Social Justice Action Committee report

The death of George Floyd and last summer's ensuing demonstrations ignited a cry across the nation to combat social injustice. While the focus of the protests was primarily on policing, the responsibility for promoting social justice and ending systemic racism does not stop there. All organizations and institutions must examine themselves, take concrete steps to identify and eliminate biases, and commit to creating a culture that ensures fair treatment for all. This includes higher education, and Wayne State University.

Promoting justice and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are not new commitments for Wayne State University. Diversity and Inclusion is a cornerstone cultural value, and a key focus area in the university's 2016-21 strategic plan. In recent years, Wayne State has focused on creating a more welcoming and inclusive environment and on developing innovative programs and opportunities for student access and success. In February of 2015, the university appointed its first Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer. The Office of Multicultural Student Engagement (OMSE) — which has become vital to facilitating a campus atmosphere that recognizes and celebrates diversity — was launched in November 2015.

Early in 2018, the university conducted a climate survey to gauge inclusivity on campus and identify opportunities for improvement. Learning from that survey continues to be applied, for example, in hiring processes that build a more engaged, multicultural workforce. New admission policies and programs like the Heart of Detroit Tuition Pledge, Warrior Way Back and the HIGH Program support students — disproportionately from underrepresented and financially disadvantaged communities — in their academic pursuits. Even before last summer's events made issues of policing and social justice central to the national conversation, the Wayne State University Police Department was appointed headquarters for the National De-escalation Training Center, which seeks to reduce conflict and avoid potential tragic scenarios for citizens and officers.

These initiatives have contributed to substantial improvements in graduation rates and in enrollment from the Black community. But the commitment to social justice must not stop there. Wayne State University will continue its self-assessment and build upon lessons learned to foster a culture that celebrates and supports people from all walks of life. This includes listening to the many voices and concerns that are raised regarding social justice, and taking decisive action to eradicate inequities. There have been notable advancements, but there is always more that can be done if we maintain the willingness to listen, and the courage to change.

To that end, in June of 2020, Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson created the Social Justice Action Committee (SJAC) to drive cultural change and further the university's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. For nearly eight months, the committee — composed of more than 80 individuals throughout the Wayne State community divided into seven working groups — examined the university's policies, procedures and practices to identify and eliminate biases that may disproportionately disadvantage people from historically marginalized communities. This required rigorous analysis, honest self-assessment, and a commitment to take the necessary actions to bring about change.

The SJAC recently completed its internal report, which includes specific and detailed recommendations in the immediate, medium and long terms that will advance social justice and equity at Wayne State University. Some of its overarching themes include:  

  • Support the success of every student
  • Boldly declare WSU's social justice mission
  • Eliminate implicit bias in decision-making
  • Facilitate just hiring and retention
  • Expand education and training on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Proactive listening, dialogues and campus conversations
  • Ongoing assessments, transparency in reporting, and continuous improvements in all operations
  • Greater justice in administrative policies, processes and procedures

The information that follows includes key recommendations from the various working groups that support these themes, as well as additional context concerning the formation of the SJAC and its organization. The full internal report provides additional detail about the committee's long- and short-term recommendations. Just as this report builds upon Wayne State's ongoing work in fostering a diverse and inclusive campus community, the university will build on these recommendations to ensure a diverse, equitable and inclusive campus environment. The recommendations from the SJAC will also inform the work of Wayne State's next five-year strategic plan, the development of which will commence in the near future.

Committee overview, charge and composition

The Social Justice Action Committee (SJAC) was established to drive cultural change and foster a climate of inclusion and equity throughout the university, making Wayne State a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion. The committee was charged to: "(1) examine internal policies, procedures, and practices to identify and eliminate bias throughout the Wayne State University campus that may disproportionately disadvantage historically marginalized peoples, and (2) recommend specific actions for consideration of immediate, medium, and long-term implementation to advance social justice and equity for historically marginalized peoples at Wayne State University."

