Skip navigation links

Toward an Inclusive Global Community

February 2, 2021


TO: Faculty and Academic Staff

FROM: Teresa K. Woodruff, Ph.D., Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs
Steven D. Hanson, Ph.D., Associate Provost and Dean for International Studies and Programs
Jabbar R. Bennett, Ph.D., Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer

SUBJECT: Toward an Inclusive Global Community


Michigan State University (MSU) is a global community of students, faculty, staff, and partners from all around the world. Our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion must ensure that all members of our community feel welcome, safe, and supported. Toward that end, we will be working across campus to develop guidelines and educational strategies related to how MSU engages with and communicates to global audiences about global issues in ways that acknowledge, assert, and amplify our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and reflect the importance of our global Spartan community and partners. International Studies and Programs will be collaborating with various stakeholders to present a variety of educational and conversational opportunities that affirm this commitment to inclusive excellence. This memo is intended to serve as an introduction to that coordinated effort and highlight some areas we can all begin working on immediately.

MSU’s Global Spartan Community

Since admitting its first international students in 1873, MSU has welcomed tens of thousands of global learners and scholars to its East Lansing, MI, USA campus. Today, MSU is home to more than 5,000 students and scholars from 130 countries, comprising more than 10% of the undergraduate and graduate community. The MSU faculty and staff are geographically diverse as well, with international members providing leadership in the teaching, research, and outreach missions. And, MSU’s engagement is found all around the world as we work in collaboration with hundreds of global partners and conduct critical research — research that is supported by $80 million in external funding and is essential to MSU’s global rankings and reputation.

Michigan State University is a global institution and must seek to deepen its understanding of the unique perspectives and experiences of its members and eliminate any kind of bias from impeding the forward progress of our community, irrespective of nationality. One immediate area of focus is how we communicate. Communication is often perceived as a reflection of our values, and the language we choose has the power to influence perception and behavior at MSU and beyond.

Things to Consider

In our communications, it is important to reinforce the use of positive language and images that reflect our institutional values and combat harmful stereotypes and misinformation.

While context is important, in most cases language like “third-world,” “foreign,” or “alien” is outdated and insensitive, as is treating the U.S. as the standard and international an outlier. Make a conscious effort to utilize inclusive language that respects various cultures and experiences, as well as the mutual exchange of ideas and education as we engage with each other.

Likewise, it is important to consider images too. Take and share photos that reflect reality, are given appropriate context, and are respectful to and have the informed consent of any human subjects. Avoid using images that may reinforce negative stereotypes and instead choose images that accurately showcase the vibrant diversity of our global community and demonstrate MSU students, faculty, and staff working alongside each other equitably.

Along with technical considerations related to web accessibility for people with disabilities, there is also a long list of logistical issues that impact global communications, such as working across time zones, using and sharing technology platforms, and sharing content and various tools. Think carefully about how your audience may be impacted by what you communicate and the methods that you use.

Perhaps most importantly, we all need to consider our own individual behavior as we interact with each other in our global community. This means being curious and making an effort to learn about different cultures, pronounce names correctly/as requested, and ultimately treating everyone with respect. It is important to step outside our own individual experience, confront our own biases, and challenge our own assumptions.

A University-wide Effort

Communicating in a global context is an important step toward becoming a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable community — but our efforts must extend beyond communication as well. This spring, a cross-university task force will be charged by Associate Provost and Dean Steve Hanson to develop resources, programs, and potential policies to reinforce inclusive practices in a global context. The task force will begin with a needs assessment and develop recommendations over the summer for implementation beginning in the fall semester. This critical institution-wide effort will result in educational materials, teaching resources, training options, and a communications guide.

Thank you in advance for bringing your energy and innovation to this effort because together, Spartans Will enhance our communication, our campus culture and environment, and continue to impact the world!