The university debuted its five-year plan to advance diversity and equity at the university on Friday, and it asserts several lofty goals, including reconciling UM’s racial history, creating programs to support underrepresented students and increasing scholarships for women and women of color.
“Our leadership role in Mississippi underscores the importance of our efforts and our commitment to diversity and inclusion in pursuit of an equitable living, learning and working environment for all,” Chancellor Glenn Boyce said in an opening statement included in the plan. “I call on all members of our university community to continue to make positive and lasting change toward being a welcoming place where all members of a diverse community can succeed.”
The plan, entitled “Pathways to Equity,” serves as the start of Phase II of the university’s diversity planning. Phase I included the “Diversity Matters” plan that then Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter helped launch in 2016 and the action plan launched by then Chancellor Dan Jones in 2014.
Gregory Vincent, executive director of the Civil Rights and Education Initiative, has aided the university in both phases and said that he has been glad to see the progress made at the university over the past six years that he has been involved.
“UM now has the opportunity to confront the past while also forging a positive future. I am confident that the university is ready to take on this daunting task,” Vincent said in a statement.
According to EJ Edney, the director of the Center for Inclusion and Cross Cultural Engagement (CICCE), the Phase II plan has been in the works for the past year and will be the guideline for offices across campus to create individualized “equity and action plans.”
“My hope is that people can see themselves represented in these commitments and can readily identify the ways they can help to advance some of those projects,” Edney said.
Edney said that students played a central part in the development of the plan and will also be the “most direct benefactors” of the initiatives it contains.
“The most important takeaway from this plan is the transparent commitment from the division of diversity and community engagement to address institutional inequities that have been plaguing the university for a while now,” Associated Student Body President Joshua Mannery said. “It’s rare that we see such a large commitment to something like this from the university, to be honest.”
Mannery was one of several student leaders who collaborated on the plan with university administrators like Boyce, Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Community Engagement Shawnboda Mead and Edney.
“The CICCE and the Vice Chancellor of Diversity Shawnboda Mead really put a lot of time in to make sure everything was addressed because we, the Black Coalition presidents, were going to be very critical of this plan,” Black Student Union President Nicholas Crasta said.
Crasta and eight other Black student leaders demanded a meeting with Boyce last July amid controversy surrounding the university’s Confederate cemetery. Since then, they have had a standing monthly meeting with Boyce where the group has discussed campus problems, many of which are addressed in the diversity strategic plan.
“I think one big thing that a lot of Black student leaders have been talking to each other about is that we came to this school to get an education, not to start a movement, not to change everything,” Crasta said. “Some things just can’t go without being said. We have to step up when it’s needed, and in the past four years, for me, a lot of stuff has needed to be said.”
Crasta said he is glad to see the university recognizing its issues and history while attempting to reconcile both in a transparent way. The university plans to release “public reports” updating the community as the plan progresses, according to Crasta.