After hearing from students and new professionals, Deborah Willis, MA’93, PhD’07, developed and designed a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) certificate program that was specifically geared toward graduate students.
The program kicked off in 2017-18 and quickly became a best practice for other schools and universities.
“Then received many requests from alumni and staff that were saying, ‘This program wasn’t around when I was there, but I would love something like this,’” Willis said.
That interest coincided with the racial awakening happening in the U.S. after the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in 2020.
So Willis, who now serves as assistant vice provost for equity, inclusion, and academic affairs through U-M’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, teamed up with the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan to present a virtual four-week course in 2021 specifically aimed at alums. There were 61 participants in the first cohort.
Three years later, the course is being offered again, this time amid a backlash against DEI programs.
“People in the anti-DEI movement are getting smarter, they’re getting louder, and they’re getting more abrasive,” Willis said about the pushback against DEI work. “If you care any in any way about social justice, about fairness, about equity, about people feeling seen, heard, and valued, then we need you to step up in this moment to balance out those voices. This is an opportunity for us to demonstrate the positive outcomes and effectiveness of this work.”
The Alumni M-Pact DEI Certificate program kicks off on March 21, but interested participants must apply by March 6. It costs $549 for Alumni Association members or $699 for non-members. The program goes beyond DEI knowledge by offering actionable steps that participants can use to bring about positive changes in communities and organizations. It is open to all alums of all ages, backgrounds, and work experiences.
Each participant gets teamed up with a DEI coach and there will be a lot of opportunities to connect with other students.
Anne Waters, PhD’97, who went through the program in 2021, said she really enjoyed learning and discussing the work with alums from different schools and classes.
“The assignments, discussion groups, and project teams created a real sense of a cohort in the program,” she said.
Waters, who serves as senior advisor for special projects at Columbia University, said it was particularly enjoyable to connect with recent graduates. Waters said she came to the program because she wanted to refine her own skills as her department’s senior leadership team was beginning to address DEI.
“It was a great academic structure,” Waters said about the course. “The instructors brought wonderful perspectives, and there were excellent readings on each of the topics.”
She said she was able to take several learnings back with her to her workplace, including training on unconscious bias as well as techniques for appropriate bystander interventions.
“It was inspiring to get the tools and to think a little bit more thoroughly and creatively about a major challenge in our society,” Waters said.
Willis said the program is open to anyone interested in social justice and making an impact in their communities and organizations.
“I think we have a responsibility, as University of Michigan alumni, to work to make our world a better place,” Willis said. “It’s part of University of Michigan’s mission — to develop leaders and citizens who challenge the present and enrich the future.”
For more information about the program or to apply, click here.
Jeremy Carroll is the content strategist for the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan.