Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer’s May Letter

May 4, 2021

Jabbar R. BennettThe recent months have been difficult for many in our community. While Michigan State University has taken initial steps to acknowledge the xenophobia and violence impacting the Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American or APIDA and Asian community, we must continue to engage on this issue. We need to be listening and learning, especially to those such as Naoko Wake director of the Asian Pacific American Studies Program about the pandemic of invisibility that continues to plague this country.

We must recognize the leadership of Chloe Majzel in the Asian Pacific American Student Organization and Meaghan Kozar in the Office of Cultural and Academic Transitions or OCAT for organizing the vigil to remember the lives that were lost in the Atlanta shootings, as well as the Charles Yu and Green Table events that were part of APIDA Heritage Month. I look forward to working with APIDA and Asian students, staff and faculty to take action towards greater inclusion, recognition and resources for underrepresented communities.

I thank President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. for his important words acknowledging the impact of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin and verdict on the campus community. The ongoing police killings indicate that there is more work ahead to value Black and Brown lives.

I ask that we remember the upcoming first anniversary of the death of George Floyd that shocked America and propelled MSU into action by creating our own Task Force on Racial Equity. We must denounce systemic oppression in all its forms, especially those that target underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, sexual and gender minorities, members of persecuted faith groups, the disabled and those impacted by environmental injustice — while at the same time being mindful of the burden of diversity, equity and inclusion or DEI overburdening. I encourage everyone to watch this recording on racial battle fatigue and the toll it can take on Black men presented as part of the When They See Us Summit and featuring OCAT Coordinator and Black Student Alliance Advisor Sean Hembrick.

Campus-wide DEI recognition

Although there is a lot of work to be done, it is important to acknowledge the progress being made across campus to advance our DEI priorities. The LBGT Resource Center announced that it will be renamed The Gender and Sexuality Campus Center in July in a move to better reflect the communities it serves. You can explore the name change further and much more in this informative and extended podcast by WKAR host Russ White. Last month the MSU campus celebrated (LGBTQA+) Pride month virtually. I look forward to supporting future in-person celebrations to help recognize the important achievements of LGBTQA+ graduates.

Entomology students in collaboration with the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources were some of the recipients who received the Creating Inclusive Excellence Grant from my office to host Harvard sociologist Anthony Abraham Jack for a virtual discussion on improving inclusion for underrepresented students. Additionally, MSU associate professor Stephen Gasteyer shared his thoughtful reflections as a participant in MSU Dialogues, he wrote:

"We had the chance to explore not only difference but also commonalities and our shared desire for a better world - for a society and community that is more just and steps we might take in that direction."

Following Women’s History Month in March, the College of Music broadcasted a live celebration of women musicians who broke barriers in the world of music. And I had the privilege of offering welcome remarks at the 13th Annual Muslim Mental Health Conference, which featured global experts on COVID-19, suicide, Islamaphobia and refugees. Thanks to colleagues for this important work and as a reminder to all, many in our community are in the middle of Ramadan, which will end at sunset on May 12 and is marked by Eid al-Fitr or the “Festival of Breaking the Fast” that goes through the evening of May 13. Let us be mindful of this time of introspection and broad reflection.

I would like to bring attention to the annual report of the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities that captures the significant innovations and initiatives being undertaken to create a strong community of support for Spartans with disabilities. Finally, in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Quentin Tyler and Linda Nubani launched an innovative virtual reality application as a tool to help participants address their own biases.

Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives

In the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, I would like to recognize Patti Stewart, director of education and development programs, and our team for their extraordinary effort to implement the DEI Foundations online education program that was launched as part of President Stanley’s initiatives in fall 2020. To date, over 54,000 students and employees have completed the required module.

I am indebted to the dedication of my staff many of whom work endlessly behind the scenes to coordinate broad educational programs and key initiatives with partners and leaders across campus.

Accordingly, I am proud to share that my office partnered with internal and external stakeholders to host this year’s annual César Chávez and Dolores Huerta Celebration. The event focused on farmworkers and the contributions they make to sustain America during turbulent times while continuing to struggle to attain a higher quality of life for themselves and their families. President Stanley and I were pleased to offer welcome remarks and kick off the half-day session.

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, or the fifth of May, and is a celebration of the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla during the Franco-Mexican War in 1862. The commemoration rose to prominence in the 1960s following the Chicano Movement in their fight for social justice and anti-imperialism. Let’s honor the spirit of the celebration while being mindful of cultural appropriation.

In June, we are working towards recognizing Juneteenth institutionally. The celebration honors one of the final acts of the emancipation of slaves in the United States. 

On June 19, 1865, two-and-a-half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and a couple of months after the end of the Civil War, newly posted Major General Gordon Granger issued orders to free the over 250,000 slaves in Texas who had not yet been informed of the new law. Juneteenth is considered the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the US. This year’s celebration falls on a Saturday.

In other news, I was honored to be selected to serve on the Association of American University’s national advisory board on racial equity in higher education and had the opportunity to participate in a recent panel discussion on diversifying graduate students hosted by The Chronicle of Higher Education. These platforms provide an opportunity to highlight MSU’s broad commitment to DEI and support for members of underrepresented groups. Related, I was pleased to learn about MSU’s undergraduate education earning the First Generation-Forward designation by the Center for First-Generation Student Success, as these and other recognitions are integral to the recruitment, retention, and advancement of a diverse student, trainee, faculty and staff populations on campus.

Strategic plans

Last week the Relationship Violence and Sexual Misconduct or RVSM Expert Advisory Workgroup released a comprehensive strategic plan that aims to help create a safer campus community. I encourage everyone to review and reflect upon this in-depth, intersectional, trauma-informed and action-oriented plan as we each consider our role in supporting this effort.

In closing, I look forward to the release of the DEI Steering Committee’s report and strategic planning framework in the coming weeks and invite you to attend two upcoming events where the initial recommendations will be discussed. You can find the details below.

Upcoming events

  • Tuesday, May 11, 9 - 10:30 a.m. (ET): Conversation on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Planning featuring Wanda Lipscomb, Ph.D., Luis Alonzo Garcia, M.A., and Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D. Register in Qualtrics.
  • Wednesday, May 19, 6 – 7 p.m. (ET): Conversation with President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., and Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D., to discuss current events and MSU’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Register on University Advancement’s website.


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

Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer