Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer's July Letter

July 14, 2022 - Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D.

Summer is a time for recalibrating, recharging and renewing preparations for an exciting year of advancing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at Michigan State University! In the Office for Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, or IDI, we have been gearing up for the first year of instituting DEI priorities.

In June, we distributed this year’s installment of the annual DEI Report, which for the first time captures two academic years 2020-21 and 2021-22, and includes a new narrative portion to provide a window into the robust efforts happening across campus. Although previous reports did not capture the full scope of MSU’s DEI efforts, we hope this one is a tribute to many of those initiatives.

I am also pleased to highlight the June MSU 2030 Strategic Plan implementation update that showcases the breadth of DEI efforts and aspirations across six pillars aimed at positioning the institution as a national leader in increasing diversity, promoting inclusion, ensuring equity and eliminating disparities on our campus and beyond.

During the coming year, DEI strategic priority implementation planning and execution will continue. As the executive sponsor of the Strategic Planning Implementation Steering Committee’s subcommittee for DEI, I have worked with colleagues to establish more than ten action planning teams that reviewed and prioritized recommendations and actions that emerged from last year’s DEI Report and Plan. In addition, we will be working with Institutional Research to develop dashboards that will provide accurate and timely updates on progress made at the unit and institutional levels. 

When I look around the corner of DEI, I see the ‘green-and-white-clad’ movement of service ahead, as Director of MSU Extension, Dr. Quentin Tyler, so eloquently phrased it in his introduction to MSU Alumni’s “The Soul of Service.” I found the alum series to be a refreshing reminder of how Spartans are change agents beyond campus.

The series spotlights Spartans like Bryan Newland ’03, J.D. ’07, who works to enhance the quality of life in tribal communities nationally in the United States Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. And Tracy Sherrod ’92, whose 30-year book publishing career provides writers of color a platform for diversifying literature. My hope is that pathways like these are not only embedded in our imaginations but guaranteed.

Along those lines, I am excited to remind our community about two resources on campus. First, IDI is now accepting proposals for the Creating Inclusive Excellence Grants at MSU to help nurture and support a more inclusive university. An independent panel will review requests for funding up to $15,000. Applications must be submitted electronically by August 1.

Additionally, as a reminder, the revamped Excellence in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Awards is accepting nominations until August 31. The expanded award program seeks to better recognize the broad contributions of students, staff and faculty in advancing DEI in teaching, research, programming, service, community outreach and organizational change. 

In other news from our office, following a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Diversity Research Network hosted the Writer's Mafungo retreat to great success. This year, the three-day intensive experience supported the writing activities of 12 diverse faculty and diversity scholars. In addition, I'd like to welcome the Transforming MSU Playwriting program's six playwrights and I look forward to the 2022-23 season as part of the Department of Theatre's offerings.

Finally, I share the exciting news that Dr. Samuel Saldívar, IDI’s multicultural education coordinator, has accepted a role as the director of the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions, or OCAT in the Division of Student Life and Engagement. Although we will miss his presence, we are thrilled that Dr. Saldívar will remain at MSU and are excited about his continued leadership!

DEI happenings

In May, for the first time, MSU published a story acknowledging Jewish American Heritage Month through the experiences and work of Department of History Professor Kirsten Fermaglich. Her work strives to center the Jewish American experience and, in partnership with the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel, recently released a guide to understanding antisemitism for the MSU community, which I encourage all to become familiar with.

MSU recognized Mental Health Awareness Month in May. Jason Moser, professor of psychology and neuroscience, discussed what we could do to cope and overcome challenges as they emerge. Mental health is an ongoing focus on diversity, equity and inclusion work to be inclusive and mindful of experiences of trauma and stigmas that contribute to potential harm. I thank Dr. Stephanie Anthony for bringing to my attention the University Outreach and Engagement’s Forum on Student Mental Health held in June to help raise awareness on this topic.

During the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American Heritage Month and in remembrance of the 40th anniversary of the brutal attack and death of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, MSU Professor Anna Pegler-Gordon’s students created an oral history project to document the importance of the resulting social movements. The murder of Chin galvanized the Asian American community on campus, leading to the founding of the Asian Pacific American Studies program in 2003-04 and the establishment of the APIDA Heritage Month celebration. Chin would have turned 67 this year. 

MSU’s June Pride Month focused on the Unconditional Love Fund, which supports students who face financial hardships associated with their sexual and gender identity. On June 18, the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center, Women*s Student Services and other campus organizations hosted a 5K event that contributed to raising over 200% of the campaign’s goal. 

I’d also like to note the numerous ways that pride was amplified on campus this year. James Madison College published a comprehensive list of LGBTQIA+ resources at MSU, evidencing the expanding number of centers nationwide to support the growing population on college campuses. In addition, JMC highlighted the experiences of alum Troy Calkins ’88 whose recent gift endorses a sense of belonging for students at risk of leaving higher education. 

