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June 2021 Director Update

Dear Center for Academic Innovation Community,

June is often a time to celebrate and reflect as the school year comes to a close, students graduate, and the start of summer feels like an opportunity for fresh starts. Even though formal schooling may be wrapping up for many, we all need to keep learning – which sometimes also requires us to unlearn things we thought we knew.

June is also a time of celebration for communities with long histories of marginalization.  Growing up, most American history classes taught that slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation or the end of the Civil War.Juneteenth, celebrated by Black Americans on June 19th as the anniversary of when the last enslaved people in the US were liberated in 1865, has grown from a regional event to a nationwide celebration of freedom and resilience.

In our Michigan Online collection on Racism & Anti-Racism in America, Elizabeth James, a staff member in the Department of African and Afroamerican Studies, helps us understand what is meant by “systemic racism” and how the history of slavery in the United States impacts Black Americans today. Next week we are launching a new course on Black Performance as Social Protest. Learners will have the opportunity to understand the social, political, and historical contexts of the Black American experience.

As a three-time graduate of the University of Michigan and an active member of its lifelong learning community, I am grateful to all of the faculty, staff, and students who help each other to learn, unlearn, and rethink every day. This month we reached 15 million enrollments in our open learning courses. As we unlock agile curriculum for all, I’m hopeful for a future shaped by a growing population of lifelong learners who have been given the gift of confidence to unlearn.

June is also when many communities host Pride events. From an outsider’s perspective, Pride events are often seen as celebrations of and for the LGBTQ+ community. Although Pride is, for many, a celebration, it is rooted in protest and recognition of the oppression faced by LGBTQ+ individuals and the LGBTQ+ community. Like Juneteenth, it is also a remembrance of oppression and liberation. To learn more about Pride, or unlearn what you thought you knew, I recommend the LGBTQ Pride From Origins to Evolution Teach-Out co-created with the Spectrum Center.

By acknowledging these histories and how they recontextualize what we’ve been taught, we can honor the wisdom and experiences these communities hold in discussions about our current challenges and future opportunities.

Thank you to all throughout our community that continue to support our efforts to cultivate innovations that advance equity, justice, and excellence, and to reinforce an engaged and informed society

James DeVaney

Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Founding Executive Director of the Center for Academic Innovation