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Staff Spotlight: Brian Banks, Diversity and Inclusion Advisor

When Ypsilanti native and father of three Brian Banks sees a problem, he addresses it. During a recent visit to a Detroit high school to talk about career opportunities, Banks encountered something that he sees as a disturbing trend. “90% of the kids in the class wanted to play for the NBA. Percentage-wise, maybe 1% of them will make it. I want to help these kids figure out what they’re going to do.”

For Banks, this trend is addressed head-on in his 2006 book, How to Make It in the NBA: A More Realistic Approach, in addition to launching a career advising website and a scholarship at Washtenaw Community College. Banks summarizes his motivation for this work simply. “Why should teens be disadvantaged because of where they live? I want to show them that they have options — and what those options look like.”

The Stamps School community has benefited from Banks’ commitment to student success since he joined the team in 1998, first as a receptionist, then as an academic advisor. In this role, Banks helps undergraduate students navigate the Stamps curriculum and serves as the staff liaison to the student organization Stamps in Color, a group of art and design students whose mission is to increase the creative, social, and professional opportunities of people of color at the school.

In March 2017, Banks accepted a role as the Stamps School Diversity and Inclusion Advisor, where in addition to advising duties, he dedicates himself to the development of cultural support systems for the school and provides leadership and expertise in matters of recruitment and retention of underrepresented students. This newly envisioned role is part of the Stamps School of Art & Design’s commitment to U-M’s campus-wide Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative.

Banks spoke about his belief that DEI initiatives can bring the campus together.

“I’m a big sports fan,” Banks stated. “When I think of DEI, I think of the phrase ‘One Team.’ When a coach puts a team together, she doesn’t go after one type of player. She gets different players that compliment each other — players that come together, united under one goal.”

Not even a full month into the new role, Banks has put his ‘One Team’ philosophy into action with the coordination of the U-M leg of the CBS Diversity Tour. This professional development and networking opportunity allows creative students to meet with CBS executives to discuss internships and career opportunities, both in front of and behind the camera. “I’d like to do more of this in the future — bring more visitors to campus for networking and career development,” said Banks.

While Banks is still in the process of setting hearty goals for the new position, he’s confident that the Stamps School has robust strengths that can be leveraged. “In 2015, the university conducted something called the UMAY survey, which said that students feel more comfortable here at Stamps than in other parts of the university.”

In part, Banks believes this comfort has to do with the shared, communal bonding experience of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series. “Every single week Stamps Students come together to watch the Speaker Series lectures,” said Banks. “I don’t think there’s any other school on campus where every single student in the school comes together like that.”

Long term, Banks sees high school recruitment playing a large role in the diversification of the Stamps School, supporting the work of Karina Galvan Moore, Director of Admissions at the Stamps School. “A lot of teens haven’t considered majoring in art and design,” Banks said. “Diversity — racial and otherwise — can come when we educate high school students and parents about the full spectrum of creative careers.”

According to Banks, every member of the U-M community can carry the torch for DEI values. Banks calls for unity around basic human kindness. “We all bleed red blood,” he said. “We need to remember that and be good to one another. Sometimes it’s as simple as the Golden Rule: do unto others, as you’d like done to you. Sometimes, it’s just that simple.”