Creating the All-Inclusive Campus

At Central Michigan University, everyone is part of—and responsible for—carrying out strategic initiatives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The All Inclusive Campus

Miller (center, seated) with the staff of Central Michigan University's Office for Institutional Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. (Photo courtesy of Central Michigan University.)

 

MANY ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS are drafting statements that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), but by their nature, these statements are very idealistic and aspirational. For that reason, I don’t think any school completely fulfills its diversity statement. What’s important is that everyone is engaged, everyone is a stakeholder, and everyone makes the effort.

That’s our approach at Central Michigan University (CMU) in Mount Pleasant, where our nondiscrimination statement highlights 24 types of human difference. With so many attributes to consider, we want to make sure everyone is working to promote DEI. That’s why, as of July 1, 2019, we started to ask all employees at CMU to report their activities in DEI during their annual performance reviews.

In addition, we have mobilized the University Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council, which includes representatives from each academic unit on campus. Each unit must have at least three DEI initiatives a year, and their progress will be measured and reported every June 30th. Last July, our academic units launched 68 diversity initiatives.

We want everyone to be responsible for making CMU’s community more welcoming and inclusive for all. Our comprehensive approach can be illustrated in how we address challenges faced by two marginalized populations, specifically: the LGBTQ community and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

SUPPORTING LGBTQ

Everyone seeks out an environment where they feel a sense of belonging, but the LGBTQ community has unique needs. Unlike people in other marginalized groups, very few members of the LGBTQ community come from LGBTQ families; in some cases, the family dynamic can be very fraught. This is different from other identities, where one’s immediate family is a source of cultural support or knowledge.

Tragically, many LGBTQ individuals have become used to being socially excluded—especially transgender students, whose gender identity can be in a state of transition that others don’t understand. We want to help them develop a sense of confidence—what’s often referred to as “pride”—so that they can be fully themselves.

There isn’t one way to be LGBTQ— different people have different needs—so we deliberately offer a variety of modes of service. For example, when I first arrived, a committee was just finishing its work on adopting a new name policy, so that people can use their preferred names. We want to have allies on campus who are trained in working with this group. We also do symbolic activities such as recognize important days: Last November, we recognized Transgender Remembrance Day, and in June, we flew the Pride flag on our main campus flagpole for the first time.

We have an Office of LGBTQ Services that offers a number of programs, as well as several groups that students can join to find community. Some groups are confidential and anonymous, because some students are not ready to be public with their identities or social situations.

Finally, we recognize that our attention to LGBTQ issues should be more than extracurricular. We also must give serious consideration to queer studies as an academic area of expertise. Currently, CMU’s program in women and gender studies draws faculty from other disciplines who teach in the department as a secondary appointment. The university is about to advertise a position for a scholar in feminist and queer theory who also will help build the department, and we plan eventually to hire additional faculty with LGBTQ+ expertise.

CONNECTING TRIBE AND TOWN

CMU is located in a region with a significant Native American population— specifically, members of the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe (SCIT). SCIT includes more than 3,000 citizens, and its tribal government is located in Mount Pleasant. Given the university’s proximity to this population, we sponsor many “tribe-town-gown” events in order to make tribal customs and culture a more integral part of our campus.

For example, in early June, we jointly sponsor an annual “Honoring, Healing, and Remembering” event led by the tribe to commemorate the Indian Industrial Boarding School, which did so much harm in its attempt to force Native American children to assimilate to Western culture. We hold large public powwows on CMU’s campus in March, similar to those that the SCIT holds on its tribal powwow grounds in July.

This year, for the first time, our commencement ceremony featured a traditional smudge blessing from a prominent member of the Tribal Council. At CMU, we also have added to most of our events what is called a land acknowledgement, a statement that recognizes indigenous people as the original stewards of the land and acknowledges their traditional territories. We have started displaying the SCIT flag on occasions and had the tribe represented among the flag bearers on Veterans Day.

Many of our students do internships with various tribal entities, such as the SCIT’s health system, education system, and after-school programs, as well as the Ziibiwing Center, the tribe’s beautiful museum and cultural center. Our researchers also work on joint projects with tribal members. For example, our archeology program has been doing extensive work at the site of the Indian school—in 2018, we successfully petitioned to have it recognized as a national historic site. And because SCIT representatives are especially interested in the impacts of addiction on the Native American community, we hold a joint Opioid Summit, now in its third year.

Recently, the tribe won a significant grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This grant will support a project in which our faculty will work with local public schools and tribal schools to study childhood trauma caused by the nation’s opioid crisis.

Members of the University Diversity and Inclusion Council currently meet quarterly with SCIT representatives to explore additional opportunities. I recently spoke with the director of the Ziibiwing Center about preparing a joint proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities, producing a video about the SCIT community to show to incoming students, and creating closer articulation agreements between the Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College and CMU.

BUILDING BRIDGES

Our initiatives that serve the LGBTQ+ community and SCIT illustrate our larger effort to help everyone on campus develop the skills to work across any human difference. Are the members of our community open to alternative viewpoints? Can they listen? Can they express themselves honestly? Can they empathetically consider other people’s views? If everyone is willing and able to treat others with a fundamental level of curiosity and respect, and view human differences as sources from which to learn and grow, we believe it doesn’t matter what differences they’re trying to bridge.

With that idea in mind, we started a program called Conversations That Matter in 2018. These are conversations over dinner about divisive topics. We’ve held one conversation about abortion; another was about gun rights and public safety. Everybody has come away saying, “I can’t believe I was able to sit and talk with people I profoundly disagree with. I recognize that they’re people and that we can learn from each other.”

The point is not to change anyone’s views, but to have these conversations in which everyone makes the effort to understand different perspectives. In the end, all of us fall into one or more categories of diversity, whether because of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, ability, or political affiliation. That means that our DEI efforts don’t just serve marginalized groups—they serve us all.

A.T. Miller is chief diversity officer at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Miller also shares his personal experience with diversity in "Diverse Voices, Personal Stories."

Read CMU’s diversity statement or find a link to the DEI initiatives launched by each unit at CMU.

This article originally appeared in BizEd's March/April 2020 issue. Please send questions, comments, or letters to the editor to bized.editors@aacsb.edu.




Related Reading

Driven by Difference

Creating a Sense of Belonging

Committing to Diversity

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The Inclusive Curriculum

Learning Other Cultures

Diverse Voices, Personal Stories

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