DEI Summit to explore structural racism amid COVID-19

October 5, 2021

The U.S. COVID-19 death toll has exposed racial disparities in the country’s health care system and other aspects of American life.

At the University of Michigan, this year’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Summit, themed “Parallel Pandemics: Addressing Structural Racism in the Age of COVID-19,” will explore the interwoven nature of COVID-19 and structural racism and how their interconnectedness underscores the necessity that to solve either of the issues, both must be addressed.

According to provisional death counts collected by the National Center for Health Statistics in June 2021, Native Americans, Latinos and Blacks are two to three times more likely than whites to die of COVID-19 in the United States.

“The parallel pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism have synergized to create a moment in our nation’s history where we must decide if our corresponding actions will be transformative or repetitive of the past,” said Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer. “Now more than ever, we must simultaneously challenge our current reality and decide what our future will be.”

DEI Summit events will take place throughout October. A virtual community assembly will take place at 10 a.m. Oct. 11 featuring keynote speaker Soledad O’Brien, award-winning journalist, entrepreneur and host of the weekly syndicated television show “Matter of Fact.”

Photo of Soledad O'Brien
Soledad O’Brien

O’Brien is well known for her work in television journalism. She anchored news shows on CNN, MSNBC and NBC, hosted projects for Fox and A&E, and has contributed to a variety of outlets including the three major broadcast networks, National Geographic and PBS. O’Brien’s reporting has earned three Emmy awards, two George Foster Peabody awards and an Alfred I. DuPont Award.

Following O’Brien’s address, Riana Anderson, assistant professor public health, will moderate a panel discussion featuring:

  • Sydney Carr, joint public policy and political science Ph.D. student and president of Students of Color Rackham.
  • Valerie Kaur, activist, lawyer and author.
  • Oluwaferanmi Okanlami, assistant professor of family medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, and urology at Michigan Medicine, and director of Services for Students with Disabilities and of Adaptive Sports and Fitness.
  • Jeff Witt, organizational development lead and DEI lead at the University Library.

The community assembly also will include brief remarks from campus leadership, including Sellers, President Mark Schlissel and Provost Susan M. Collins.

“As a venerable public university, we have a special responsibility to serve all of humanity,” Schlissel said. “Diversity is essential to our scholarly endeavors, strengthening our impact and our intellectual power. U-M has always embraced taking on the biggest problems facing our society and creating lasting change. The challenges before us are complex and urgent.”

Progress report and DEI 2.0

The university’s Year-Five Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Progress Report will be made available to the public Oct. 11 on an interactive website that will feature the report and its highlights.

The year-five report is the final annual report from the university’s initial Diversity Equity and Inclusion 5-Year Strategic Plan, DEI 1.0.

“The past five years have yielded experience and data that allows us to sharpen our approach and act with increased precision and skill,” said Katrina Wade-Golden, deputy chief diversity officer and director of implementation for the campuswide DEI Strategic Plan.

Wade-Golden said this time will mark the beginning of a yearlong evaluation process in which central and unit-level content and actions from DEI 1.0 will be thoroughly assessed to determine what action and initiatives worked well, which ones did not and what new DEI issues warrant greater attention in the future.

Findings from the evaluation period will be shared in October 2022 and will help guide a yearlong planning period for the university’s next DEI strategic plan, DEI 2.0. Information gleaned from the evaluation period will guide content and implementation strategies for DEI 2.0, which will launch in October 2023.

Community recognition

The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will facilitate the gathering of the campus community to recognize the many accomplishments made over the years of U-M’s five-year DEI Strategic Plan implementation efforts.

The open-house event will take place from 3:30–7 p.m. Oct. 11 at the Trotter Multicultural Center and will include student performances, speakers, refreshments and activities to engage students, staff and faculty.

Other DEI Summit events, include a virtual colloquial series, “Toward an Anti-Ableist Academy,” on Oct. 4, and an interdisciplinary conversation Oct. 13 hosted by the National Center for Institutional Diversity’s Anti-Racism Collaborative.


This article originally appeared in the September 27, 2021 edition of The University Record