Leah Johnson (’11 B.A.) was immersed in inclusion before she even knew what it meant.
The University of Michigan-Dearborn alumna attended Burton International School in Detroit, where she sat next to a girl from Ethiopia in first grade and worked on class projects with boys from China and Japan.
For Johnson, interacting with others from different cultures was normal. So when she enrolled at UM-Dearborn, it brought back memories from her elementary school days.
“It’s important to know where other people come from because it helps you appreciate and embrace that diversity,” said Johnson, former editor-in-chief of The Michigan Journal, UM-Dearborn’s student newspaper. “It all goes back to sharing ideas and being willing to collaborate with people who are different from you. Sometimes, being around people that are just like me, it gets boring. You’ve got to have that variety.”
The university celebrated its inclusive campus environment Thursday night at the second-annual “Commitment to Inclusion” reception at the University Center.
Students carry out the campus’ inclusive mission, but UM-Dearborn faculty and staff help generate it.
“Inclusion is about more than diversity and mutual respect,” said UM-Dearborn Chancellor Daniel Little. “It is about creating a learning and working environment in which everyone can learn from each other and form social connections across the campus lines of difference our society presents us with.”
Johnson attended Thursday’s inclusion reception, and also plans to attend this month’s Souls of Success retreat, designed by the university’s African & African-American Studies program to provide personal and professional development seminars to African American students.
UM-Dearborn continues to embrace diversity through interaction, inclusive dialogue and campus events, like the Chancellor’s “A Conversation on Race,” an ongoing series that promotes open and honest discussion about racial issues. There’s also “Worldviews Seminar,” a six-day program coordinated by associate professor of anthropology Claude Jacobs that’s designed to introduce participants to foundational information about the beliefs and practices of the world’s religions.
“(Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Life) Stanley Henderson always talks about how UM-Dearborn is a community and I can really appreciate that because it does feel that way,” said Johnson, who works at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit. “This campus really can’t exist without inclusion because of the variety of people here. It’s imperative to this campus.”
Jonathan Larson agrees. Larson certainly embraces inclusion, as he recently became the university’s first coordinator of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) and Inclusion Initiatives.
Larson is coordinating the Metropolitan Engagement series, which will engage the campus community in events at historic and cultural landmarks in Detroit to further expand student, staff and faculty’s knowledge of the Motor City. Larson hopes the trips will erase some of the negative stereotypes commonly associated with Detroit.
He also plans to bring speakers to campus next semester to discuss inclusive topics, including Zach Wahls, a college student whose testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee about his two lesbian mothers went viral on the Internet.
“Inclusion is so vital to our campus, so I hope to expand upon the university’s mission to embrace diversity and engage in the metropolitan Detroit community,” Larson said.
Like Larson, Ann Lampkin-Williams also plays a major role on campus, as she serves as the university’s assistant to the chancellor for inclusion. In her role, Lampkin-Williams builds upon UM-Dearborn’s diverse and inclusive campus community, while providing an effective and encouraging educational environment for everyone.