The SJAC membership included positional leaders as well as influencers, communicators and informal leaders. To the extent possible, membership was balanced in terms of racial/ethnic diversity and gender diversity. Each working group was led by a chair or co-chairs. The SJAC's leadership group comprised working group chairs, the president of the Academic Senate, the provost, the chief of staff, WSU Board of Governors member Shirley Stancato and President Wilson. Other members of the president's executive leadership team, as well as other campus leaders, were invited to meet with the SJAC on an ad hoc basis.

The SJAC was subdivided into seven working groups, two of which — Campus Climate and Intercultural Training and Education — were already established and operational. Associate Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer Marquita Chamblee served as an ex-officio member of and advisor to each working group and convened the SJAC leadership group. The working groups and their charges are as follows:

Hiring and retention of diverse faculty

This working group was charged with examining internal policies, procedures and practices to identify bias throughout the Wayne State University campus that may disproportionately affect historically disadvantaged and marginalized people with respect to hiring and retention of faculty.

Working group co-chairs: 

  • Boris Baltes, Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs and Associate Vice President of Academic Personnel
  • Nikki Wright, Assistant Vice President and Director, Office of Equal Opportunity

Working group members:

  • Basim Dubaybo, Vice Dean for Faculty Affairs, School of Medicine
  • Sara Kacin, Associate Provost for Faculty Development and Faculty Success and Director, Office of Teaching and Learning
  • Kimberly Schroeder, Lecturer and Career Advisor, School of Information Sciences
  • Neelima Thati, Assistant Professor-Clinical and Internal Medicine Associate Program Director
  • Nicole Trujillo Pagan, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies
  • Clay Walker, Ph.D., Lecturer, English Composition, Department of English
  • Lisa Ze Winters, Associate Professor, African American Studies and English

Hiring and retention of diverse staff

Similar to the work of the faculty group, this group conducted a critical examination of policies, procedures, practices and processes for identifying, recruiting, hiring and retaining diverse staff, particularly focused on strategies for advancement. The needs of nonacademic support staff – many of whom are from underrepresented groups – were an integral part of the work of this group.         

Working group chair:

Carolyn Hafner, Associate Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer

Members:

  • Carmen Albert, Senior Human Resources Consultant
  • Dawn Aziz, Director, Organization and Employee Development
  • Tacara Donaldson, Talent Management Coordinator
  • Kim Easley, Alumni Relations Officer
  • Mildred Fuller, Human Resources Consultant
  • DeShaun Harris, Director, Medical Student Services, School of Medicine
  • Tanisha Hodges, Financial Manager
  • Heather Howell, Manager of Administrative Services, Educational Outreach
  • Barbara Jones, Financial Aid Officer III
  • Marcia Lovett, Director, Human Resources and Data and Technology
  • Deborah McCrory, Human Resources Consultant
  • Jonathan Parks, Manager, KCP/GEAR UP
  • Sherry Pruitt, Human Resources Consultant
  • Vanessa Reynolds, University Counselor III, Admissions
  • Juan Richardson, Director, Edge Network, Computing and Information Technology
  • Anita Rodgers, Manager, Payroll
  • Antonio Yancey, Associate Vice President of Research

Student access and success

The Student Access and Success Working Group examined recruitment, admissions, retention and graduation processes for undergraduate, graduate and professional students.

Working group co-chairs:

  • Monica Brockmeyer, Senior Associate Provost for Student Success
  • Ingrid Guerra-Lopez, Interim Dean, College of Education

Members:                

  • Benjamin Blumenstein, Undergraduate Student Representative
  • R. Khari Brown, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
  • Tim Butler, Faculty Athletics Representative and Associate Professor, Global Supply Chain Management
  • Taylor Ester, Law School student
  • Darryl Gardner, Director, Student Success Operational Excellence
  • Stephanie Hawkes, Assistant Director, Office of Multicultural Student Engagement
  • Ericka Matthews Jackson, Senior Director, Office of Undergraduate Admissions
  • Cathy Kay, Senior Director, Office of Financial Aid
  • Sharon Lean, Associate Dean for Student Success, Graduate School
  • Joey Lemelin, Undergraduate Student Representative
  • Dawn Medley, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management
  • Cedric Mutebi, M1 Medical Student
  • Erin Perry, graduate student and Dean's Diversity Fellow
  • Harman Preet Singh, Academic Advisor, Department of Psychology
  • Tiffany Treadwell, Adult Learner Representative, Development Office
  • Taylor Wagner, Student Athletics Representative, WSU Student-Athletic Advisory Committee

Policing

The working group was charged with examination of current policies, procedures and practices of Wayne State law enforcement officers and exploration of the engagement of the Wayne State University Police Department with the campus community as well as the external communities surrounding the campus and making recommendations for positive engagement with these communities.