In the College of Social Science, the Consortium for Sexual and Gender Minority Health is working to increase awareness of the barriers and health care disparities for sexual and gender minorities. When faced with such obstacles, College of Human Medicine student Nicholas Nicoletti founded Dx:Q — short for “Diagnosis Queer” — to provide a platform to humanize the experiences of patients, students and healthcare providers.

Sterling Bentley, a Master of Social Work student, decided to attend MSU to join a research center where he wouldn't be the only transgender person in the department. Bentley is now the first student to intern with the Consortium and is working on several projects to conduct community-informed and culturally relevant research.

Likewise, a significant topic within Consortium Director Dr. Carla A. Pfeffer’s research is the experiences of transgender men and transmasculine non-binary people navigating reproductive care. And while there is broad inequity in trans medicine, Assistant Professor at Lyman Briggs College stef m. shuster brought to focus the joy in providing care to trans and nonbinary people. I share a quote from shuster's research from Martha, a family care provider:

“The more I worked with trans people; I became a better doctor. It’s hard. But I learned how to listen to my patients. And as hard as it is, to not make assumptions about them.”

Kristen Renn, professor of higher, adult and lifelong education and associate dean of undergraduate studies for student success research at MSU, is among a few senior faculty in the country who began studying LGBTQIA+ student success in higher education. Renn has been a long advocate for advancing research in the field. As a result, the nationally-ranked higher adult and lifelong education graduate programs have attracted excellent doctoral students supporting the next generation of researchers who will go out to make a difference in people’s lives.

One aspect of Renn’s research that I’d like to mention is the importance of representation on student success. A powerful example is Jake Barreau, Spartan’s assistant volleyball coach, who has had an impact on helping grow LGBTQIA+ representation in sports. Barreau is one of the few openly gay coaches in Michigan State history. 

MSU didn’t simply amplify themes of pride in June, but several units took action, such as the MSU Department of Police and Public Safety which raised awareness through education. One of the in-service training modules for the department included highlighting transgender people, led by long-time MSU employee Petra Grivins. 

In University Communications, the social media and content team dedicated resources to a pride photo gallery as part of an effort to recognize LGBTQIA+ identity at MSU and to expand acknowledgment to use throughout the year. I commend these developing initiatives to make our campus more inclusive.

On June 17, MSU celebrated our second annual Juneteenth event at the Breslin Center, drawing approximately 500 attendees and 23 vendors. I was honored to serve as the program’s host that incorporated numerous campus leaders and live performances. The celebration featured many participants, including Black entrepreneurs and artists, and special appearances by athletic coaches. 

I’ve received many positive responses, and I thank the planning committee for their hard work in making the MSU Juneteenth Celebration a success. I also thank the over three dozen campus sponsors and community partners for their support. It took decades to reach this point, and we look forward to growing the celebration as the community sees fit.


On a more somber note, we must recognize some of the challenges we’ve encountered over the past several months. For many in our community, the growing number of horrific mass shootings since May in Buffalo, NY, Uvalde, TX and Highland Park, IL, along with ongoing murders of unarmed Black men and the war in Ukraine has weighed heavily. Additionally, injustice is evident in our policies and laws, as we saw with the rescinding of the constitutional right to choose to have an abortion. Following a statement from our leaders, many MSU experts have discussed the impact of overturning Roe v. Wade, including Sean Valles, director of the Bioethics Center and Social Justice. He provided an informative interview describing the three-fold impact on Black maternal mortality, criminalization of miscarriages and increasing the wage gap burden. 

What’s more, as Dr. Pfeffer reminds us, we must center the experiences of people who are lesbian, bisexual, transgender and non-binary in the conversation and often face disproportionately higher rates of unintended and unwanted pregnancy. 

Others have rallied to gather resources, like the Center for Gender in Global Context, or formed groups, like the Student Reproductive Justice Campus Action Network, to address students' needs and challenges. For more information on the network, contact Dr. Heather Shea at 

In addition, I draw your attention to the State News’ summative article on abortion rights in Michigan that provides additional context on the state’s now dormant 1931 abortion ban. I applaud these, and the many individual and collective efforts Spartans make to better understand the significance of these issues and celebrate the achievements of our leaders who are breaking barriers and creating pathways for the green-and-white-clad DEI movement.


I would like to shift to acknowledge the path-setting role of MSU Professor Lisa D. Cook, who made history as the first Black woman appointed to the Federal Reserve Board on May 10. We celebrate your achievement from the banks of the Red Cedar! The journey has been long and arduous, but her impact will be felt for generations to come. 

