The onset of COVID-19 generated a vast and complex web of challenges for U-M’s central administration as well as every school and college. Students, faculty and staff were all impacted in many different ways. Of particular concern were the needs of historically marginalized groups. These included people of color, individuals with disabilities, members of our community with compromised immune systems, and economically challenged staff and students.
As a result, all decision-making, at both the central and unit level, gave special consideration to the most vulnerable members of the Ann Arbor campus. During the 2020–21 academic year, as the university shifted primarily to remote and—in some instances—hybrid learning, every effort was made to provide support for diverse groups within our institution.
One area of intense focus was the toll COVID took on both mental and physical well-being. This concern was reflected not only in the design and delivery of courses and other academic activities, with a strong underlying focus on accessibility, but also in the myriad support services for mental health and wellness offered through new and/or expanded resources at the campus and unit level.
Charting the Unknown: Creating a Resilient, Inclusive, Public Health-Informed Plan for Fall 2020 and Beyond
In Fall 2020, Provost Susan Collins charged seven committees with developing plans for academic activities and determining how to deliver instruction most effectively within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The overall objective was to support the work of U-M’s schools and colleges by sharing best practices, identifying challenges, assisting in problem-solving and making recommendations for decision-making at the central level.
All planning and recommendations were guided by two fundamental principles: (1) protecting the safety and health of the campus community, and (2) assuring that all schools and colleges continued to meet the university’s high academic standards while also prioritizing U-M’s longstanding commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
In addition to six topic-focused committees, the advisory groups included a Coordinating Committee responsible for mapping the university’s course forward in terms of principles, practices and decisions. To underscore the importance of DEI, the committee for Curricular Support, Extra and Co-Curricular Activities and Engaged Learning was also tasked with developing guidelines that would assure equitable access to key academic resources.
Based on findings and recommendations of the topic-focused committees, the Coordinating Committee issued a final report relating to vital topics such as instructional methods, the academic calendar, adjusted grading policies, accessibility and accommodations and remote work plans. The report also included eight guiding principles for decision-making, among them: “Use equity, inclusion, accessibility and student success to drive decisions and be central goals and success metrics for all courses and services.”
Campuswide Resources and Support Services
A core component of U-M’s pandemic outreach and support is the Campus Maize and BLUEprint website.
Designed to function as a clearinghouse for all COVID-related topics, services and programs, the site features information, updates and online access to vaccines, testing, prevention, care and the latest U-M COVID-19 data as well as links to health and wellness services, support groups and toolkits for self-care strategies. In addition, the university expanded its health-related resources to include:
- Dedicated counselors in all schools and colleges
- Additional staffing at U-M’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
- Current information on access to campus recreational sports facilities
- Health care and individual wellness coaching, available through University Health Service
- A dedicated resource page, hosted by Student Life, offering COVID information and wellness tips
As part of its mission to serve the state of Michigan and the wider world, U-M compiled a list of experts available to consult on the impact of COVID-19 on African Americans and other communities of color. Although their subject areas are diverse—ranging from environmental science and urban policy to health management and sociology—all faculty-consultants on the list have deep, research-based knowledge of the underlying causes for the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities most impacted by the pandemic.
A Wide Array of Unit-Based Initiatives
During Year Five, university offices, schools, colleges and units launched COVID-related initiatives in support of students, staff and faculty, all of which are accessible online. A number of these were aimed at those disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.
Some examples include:
- On its DEI Response to Coronavirus web page, the School of Public Health features practical information on topics ranging from how to deal with everyday bigotry to speaking up against racism around the new coronavirus.
- Michigan Medicine’s Office of Counseling and Workplace Resilience provides in-person counseling, support/coping groups, and stress consultations via video and phone.
- During the summer of 2020, Student Life (SL) and the College of Engineering sponsored a COVID-19 Campus Challenge, in which MDining and SL Sustainability staff worked with student teams to identify nearly 30 potential solutions to food accessibility, focusing on issues exacerbated by the pandemic.
- Through the Human Resources website, employees can access information on working from home, paid-time-off options for pandemic-related scenarios, at-home COVID testing, updates to benefit plans and resources to support mental, emotional and physical health.
- Poverty Solutions, a U-M initiative aimed at preventing and alleviating poverty, compiled a “Michigan COVID-19 Pandemic Resource Guide” to help vulnerable individuals navigate fast-changing federal, state and local pandemic programs and services.