Members of the university and wider community gathered Monday to address ways U-M and other institutions can more effectively build partnerships outside the academy to drive positive social change.
The panel discussion titled “Social Transformation Through Public Engagement” also included breakout roundtable talks that addressed — and developed some ideas to solve — tough questions:
• How can universities create a more inclusive, two-way street with community partners so they can learn from each other?
• How can U-M and other institutions make it easier for community groups to come to them?
• What will it take to ensure young people of color not only can access U-M and other universities but thrive at them?
• How can universities remove internal barriers for scholars who want to publicly engage?
The event was part of the 2018 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Summit and was a collaboration among the National Center for Institutional Diversity, the Office of Academic Innovation, the Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and the Alumni Association.
Earl Lewis, professor of history and Afroamerican and African studies, and director of the Center for Social Solutions, moderated the panel discussion.
He recalled a time years ago when he brought U-M leaders to the city of Detroit to meet with community groups. People told the university they were tired of being research subjects and wanted to be full partners in the work.
“Ingrained in our institutions was a behavior pattern that didn’t always allow for the kind of innovation and creativity that was needed if we wanted to talk about public engagement,” he said.
Joining Lews on the panel were:
• Mary Jo Callan, director of the Edward Ginsberg Center at U-M.
• Abdul El-Sayed, former Democratic candidate for Michigan governor, and former executive director of the Detroit Health Department and health officer for the city of Detroit.
• Angela Reyes, executive director and founder of the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp.
• Jim Leija, director of education and community engagement at the University Musical Society.
• Luis Trelles, producer of Radio Ambulante at National Public Radio and a 2018 Knight-Wallace Fellow at U-M.
Each brought a unique perspective on how U-M and other universities can better build sustainable ties and communicate with various publics, create both diverse institutions and diverse partnerships, and exchange knowledge.
El-Sayed, who worked in academia prior to his public health and political career, said scientists tend to marginalize themselves by focusing too much on writing in academic journals that few people read and not enough on explaining the meaning of their work.
“What did you do to show the world what this means for real problems on the ground?” he asked.
Reyes, who has worked with U-M on community projects, said successful public scholarship has some things in common — transparency, keeping promises, sharing resources, and sharing credit.
“We had a say all along the way of what the research questions were going to be and how it was going to be disseminated,” she said.
Their panel discussion helped drive the talk at the individual roundtables that followed. Each table focused on a specific topic to help build stronger public engagement and DEI practices.
The community was asked to think about what the university would look like if the problem they discussed was solved, and to share three action steps U-M can take to overcome that problem.
“I am thrilled that U-M faculty, students and staff are finding creative and meaningful ways to enhance and unite our pursuits of greater public engagement and innovation in research and education,” said President Mark Schlissel.