The University Record, March 11, 1998

Committee seeks to nurture dialogues about diversity throughout community

By Jane R. Elgass

The admissions lawsuits filed against the University last fall brought the concept of diversity to the fore. To help the University community think through this issue in all its forms and to bring focus to the discussion, the Diversity Dialogue Committee was formed in January.

The 11-member group is working in a variety of areas "to do what we do best, which is education," says chair Earl Lewis, dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies. It plans to create a series of venues for the open exchange of views about the value of diversity in a supportive environment. Activities supported by the group will range from small-group sessions to "town hall" meetings to lectures featuring nationally known speakers.

"We want to help students, faculty and staff take a look within themselves to find out what their views are and help them understand why diversity is important to the University," Lewis says.

"We are not trying to control the dialogue or deny the conflict," committee members note. "There is a potential for divisiveness, and we are trying to prevent this by anchoring the debate in the educational process. We want to help members of the University community embrace and address the issues in an educational context."

The group plans to offer an array of programs that will "make everyone feel they have a voice," and that if there is disagreement, it will be "respectful disagreement." The committee seeks to establish over the long term a discussion that has "an open-ended quality, that is seen as an exchange, a dialogue, in which an idea can be put forth and a reaction obtained in a safe environment."

While the committee will develop and sponsor programs on its own over the next several years, it also will work with University units and groups to develop co-sponsored activities. "Overall, we hope to attract a broad cross-section of faculty, students and members of the community," members say.

The first program planned by the committee is the appearance of Nicholas Lemann at 7:30 p.m. March 30 in Rackham Auditorium as part of the "Evenings at Rackham" series. Lemann writes for the Atlantic Monthly and has a forthcoming book on meritocracy.

The group plans to take some of its activities "to places these efforts don't usually go," such as the athletic campus and residence halls, with programs in the residence halls complementing current living-learning activities.

The committee is setting up a clearinghouse for information and resources on affirmative action and diversity through which individuals will be able to find both electronic and print information and data. It also is creating a Web page on this information with links to other University sites.

Diversity Dialogue Committee members

Elizabeth Anderson, philosophy; Charles F. Behling, psychology; Glenda Dickerson, theatre and drama and associate dean, Graduate School; Sylvia Hurtado, education; Charlotte H. Johnson, director of academic services, Law School; Beverly Jones, associate hospital director and chief of nursing affairs, Health System;

Earl Lewis, vice provost and dean of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies (chair); Grace Y. Pang, graduate student, Graduate School; Beth G. Reed, social work; Abigail J. Stewart, psychology and director, Institute for Research on Women and Gender; and Maris A. Vinovskis, history and Center for Political Studies.

Staff support is provided by program coordinator Pat McCune, Rackham, 764-4400, fax 647-7826, e-mail:

The group may be reached via e-mail at