said. “Even though most of us were novices in a project of this kind, we were able to leverage our unique skill sets and work collaboratively.” 

The team will receive $2,500 toward professional development activities, along with recognition at the DDLA award ceremony on Jan. 30, 2024.

The 2023 awards mark the return of the DDLA after a pause due to the public health crisis. They are administered by the Equity, Civil Rights and Title IX Office and sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Human Resources at U-M. 

Abigail McFee, marketing and communications writer

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