UMSI’s Diversity Committee plans to build on past success

Lionel Robert

The new leadership for the School of Information’s diversity committee will build on previous years’ achievements to forward implementation of the UMSI Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategic plan, in alliance with the University of Michigan’s recently unveiled five-year DEI strategic plan. The committee co-chairs for 2016/2017 are Assistant Professor Lionel Robert and Associate Director of Admissions and Student Affairs Veronica Falandino.

"Although UMSI has always been committed to diversity, the university's new DEI initiative really provides a unique opportunity to complement our efforts,” said Robert. “We see our work as a challenge, an opportunity and an honor.”

“Valuing and facilitating diversity, equity and inclusion is critical to the vitality and potential of our community,” adds Falandino. “The current national landscape, as well as the challenges we face on our own campus, highlight the need for concerted effort to demonstrate these values in practical, meaningful ways.”

In addition to Robert and Falandino, the committee includes UMSI Assistant Dean of Academic and Student Affairs Judy Lawson, as an ex-officio member. Lawson chaired the UMSI diversity committee in 2015/16, and co-chaired it the two previous years. She will assume the newly created position of Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the School of Information, pending approval of the appointment by the U-M Board of Regents. [See related story.] Falandino served on the DEI strategic planning group last year, chaired by UMSI professor Margaret Hedstrom.

“While there is much work yet to do,” Lawson said, “we have already increased our efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the School of Information over the past few years. We have added diversity to the categories included in our faculty and staff goals and evaluation processes. We have increased efforts in recruitment and educational programming for faculty, students, and staff. The diversity committee plays a central role, but we have seen efforts from all corners of the school, which is a sign that we are indeed making progress.”

In response to racist flyers posted on campus this fall, the diversity committee hosted the first in a series of Community Gatherings to discuss the impact of these acts and to identify strategies to reduce racist incidents.

A second Community Gathering on October 20 provided an opportunity for students, staff and faculty to have an open dialogue on the UMSI Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan. The diversity committee plans to offer more events through the year and will support events led by UMSI community members with the availability of special funding, according to Falandino. 

The UMSI Diversity Committee made strides in the 2015/16 academic year by hosting or sponsoring over a dozen workshops, speakers and other activities. One of the highlights of the 2016 winter semester was the co-sponsorship of a speech by #BlackLivesMatter co-founder Alicia Garza for the U-M Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium. Other events included a talk on big data discrimination offered by UMSI student group Multi-Ethnic Information Exchange (MIX) and programs focused on women in information and technology offered by UMSI’s Career Development Office.
A diversity workshop for faculty ended up having a broader impact than some expected. Lionel Robert initially thought he’d learn how he could change his own behavior. “However, I also learned to employ approaches which encourage students in my class to be more sensitive to each other's concerns,” he said. These programs and many others showcased UMSI’s efforts to be a welcoming place for all faculty, staff and students.

Others on this year’s UMSI diversity committee are faculty members Elena Godin, lecturer, and Carl Lagoze, associate professor; staff members Michael Williams, employer relations coordinator, and Kelly Kowatch, associate director of engaged learning; and UMSI students Viviana Hernandez (BSI), Isabel Gao (MSI), and Penny Trieu (PhD). Share feedback or ideas with individual committee members or email the group at Request diversity committee funding for a program or initiative here.

Posted October 27, 2016