This university is taking a formal and strategic stance to be a home for diversity, equity and inclusion

Schools within university contribute thousands of hours to community efforts

University of Detroit Mercy President Donald B. Taylor with students. (University of Detroit Mercy)

Embarking on a new scholastic endeavor can be an exciting yet scary thing. Part of choosing a university is not just understanding exactly what a school can offer students as a whole, but also on an individual level.

Some of the most important topics being addressed in the world over the last few years -- diversity, equity and inclusion -- are issues many individuals want to know are key things a university acknowledges and addresses.

At University of Detroit Mercy (UDM), where a newly appointed president has recently taken the reigns, they are doing just that. President Donald B. Taylor was very specific during his inauguration in conveying that these issues are at the heart of the university and what it stands for.

“Under my leadership, Detroit Mercy is always going to be a student-centered university and a home for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” Taylor said. “It’s going to be a place where first-generation students will always feel at home and that they can, and they will succeed.”

Enhancing equity and inclusion through engagement

Gary Erwin, associate vice president of marketing and communications at the university, said the school as a whole continues to work diligently on bolstering, improving, enhancing and building new initiatives around equity and inclusion.

“It’s really a critical component of our mission and vision to care for the whole person, to welcome everyone of all faiths and beliefs to the institution,” Erwin said. “We want everyone to come here and have a great experience academically, culturally and through our outreach efforts. It’s a major part of Dr. Taylor’s vision for our future.”

Erwin said the school has not just made the initiative more institutionally formal, but that they’re being strategic its execution.

He said the school hosts a variety of events and festivals that welcomes students of all backgrounds, including fashion shows, food festivals and diversity night at athletic events. At the heart of these efforts is UDM’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI).

“The University plans to do more in terms of celebrating diversity, equity and inclusion throughout all of our campuses. We want to reflect and honor what’s going on in the world today and make sure all students have a chance to experience and celebrate it on campus,” Erwin said.

Contributing to the community

Erwin said that, as part of the university’s Jesuit and Mercy mission, UDM aims for every single student to not only get the rigorous academic, laboratory and clinical experiences, and professional practice, but they are mentored by some of the world’s top educators and experts in a variety of fields.

Not only does UDM create an inclusive and equitable environment for its students, but it does so in a way that those students can extend those traits to others, by applying what they’re learning to everyday issues. Erwin said the thought process is like this: How can these students take what they’re learning and use it in an altruistic way to improve the lives of those who are experiencing need or could use the help?

“Each fall, our new first-year students spend two days working in partnership and alongside with community members, nonprofits and neighborhood organizations in Northwest Detroit -- cleaning up lots, building gardens and doing construction projects,” Erwin said. “Over those two days, they get to know our community friends and about their new neighborhood. We want students to learn about their new community and to experience in a very direct way how we can all come together to help each other out in a profound and moving way.”

University of Detroit Mercy students donate their time to the community. (University of Detroit Mercy)

Furthermore, many of the schools within the University contribute time to the community in other meaningful ways. For example:

  • The law school provides 35,000 hours of free legal assistance to Detroit residents and surrounding communities.
  • Students studying in the field of dentistry completed 106,537 patient visits from July 2021 to November 2022, which included $1,265,740 in uncompensated care. Dental students also participate in various outreach activities throughout the year to help those in need.
  • UDM’s Counseling Clinic serves about 250 people each year by providing no-cost counseling to Detroit and greater Wayne County residents.
  • Through the Institute for Leadership and Service, roughly 1,200 students provide community service that is coordinated with classroom study every year.

There are so many other avenues through which UDM students can and are encouraged to lead by example.

Erwin said these students are not just experiencing and living in a place where inclusion, diversity and equity are at the heart of their everyday environment, they are living and working within a community that prepares them to be active and positive participants in society, with a goal to make Detroit a more equitable city for everyone.

“We really try to immerse our students in all these cool initiatives,” Erwin said, adding that all leadership encourages the thought process: How can you use your skills, talents and experiences to help your community?

He also noted that it’s one of many reasons why alums remain so involved and generous.

“They always say, ‘We’re giving back because when we came as a freshman, we got to work with our community and neighbors to make our home better (and) help our community and neighbors. And that’s, perhaps, one of the most wonderful feelings: to take what you’re learning and use it improve the life of everyone in a community,” Erwin said. “This is at the foundation of all that we do. It’s one of our many key differentiations between UDM and other universities.”

The future

Erwin said that, ultimately, being able to celebrate equity, inclusion and diversity is so important, and that, moving forward, UDM will continue to build on what they’ve already accomplished within the school and in the community.

Taylor said he’s excited for the future of the University because it has so many more opportunities than challenges, reiterating that Detroit Mercy will embrace all students.

“Whether we have been part of this community for one year, one decade or one lifetime, we must continue our work to educate, to strengthen in spirit and to work for the common good,” he said.

To learn more about UDM initiatives, schools and the University itself, click or tap here.