2024 MLK Symposium

(As prepared for delivery)

Thanks so much for BLKBOK for your simply beautiful opening and even more inspiring life. Tabbye, I’d also like to thank you as well as for the outstanding job you are doing in leading our Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

I’d also like to express my gratitude to our distinguished speakers and panelists, as well as all of you who have joined us in making U-M’s Martin Luther King Jr. Symposium one of the nation’s largest celebrations of the life and legacy of Dr. King.

Finally, I’d like to thank all of you who will be hosting events over the next few weeks to further the message of this symposium and our renewed commitment to the living legacy of Dr. King.

We’ve come together at an important moment, a moment when voices of disharmony and extremism and even soft autocracy are booming and resounding and echoing across our country.

At such a moment, the still small voices that call us to civic engagement and citizenship, to justice, respect and harmony, seem lost amid the tumult.

Yet surrounded by that discord, we still have a choice.

Against that clash and roar, we can stand mute or speak in a soon-forgotten diminuendo.

Or we can transform those jangling discords into a beautiful symphony.

That was the choice of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

For amid the racism, the persecution, the hatred of his time, he showed a better way – a way of peace, justice and harmony.

We must follow in his footsteps today.

For we are still wrestling with racism, injustice and inequity. And as heirs to the unfinished work of Dr. King, we have much more to do, much more in achievement, diversity and excellence.

Our dedication to academic excellence is deeply intertwined with our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. I am convinced that we cannot be excellent without being diverse in the broadest sense of the word.

Inclusion and equity, respect, diversity and integrity – these are core values of our university. They must be at the heart of everything we do. We must not back down in the face of renewed adversity.

In that regard, I’m so pleased that last fall’s incoming class consisted of more first-generation students and students from low-income backgrounds, as well as a greater number of students of color, who comprise 44 % of this year’s incoming class.

That included a 25% increase in Black and African American students, as well as a 29% increase in Hispanic or Latino/a students.

Many of you here may be among that class, and we are so honored that you have joined our family.

This fall’s DEI Summit was also a resounding success, a discourse that engaged nearly 4,000 members of our community.

At the Summit, we launched our DEI 2.0 initiative, whose curriculum will move beyond awareness and into the realm of skill building, using targeted programming to equip our community with the strategies and techniques needed to disrupt bias, prevent workplace issues and retaliation and build psychological safety in the workplace.

We also launched M-PACT, the Michigan Program for Advancing Cultural Transformation in the Biomedical and Health Sciences.

M-PACT, led by Dr. Rob Sellers who is on the panel today, is a five-year, nearly $80M partnership with the National Institutes of Health through which we’ll recruit 30 new tenure-track assistant professors across 11 schools, colleges and units, thereby enhancing diversity, equity and inclusion among the faculty in the biomedical and health sciences.

And just last month, we broke ground on the U-M Center for Innovation in Detroit, a $250M commitment to the future of the city and state, which when complete will be a world-class education and entrepreneurship center, one that educates and retains individuals of incredible talent, one that drives innovation and economic growth and job creation, and one that empowers the next generation of Detroiters to dream bigger dreams … and transform those dreams into realities.

As we move forward on UMCI, we will also continue our work on the Inclusive History Project, which is being led by Elizabeth Cole and Earl Lewis. This effort is an ambitious effort to honestly and critically re-examine our university’s past as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion.

We will also continue our efforts to create a more diverse and exceptional community through a multifaceted approach including:

  • A holistic application review process
  • Our Wolverine Pathways Program and our Center for Educational Outreach and
  • Our year-round recruiting and outreach campaigns for exceptional students from across the country, no matter their race, color or creed.

But there are more chords we can strike; more rhythms we can create.

That is the call of all of us – to justice, to respect, to equity, to dignity.

So challenged but undaunted, wearied but untiring, tried and tested but resolute and unrelenting, let us continue the unfinished work of Dr. King. Let us remain steadfast in pursuit of his vision. And let each of us contribute our distinct voices to our beautiful symphony.

Thank you again. Let’s enjoy the rest of this symposium together.