By Hillary Anchill
Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

“No one in the world knows exactly how much OAMI does,” says Rachel Dawson, the Office of Academic and Multicultural Initiatives’ (OAMI) executive director, attempting to detail the organization’s vast impact. “OAMI’s menu of programs is significant. People participate in our programs all the time, not realizing it’s OAMI work.”

Dawson began her tenure as Director in October 2023 as the organization celebrates its 35th anniversary. She is just the third leader of the organization, a testament to its strength in serving students from a variety of backgrounds across the University of Michigan. In its early days, OAMI focused on supporting prospective students with pre-college programming. Today, OAMI works directly with current U-M students by providing mentorship and tutoring, hosting the annual cultural graduation ceremonies and Martin Luther King, Jr. Symposium, providing a space where students can gather among peers, and so much more, including a renewed focus on developing student leaders. OAMI also employs approximately 80 students each year. 

First and foremost, though, is a focus on student—and academic—success across all OAMI initiatives. It’s also Dawson’s passion that brought her to the role. Retaining students from underrepresented backgrounds and supporting them through graduation is integral to all current programming.

Dawson, an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan in the early 1990s studying biology and political science, described that the “campus energy was vibrant. There was a strong presence of Black people being very active and visible.” She acknowledges that she reaped the benefits of the student activism of BAM III, which occurred in 1987, as well as the energy and attention that came to campus life with U-M basketball’s famous Fab Five.

“The year I graduated was the highest percentage of Black students [to date]. We had a small Black community; it was very close-knit. It was the pre-technology age. We didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t own computers—we went to the computer lab. So we all knew each other, we supported each other and built authentic, close-knit relationships. I felt included. I felt welcomed.” 

Although she did not know of OAMI during her tenure as a student, Dawson said she was very aware of the MLK Symposium, and was a student volunteer for its annual Unity March. 

Dawson thinks it’s more difficult now to be a student of color at U-M, with “dwindling enrollment numbers,” and “the divisive times in which we live,” citing “anti-DEI” and “anti-Blackness” in particular. That’s where OAMI comes in. Even though “Michigan has committed so many resources to create a campus climate of inclusion and belonging,” Dawson knows that students of all backgrounds struggle to find these comfortable spaces across a vast and decentralized campus. “We need to make the students feel that they’re caught in a web, a network of resources, and not lost in a circle of confusion. My hope is that the staff and faculty can make this less confusing for them and help them find the resources that are here to benefit them.”  

Despite this focus, Dawson notes that the first-generation student population is the largest group of students for whom OAMI provides support. These students, she says, are “mainly white and from rural Michigan,” dispelling the notion that OAMI is only a place for students of color. Those who are Hispanic, Native American, Middle Eastern and North African (MENA), Asian and Pacific Islander, and Undocumented, all have dedicated programs in OAMI. But as a Black woman leading OAMI, Dawson said that Black students are “a population I have concerns about. They are probably the population least engaged by OAMI. I intend to dedicate focused attention to reaching out to our Black students.” 

I’m here. I care. I see you. I hear you. I’m here for you. I was once one of you. Let’s build a relationship in OAMI for you.

She says specifically to them: “I’m here. I care. I see you. I hear you. I’m here for you. I was once one of you. Let’s build a relationship in OAMI for you.” 

At a time when campus support is needed more than ever for students from a multiplicity of backgrounds, Dawson could not be more energized about the work she has ahead. “OAMI is going to help students be successful at Michigan. We’re going to retain them at Michigan, and improve the graduation rates for students at Michigan. I am very excited to be able to be the voice fighting for our students, for this work, and for programs such as ours.” 

To learn more about OAMI, including programs and events, visit