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Reflections and Plans: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Graduate Education at U-M

Mark Kamimura-Jiménez

My name is Mark Kamimura-Jiménez and I am a proud Rackham alum. My experience as a graduate student at U-M was supported by engaged staff, faculty, alumni, and most importantly a community of student peers that sustained me academically, professionally and socially. Many of our alums and I share a journey through graduate school that had its fair share of challenges, and that is the reason why I want to share with you the efforts being made on campus, and specifically by Rackham, to foster a diverse, inclusive and equitable environment for graduate students at U-M today.

I now serve as the Assistant Dean of Programs, Initiatives and Diversity at the Rackham Graduate School and have been integrally involved in the development of Rackham’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. This plan represents Rackham’s component of U-M’s comprehensive efforts to improve the campus climate in these areas.

Rackham has a really strong history of producing Ph.D.s of color; we have been the place to study regardless of discipline – a STEM field, social sciences, or the humanities. If you wanted to be on the cutting edge, this is where you came. For students of color, this was also a place where our experiences were valued. The faculty and administration were literally engaged in a battle to defend the importance of diversity and its contribution to the academic experience – that is why I chose Michigan. In conversations with alumni today, we all say the same thing – we chose U-M because diversity was valued here. As students of color, we were supported by Rackham in its entirety, making sure that our experiences were not marginalized but centered on students within the University. This effort at Rackham continues to grow through our programs.

Historical Context

Since 2006, the manner in which we were able to recruit and attract students of color was challenged with the passing of Proposition 2 in the State of Michigan. However, the Rackham Graduate School has developed programs and initiatives to enhance recruitment and support of a diverse student body. Our numbers represent our commitment: numerically, we have more underrepresented minority students pursuing Ph.D.s than ever in U-M’s history. We are forging a new path to continuing to increase the graduate program diversity in a number of dimensions with the help of many alumni, students, staff and faculty.

Over the last decade, Rackham has developed many new programs that address the experiences and intersectional identities of students. The inclusive environment that we aimed to achieve meant we needed to step out and look at developing new ways of providing support to our students and our faculty. This has come in the form of Faculty Allies for Diversity, MORE, Bridge to the Doctorate, and development of the Rackham Merit Fellow Program into something that encompasses not just a funded experience but an invested experience. We are looking more deeply at integrating graduate students into the work that we do, making Rackham a place they see as a hub of resources from start to finish which include professional development and other opportunities to support their research.

The Plan

In developing the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, we grounded our plan in the experiences of our students. We held community forums with graduate students, incorporated faculty and staff into the process and integrated the use of student data to develop our initiatives. The development of this plan is also a reflection of many years of relationship building with our students, piloting new programs and opening opportunities to enrich their academic experience. We believe that whatever your role at Rackham, it is your job to support our graduate students. For our students Rackham is more than a building or a funding mechanism, it is a destination for success.

When considering the future of Rackham, our goal is to address the diversity, equity, and inclusion needs of graduate education both to enrich U-M graduate programs and because what we do here at U-M affects the whole country. The Rackham Graduate School is one of the largest producers of doctorates in the United States. Many of our alumni go on to be faculty and teach at other institutions, others will be leaders in industry and the public sector. That’s why our plan is really important.

Our strategic plan focuses on four major areas:

Recruitment

At our core, we must recruit the best students. Former U-M Provost Martha Pollack said, “You can’t hear diverse perspectives if you’re not part of a diverse community.” It’s critical that we are bringing all those experiences, identities, and perspectives to our classrooms, research labs and intellectual community of Rackham.

High Quality Academic and Professional Environment

We are doing things to provide our faculty and staff with the tools they need to engage our graduate students who are coming from all over the world. In addition, we cannot take for granted that our students are also getting the kind of diversity education from their undergraduate experiences. We want them to step out into their careers prepared to take on the critical issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Retention

Retention is often misunderstood. At various points in their graduate career, our students can choose to stay here or go elsewhere. Retention is not about giving them the skills to meet the academic rigors of their program, rather it’s about providing them with a place and space that recognizes, respects and includes who they are as an entire, holistic person. Rackham is ensuring our policies are in line with inclusion, equity and diversity ideals on a fundamental level.

Service, Partnership and Collaboration

Rackham is in a unique situation in that we are partners with all of our schools and colleges. What we do in the graduate school has an impact on every department in every college. We are also the place where students become Rackham alumni and we want to make sure we are connecting to that future. We want students to understand that when they come to U-M, the community they join reaches beyond their experience here. This is a community that extends into our students’ professional lives and throughout their career. We want this to be a community that says Rackham is home.

The Future

This has happened to me so many times – the discovery of instant community when you meet another Michigan alum. It’s because we have a shared experience, an affinity for maize and blue; we are Leaders and Best – change agents in our fields and professions. In the future, I hope it is also because we share the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. Given my position today and knowing my experience 15 years ago as a student of color from Southern California, I know U-M and Rackham is well positioned to shift the campus climate. A lot has changed since then, but one thing remains: leadership does not come without challenges, nor does it happen alone. At Rackham we are teaming up with our student organizations and partners from around the campus to lead this change together.

I invite you to participate in Rackham’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan. Each page has a feedback section at the bottom, and we welcome your constructive thoughts, ideas and input.

My experience as a student may have been very different than yours. We learn the most from each other and from sharing our experiences. If you would like to share yours, please e-mail rackham.alums@umich.edu.

Thank you and Go Blue!
Mark Kamimura-Jimenez
Assistant Dean of Programs, Initiatives and Diversity

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