Working group chair:

Victor Green, Director of Community Affairs

Members:

  • Yvette Griffin, community member and Pastor, Pilgrim Baptist Church
  • Anthony Holt, Chief, WSU Public Safety
  • Maxine Hudgins, Office of Federal Trio
  • Amy Lammers, Assistant General Counsel
  • Marcus Meade, graduate student representative and member, Student Senate
  • Brad Smith, Professor and Chair, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Steve Spreitzer, Executive Director, Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion
  • Alice Thompson, community member; Third Vice President, Detroit Branch of the NAACP; and former CEO, Black Family Development Inc.  
  • Yuning "Bonnie" Wu, Ph.D. and LL.B., Associate Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice

Intercultural education and training

Development of educational experiences (training) around issues of implicit bias in hiring and retention, race and racism, and other DEI-related issues. Identification of internal and external resources and development of intercultural education curricula using local expertise. This strategic initiative is aligned with the mission and values of the university as outlined in its strategic plan.

Working group chair:

Donyale Padgett, Associate Professor, Department of Communication

Members:

  • Stephanie Hawkes, Assistant Director, Office of Multicultural Student Engagement
  • Ollie Johnson, Chair and Professor, Department of African American Studies
  • Barbara L. Jones, Community Dispute Resolution Specialist, Center for Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Carly Lesoski, eLearning Specialist, Office of Teaching and Learning
  • Jennifer M. Lewis, Associate Professor, Math Education and Director, TeachDETROIT
  • De'Andrea Matthews, former Director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, School of Medicine
  • Padmaja Rao, Associate Director, Career Services
  • Anabel Stoeckle, Postdoctoral Fellow, Office of Teaching and Learning
  • Sharon Tse, Organizational and Employee Development Consultant, Human Resources

Campus climate issues

Monitor and use quantitative and qualitative data from the Diversity Campus Climate Study; other surveys, interviews, and focus groups; and institutional research data to determine the state of the campus climate for DEI issues. Raise concerns from the data to share with other working groups.

Working group chair:

Loraleigh Keashly, Associate Dean, College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, and Professor of Communications

Members:

  • Dawn Aziz, Director, Organization and Employee Development
  • Catherine Barrette, Director Assessment, Associate Professor, Department of Classical and Modern Literature, Languages, and Cultures
  • Carolyn Berry, Associate Vice President, Marketing and Strategic Planning
  • Krista Brumley, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
  • Mary Clark, Assistant Dean, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
  • Joseph Dunbar, Professor, Department of Physiology, School of Medicine
  • Lars Johnson, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
  • Elizabeth McQuillen, Manager, Faculty Affairs, Support and Data, College of Nursing
  • Leah Robinson, Interim Director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, School of Medicine
  • Carolyn Shields, Professor, College of Education
  • Jennifer Wareham, Associate Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice

University DEI initiatives

Review and evaluate initiatives that the university has undertaken to promote DEI and equity throughout the university and within schools/colleges. Identify further initiatives and specific actions that should be undertaken to accelerate the achievement of a more inclusive and equitable campus.