In addition, I commend several leaders on their recent awards. On June 27, Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Information Officer Melissa Woo, Ph.D., was named as one of thirty Higher Education IT Influencers in 2022 by EdTech Magazine and is extolled for developing leaders and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in IT. 

One of Woo’s recent projects — the Michigan Open Optical Network - Leveraging Innovation to Get High-Speed Technology — was awarded $10.5 million by the Merit Network to address the digital divide. MOON-Light will bring high-speed internet to 17,000 Michiganders to ensure equitable access to education, healthcare and employment services.

Related, on June 14, the American Council of Education Michigan Women’s Network (MI-ACE) honored Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D., with the Distinguished Woman in Higher Education Leadership Award. An internationally renowned expert in ovarian biology, she holds over 15 U.S. patents and received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Mentoring at an Oval Office Ceremony by President Obama. Woodruff is the seventh MSU scholar to receive the award, which was established in 2001 to identify women who have shattered glass ceilings in the profession of higher education.

Associate Dean of Admissions, Student Life and Inclusivity, Dr. Hilda Abreu, in the College of Veterinary Medicine and co-chair of the Council of Diversity Deans, is the 2022 recipient of the Iverson Bell Midwest Region Award recognizing contributions to widening access to veterinary medical education among underrepresented populations. Abreu has served as a leader in diversity, equity and inclusion in the college, as well as in the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges, the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education and the planning committee for the Iverson Bell Midwest Regional Summit.

On July 1, Professor Aman Yadav, known for his research and outreach on computer science education and computational thinking, was recently named the Lappan-Philips Professor of Computing Education. This career milestone will surely help broaden the scientific workforce with women and people of color. Additionally, Yadav is the associate director of computer science education for the CREATE for STEM Institute. 

In addition, I congratulate Professor Dylan Miner’s appointment as the dean of the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, where he has served as faculty since its founding in 2007. Miner is a citizen of the Métis Nation of Ontario and will be the only professional, practicing visual artist serving as a dean at MSU. Miner is lauded for his diversity, equity and inclusion leadership and commitment to examining social justice and advocacy in curriculum development and learning communities.

In mid-June, it was announced that Dr. Genyne L. Royal will serve as the assistant vice president for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging within Student Life and Engagement. With more than 25 years of higher education experience, Dr. Royal has worked as interim AVP for DEIB since 2021 and most recently served in Undergraduate Education as assistant dean for Student Success Initiatives and director of the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative.

Last but not least, congratulations to Vivianne Robinson, who was promoted to assistant vice president of operations in University Advancement on July 1. Robinson has led a long-time career at MSU spanning 35 years and has spent the past 15 years as the director of HR, recruitment and staff development, also in University Advancement.


In other news, MSU’s Undergraduate Education’s first-generation website went live at the end of June. The project is a partnership with the Neighborhood Student Success Collaborative. It launches the First-gen Leadership and Innovation program, which is part of the MSU 2030 goals to close opportunity gaps and raise graduation rates to 86%. 

In student life, Residence Education and Housing Services, or Live On, recently launched a DEI dashboard that features REHS commitments and tracks student demands and campus partner requests. The dashboard is a tool for accountability and proactively engaging in transformational and anti-racist systems change.

In the technology and entrepreneurship sectors, the Detroit Apple Academy celebrated its first class of nearly 100 graduates who completed ten months of intensive app development training. Students have gone on to secure employment with GM, Ford, Accenture and Rocket Mortgage, while others are continuing their education. The academy is the first in the U.S. and is part of Apple’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative. I am excited about these students’ future impact on Detroit, the State of Michigan and beyond. 

Additionally, I applaud the College of Human Medicine’s ongoing partnership with the College of Natural Science, which has increased the diversity of medical school applicants over the years. Dr. Deja Rice ’22 is a recent graduate of the program. Growing up as one of 11 children in an urban, underserved area of Detroit, participation in the program helped her realize her dreams of becoming a physician. Rice is currently in family medicine residency at Sparrow Hospital, Lansing, and pursuing her goal of serving high-need communities. 

Finally, I share two reports. The first is from the Hastings Center, which has published a special report on “A Critical Moment in Bioethics: Reckoning with Anti-Black Racism through Intergenerational Dialogue,” including contributions from faculty in the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice. The report anchors the field of bioethics as a leader in addressing racial injustice and health inequities in the U.S.

In case you missed it, I share MSU’s Women’s Advisory Committee for Support Staff Annual Report. I appreciate their dedication and consistent efforts in helping to advance the careers of women support staff at MSU.

As we all continue to work diligently this summer in preparation for fall, I hope you will take time to reflect and relax, as an investment in your own health and well-being. 



Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D. (he/him)

Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer