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Week of June 10, 2013

Faculty Perspectives: Examining diversity and inclusion at University of Michigan

This past year the university’s Senate Assembly renamed the Committee for a Multicultural University (CMU) to the Committee for an Inclusive University (CIU). More specifically, CIU was asked to identify and assess the effectiveness of university policies, procedures and services supporting inclusion for faculty members in their faculty roles. This assessment invited a wide range of methods from conducting surveys to compiling reports that shed light on inclusion. From its work CIU was asked to identify concerns, best practices, and make recommendations that would delineate common values supportive of a healthy, innovative, inclusive research university.

CIU members found it to be an interesting albeit ambitious charge but necessary as evidenced by the recent (April 15) vote in Senate Assembly to support a resolution forwarded by the Senate Assembly’s Committee on University Values and championed by member, John Carson. This recent resolution was designed to promote specific efforts to improve the diverse composition of our student body. A few years back, former CMU Chair Rex Holland drew attention to concerning trends in under-represented minority faculty particularly in units that saw a serious decline in the diverse range of faculty of color representation. In both cases, attention was brought to the university community about an apparent loss of momentum to sustain and perhaps improve our commitment to a diverse learning environment.

As CIU chair, I thought about the road I traveled as an under-represented minority faculty member here at the University of Michigan. I am deeply humbled by this great university, the caliber of its administration and exceptional faculty. I know that the sustenance is in our creative energy, insatiable curiosity, and ability to engage in systematic scholarship that builds on new knowledge. The incentive structure fully supports these qualities but not without transformative consequences. Successful faculty at the University of Michigan seek (and thrive in an incentive structure that rewards) being expert and authoritative. I recently heard a speaker refer to us as “elite.” In annual reviews faculty convey the image of being autonomous and productive. And herein rests a concern about goals of diversity and inclusion. In our individual efforts we rely on our uniqueness and maintain an epistemic privilege that may be thoughtful of others but not necessarily inclusive of the thoughts of others. It would be comparable to the way I differentiate being an expert and demonstrating expertise. The expert knows what he or she knows; expertise is the process of knowing and an invitation to learn with others.

A former doctoral student of mine, Dr. Roxanna Duntley-Matos, characterized the way we often move forward in promoting change without challenging structural barriers as “transformative complicity.” She might argue that we maintain a world-class image and perhaps reflect our value on diversity yet “get around” the barriers and obstructions that are proving to be impediments to a sustained commitment to diversity and inclusion. Indeed, we should ponder for a long moment about how compatible our goals of diversity and inclusion are (and the way we go about developing and sustaining them) in relationship to the value placed on being an expert and authoritative or elite. Are we “getting around” diversity and inclusion, while remaining exclusive?

This year CIU was uniquely challenged to undertake an exploration into uncovering processes and mechanisms that either support or pose barriers and obstacles to diversity and inclusion. While we spent much of our time in awe of the agenda, we did engage in very important discussions about the definitions of inclusion and diversity, and how a focus on inclusion might move us forward in our commitment to diversity.

So what do we mean by diversity? In CIU we resolved that diversity is complex but definable. It refers to differences in race, color, national origin, age, SES, marital status, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, disability, religion, height, weight or veteran status. We discussed the intersectionality of these identities beyond individual stereotyped social identity categories. We included in our definition the disparate experiences and visions our differences bring to the academy. We acknowledged our different ways of acquiring, generating, cultivating, communicating and expressing knowledge. Consistent with the Senate Assembly’s recent resolution to support diversity in student composition, we believe that successful inclusion must make explicit the many ways in which diversity is woven into the fabric of every academic unit and the university, beyond the student body.

And what do we mean by inclusion? CIU members agree that inclusion refers to active, intentional, and ongoing efforts to invite, admit, engage with, represent, affirm and integrate all diverse members and their interests (e.g., scientific, creative, social and cultural) into knowledge development activities, curricula, co-curricular activities and service within the university and broader communities. In our framing of diversity and inclusion we are not so much valuing the expert as much as expertise. We find room to accept and embrace imperfections, value a sense of wonderment and curiosity, patience, and scholarship that encourages collaboration and shared learning.

In my own scholarship I’ve grown fond of the concept of cultural humility. In it, we bring ourselves to the academic table recognizing and critically assessing our own strengths and limitations. A cultural humility perspective advocates for an openness to differences and encourages us to accept our roles as both teacher and learner. Through cultural humility we appreciate the transcendence of cultural differences as they extend beyond the limits of our unique understanding. The academic enterprise, from this perspective, becomes committed to life-long learning that is inclusive; appreciating the fact that we know ourselves (both strengths and limitations), we appreciate others (and their differences) separate from ourselves, and admit that what we know is not all that is to be known. Evidence of inclusion and diversity from a cultural humility perspective will occur when we demonstrate a commitment to knowledge as an intentional process of engagement with differences and shared learning.