Working group chair:

Sheryl Kubiak, Dean, School of Social Work

Members:

  • Jon Cawthorne, Dean, School of Information Sciences and WSU Libraries
  • Simone Chess, Associate Professor, Dept of English, Director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies Program
  • Heidi Coates, Assistant Vice President, Corporate and Foundation Relations
  • John Corvino, Dean, Honors College
  • Kenneth Doherty, Associate Vice President, Procurement and Strategic Sourcing
  • Billicia Hines, Assistant Chair and Co-Artistic Director of the Black Theatre and Dance Collective, and Associate Professor in the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance  
  • Lela Jimenez, student member, Student Coalition for Social Change
  • Kamilia Landrum, Executive Director, Detroit Branch of the NAACP
  • Leonard Savala, Director, Office of Multicultural Student Engagement
  • William Shuster, Professor, Chair Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Herbert Smitherman, Vice Dean of Diversity and Community Affairs, School of Medicine
  • Emily Thompson, Director, Economic and Community Development
  • Mary Zatina, General Manager, WDET

Themes and recommendations

After examining procedures, policies and practices at Wayne State University, the SJAC working groups created multiple short-, medium- and long-term recommendations to support social justice. Key themes build upon the university's current DEI work, and implementation of a number of recommendations — including creation of a DEI Council, expansion of space for the Office of Multicultural Student Engagement (OMSE) and hiring an additional position in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion — has been initiated. Other recommendations will be implemented based on priority and available resources, and all will inform the development of the university's five-year strategic plan, which will take place during the remainder of 2021.

DEI Council: Key to implementation of the SJAC recommendations is the formation of a DEI Council. Composed of faculty, staff and student representatives from across the university, the council will collaborate with the president, the chief diversity officer, department heads and university deans to prioritize SJAC recommendations and develop strategies for implementation. The council will be crucial to addressing each of the following themes.

Support the success of every student: Students are more likely to succeed when the university critically examines and eradicates unnecessary barriers and provides an inclusive environment. As student success is at the heart of Wayne State's mission, all of the SJAC's recommendations ultimately support this theme. Wayne State has made notable strides in improving the success of underrepresented students in graduation rates, retention and career readiness, and has provided greater access to underrepresented students through novel financial aid programs and pipeline programs. However, a persistent gap in the success of Black students in comparison to white students must be eliminated. Several recommendations focus on this inequity and on assuring that all students have access to enhanced opportunities and support throughout their academic careers.

Recommendations

  • Examine the role of — and possibly eliminate — standardized testing in admission procedures to allow greater access to a Wayne State education for students from marginalized communities.
  • Examine race and other differences in student success outcomes, understand why equity gaps persist, and develop and implement strategies to reduce these disparities.
  • Make peer and faculty mentoring, as well as professional development opportunities, available early in students' undergraduate education to cultivate interest in graduate or professional school.

Boldly declare WSU's social justice mission: Wayne State must crystallize its long-standing and continued commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and share it throughout the campus and broader communities. This will be an explicit and bold declaration that assures all individuals that they are valued at Wayne State and that the university is taking appropriate, tangible steps to ensure inclusivity. Creating this message will not only clarify WSU's commitment to social justice; it will also create accountability.

Recommendations

  • Create a strong value statement — approved by the Board of Governors and president — that underscores Wayne State's dedication to diversity and inclusion and welcomes diverse conversations across all areas of the university.
  • Develop a communication plan for all channels to share this message across the campus community and throughout the region.
  • Foster opportunities to discuss and further this message through campus dialogues, signage, interviews and social media outlets.

Eliminate implicit bias in decision-making: Although unintentional, implicit bias creates invisible barriers to social justice and advancement. Wayne State University must cultivate an atmosphere that helps all community members understand bias and make the necessary changes to ensure fair and equitable decisions.

Recommendations

  • Analyze current practices and encourage intentional decision-making that mitigates — and even eliminates — implicit bias.
  • Institute implicit bias training at all levels to help faculty and staff identify ingrained biases; understand how these biases may affect how they teach, work and interact with others; and develop tools to correct and move beyond those biases.
  • Require all Wayne State University Police Department officers to take MCOLES-approved implicit bias training.

Facilitate just hiring and retention: Wayne State's commitment to diversity and inclusion extends to its faculty and staff. Offering fair hiring and retention processes, as well as opportunities for advancement and promotion for all members of the Wayne State community, is essential to creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable campus. A diverse faculty also benefits students, providing a variety of viewpoints and representation throughout the university's academic units.