Admittedly, I am from the School of Social Work and greater emphasis is placed on “social” aspects of knowledge development. As faculty in a professional school, we are held to an accreditation standard that requires us to demonstrate our commitment to diversity in both our implicit and explicit curricula. Our accrediting body requires that we as professional educators, rightly so, make our efforts relevant to our increasingly diverse society — locally, state-wide, regionally, nationally and globally. This perspective fits nicely with the university’s mission to serve the people of Michigan and the world through preeminence in creating, communicating, preserving and applying knowledge, art, and academic values, and in developing leaders and citizens who will challenge the present and enrich the future.

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is at the core of our ability to engage in 21st century challenges and relevant scholarship as we see the landscape of our society rapidly changing. We ought to consider the ways in which we are held accountable as an institution to our mission and commitment to diversity and inclusion. We must learn from each other about what we do well, and critically examine the extent to which our complicity contributes to reminders in the form of Senate Assembly resolutions about who we are and what we represent (and with whom we represent). It is certainly the goal of CIU to explore this aspect and we look forward to the continued pursuit of our charge.


The Faculty Perspectives page is an outlet for faculty expression provided by the Senate Assembly. Prospective contributors are invited to contact the Faculty Perspectives Page Committee at faculty.perspectives.page@umich.edu. Essays are the opinion of the author. The chair this year is Annette Haines. Submissions are accepted in electronic form and are subject to review by the committee. Essay lengths are restricted to one full printed page in The University Record, or about 1,500 words.

READER COMMENTS (9) POST A COMMENT 
Posted by Tessa DeHaan | Sep 25, 2013
Your article is extremely interesting and thought provoking. When different theories are purposed on how to communicate and understand people I am excited to learn and grow within myself from them. Your ideas on cultural humility strike me as something that should be taught on a broader scale, not only for social workers but all public servants. I especially liked when you stated, "In it, we bring ourselves to the academic table recognizing and critically assessing our own strengths and limitations." This is important because being a successful social worker involves self awareness and knowing your personal values and attitudes. When being culturally humble one must understand what they already know as well as utilizing what we continue to learn through our various clients and who we meet along our career path and life. It is a value that many of us must embrace in order to be a part of a well rounded global society.
Posted by Jessica Kuntz | Sep 24, 2013
Thank you Dr. Ortega for writing this wonderful piece. Cultural competence and cultural humility are all things that we strive for and would all like to believe that we are experts on understanding them. Just like you said "encourage us to accept our roles as both teacher and learner," To be able to fully become "experts" on cultural humility and cultural competence we need to be both a teacher and a learner.
Posted by Brittany Fenner | Sep 22, 2013
Thank you for this thought provoking article. As a current student of Dr. Matos, I am currently learning about the concept of cultural humility. On the surface it looks to be a easy concept to wrap my head around, but upon further reflection it has forced me to really examine my own thought processes in regards to how I have been taught to interact with those who are not like me. Thank you for helping look through another lens.
Posted by Melinda McCormick | Jul 3, 2013
Dr. Ortega, thank you for sharing this thoughtful piece on what it means to be truly inclusive in academia. The concept of cultural competence, while well-intentioned, has troubled me for some time, and I find the idea of cultural humility much more expansive and respectful. I find myself pondering a couple of statements you made, in particular. The first is: "We find room to accept and embrace imperfections, value a sense of wonderment and curiosity, patience, and scholarship that encourages collaboration and shared learning." I don't think I've ever heard this sentiment presented in higher education, and I am struck by how powerful it is. It feels like a worthy goal and an important consideration for those of us committed to being inclusive in our work. The second statement which resonates with me is: "Evidence of inclusion and diversity from a cultural humility perspective will occur when we demonstrate a commitment to knowledge as an intentional process of engagement with differences and shared learning." I appreciate this call to engage with difference and pursue shared learning, and I think more reminders of this should be present in university cultures. Finally, I'm glad to know these kinds of discussions are happening among faculty in higher education. It gives me hope that we are moving towards becoming a more inclusive society.
Posted by Liz Brass | Jun 27, 2013
Dr. Ortega, Thank you for writing this article. One of the pieces that stuck out to me was toward the end where you brought up being a professor of the School of Social Work. You display how the integrity of social work is unique in comparison to other fields of study. Not only this, you do so by moving from the individual (yourself) outward, to the school, to the university, and then to the state of Michigan. This systemic view is again a unique aspect of social work. Thank you for putting into action the themes of which our field is based on and for integrating cultural humility seamlessly into your everyday experiences.
Posted by Roxanna Duntley-Matos | Jun 22, 2013
Dr. Ortega, gracias… There is no greater honor for students than to have their work recognized by their mentors. I am humbled and grateful for your high expectations and support throughout my graduate and post graduate career. You are truly deserving of the 2013 Council of Social Work Education’s Recent Contribution Award you received for your work on cultural humility. As your mentee, you have immersed me in the difficult yet crucial process that such an ideological alignment entails. You, along with Dr. Lorraine Gutierrez’ work on empowerment, have taught generations of students that there are certain risks worth taking even at the cost of exclusion and institutional silence. You have also introduced us to the growing literature produced in the fields of medicine, nursing and psychology that are “tracking the ethical harms” (Robison & Reesser, 2000) of “cultural competence” (Ortega & Faller, 2011; Ortega, 2013, Went & Gone; 2011). As a graduate of the Joint Program in Social Work and Anthropology, it is clear to me that the idea of “cultural competence” from an anthropological perspective is untenable (Hale, Charles, 2006). In other words it defeats, through semantic intervention, the goal it alleges to achieve: “the ability to interact effectively with other cultures.” The notions of “effectiveness” and “competence” are loaded in institutional and power-laden connotations and imply a definable, quantifiable and acceptable limit of “objective” information necessary for cultural engagement and responsiveness. Creating a more inclusive university, requires us to go beyond the “look of inclusion” to the “praxis of inclusion”: one that reminds us, in the very essence of the terms we use, that we must constantly question our ability to understand the experiences of others, and that we must open our academic homes and hearts to them even when they jar against our own. We must be willing to change customary practices that are comfortable, but unresponsive. As you are so apt to say, we must ask students and colleagues to “help us help them in their worlds.” This requires a moral stance to make bureaucratic and structural changes that reveal a profound commitment to the emotional, intellectual, social and professional well being of every one of our colleagues, mentees and supervisees. How can we justify the attrition of so many under-represented students and faculty who were accepted because they were “exceptional?” How can we explain their loss when they have come to our institution to do emancipatory research with, and about, their populations of origin which have suffered the most violent of injustices; genocide, racism, sexism, poverty, ostracism, and neglect? Their attrition or ongoing discontent is a reminder of how far we must still travel to reach the true excellence required of a public-serving educational institution. It is a sign of the gap between what we say we do and what we actually do with regards to creating inclusive diversity. It is only through employing a practice of cultural humility and “tracking the harms” that we cause (with an active and ongoing commitment to decrease them) that we can create a more inviting and humane academic environment. What shared and individual risks are we willing to take to reduce our complicity and increase our positive transformative engagement? Duntley-Matos, R. (2011) Transformative accomplices: Multicultural community organizing in a transnational educational context. Dissertation Abstracts International, DAI-A 73/04, Oct 2012. (University Microforms No. 3492727). Duntley-Matos, R., Way, I. (2013) Cultural Genograms: Promoting Cultural Humility, Awareness of Intersecting Identities, and Transformative Complicity as Prerequisites to Culturally Responsive Health Services. First Interdisciplinary Conference, Diversity and Inclusion: Preparing Ourselves to Advance Health Equity. Western Michigan University. Hale, Charles. (2006) Activist Research v. Cultural Critique: Indigenous Land Rights and the Contradictions of Politically Engaged Anthropology. Cultural Anthropology. Vol. 21, pp. 96-120. 2006 Ortega, R. M., & Faller, K. C. (2011). Training child welfare workers from an intersectional cultural humility perspective: A paradigm shift. Child Welfare, 90(5), 27-49. Ortega, R. M. (February 19, 2013) Cultural Humility, Child Welfare and Community Organizing among Latinos. Western Michigan University School of Social Work Seminar. Robinson, Wade & Reeser, Linda (2000) “Ethics in Social Work: Tracking Harms” in Ethical Decision Making in Social Work. Allyn and Bacon. Boston, pp. 1-25.
Posted by Lorraine Gutierrez | Jun 13, 2013
I hope that the important work of this group is supported and sustained. Your framing of these issues moves forward our discourse.
Posted by John Carson | Jun 12, 2013
This is a wonderful piece about the challenges and importance of diversity in all its meanings and manifestations. I love the notion of "cultural humility" and the reminder that an over-investment in being elite can produce a kind of "epistemic privilege" that marginalizes approaches and people that are different.
Posted by Jim Toy | Jun 10, 2013
Thank you, Dr. Ortega and CIU. "Cultural humility" needs to be our watchword. "Cultural competence" can be striven for, yet it cannot be authentically attained.


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