Recommendations  

  • Implement mandatory initial intake meetings at the beginning of a vacancy, as well as exit interviews with all faculty and staff to determine their reasons for leaving positions.
  • Place clinical faculty and lecturers on search committees, create "diversity advocates" to ensure fair hiring practices, and require departments to use diverse resources to recruit and consider candidates from underrepresented groups.
  • Require all interviewers and hiring managers to take implicit bias training and collaborate with HR to develop interview questions and objective evaluation metrics for all positions, and require all search committee members to attend every interview and agree to evaluation metrics.

Expand education and training: Social justice is an ongoing commitment, and Wayne State must foster an ongoing dedication to improving DEI understanding and ensuring all members of the campus community have the tools and opportunities to succeed.

Recommendations

  • Identify a network of mentors across campus for students, faculty and staff to support students from underrepresented communities.
  • Examine and leverage current formal and informal learning opportunities, and encourage ongoing professional development.
  • Expand the Office of Multicultural Student Engagement, both in terms of physical space and personnel.
  • Cultivate learning and development communities that provide opportunities for continued personal development for faculty and staff, as well as continued communication and training to build awareness of diversity and opportunities for growth.

Proactive listening, dialogues and campus conversations: Creating a socially just campus culture requires ongoing, intentional opportunities to listen, engage, discuss, and — when necessary — change. Members of marginalized communities must feel welcome to share their struggles and perspectives, and all members of the campus community must be given opportunities to have their biases, privileges and long-held beliefs challenged.

Recommendations

  • Conduct an ongoing campus climate study that builds upon the 2018 study to continually assess the successes and challenges of advancing DEI at Wayne state.
  • Facilitate proactive opportunities for dialogues and learning communities that allow students, faculty and staff to discuss issues of diversity and inclusion openly and honestly.
  • Create broader opportunities for book clubs, lectures and guest speakers that invite critical conversations, challenge individuals to examine their ingrained biases, and maintain awareness of the university's ongoing and evolving social justice needs.

Ongoing assessments, transparency in reporting, and continuous improvements in all operations: A commitment to social justice must be woven into the fabric of Wayne State University's operations. This includes not only the creation of policies supporting social justice and the university's diversity, equity and inclusion goals, but also methods for students, faculty and staff to report when they feel they have been a victim of bias, discrimination or hostility, and tools that allow the university to respond and track its improvement.

Recommendations

  • Continued analysis of training, documentation and reporting at all levels to ensure fairness and equity.
  • Create a central DEI reporting and responding office responsible for initiating bias training, updating existing reporting processes and complaints, communicating reporting timelines and processes, and tracking all DEI-related incidents and complaints.
  • Update the Office of Institutional Research and Analysis' Diversity Dashboard to include key data across student composition, engagement, inclusion, and achievement.

Greater justice in administrative policies, processes and procedures: All processes and practices must be examined and adjusted to ensure that students, faculty and staff from marginalized communities have opportunities to thrive. Wayne State must proactively create processes and requirements that allow the university to offer access to opportunities for all community members and constantly affirm its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.

Recommendations

  • Engage in the Michigan Association of Police Chiefs accreditation process, which will include a complete review of the policies and procedures for compliance with applicable law and will ensure best practices in the WSU Police Department.
  • Implement a policy requiring DEI goals for all management personnel to create an inclusive culture that actively trains, develops, retains and promotes individuals from underrepresented groups.
  • Develop student success reports and improvement plans that include equity gaps and targeted improvement initiatives.

Conclusion

Over the past year, protests across the country and stories of increased violence toward members of minority communities have only underscored the need to bring an end to systemic racism and social injustice. Individuals must examine themselves honestly to identify their own biases and prejudices, but organizations must also take hard looks at their own policies and practices, identify barriers that prevent all members from thriving, and correct them. Higher education is not exempt, nor is Wayne State.

As noted, implementation of several short-term recommended actions of the SJAC has begun.  Others require further planning and/or funding, and will be implemented as soon as feasible. The inclusion of the word "action" in the SJAC's title is intentional. Too often, organizations observe, analyze and stop. For Wayne State to be true to its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, it must move beyond analysis and take the necessary actions. That is what we will do.