From desegregation to diversity

co-authored by Harris Pastides, president, and John Dozier, chief diversity officer

As the University of South Carolina brings to a close the 50th anniversary commemoration of its desegregation, we reflect on how far it has come and how far we have to go. But we aren’t just giving this thoughtful consideration; we are taking action.

Today the University of South Carolina is home to a student population that is approximately 20 percent minority with an equal percentage of minority faculty members. INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine has recognized USC as one of the nation’s top universities for diversity and inclusion for the past two years.

This is certainly a sea change from 1963, when Robert G. Anderson, Henrie Monteith Treadwell and James L. Solomon Jr. stepped onto the USC-Columbia campus for the first time. We have made tremendous progress, and we can do better.

Our challenge is changing how people think about diversity. Diversity is not just about counting those of differing races, ethnicities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and religions on campus. It is also about sustaining a campus climate or culture where everyone feels that they are welcomed, respected, supported and valued.

How will the University of South Carolina adapt to the student population of tomorrow? That is a real challenge and a real opportunity for us to reassess our vision for the future.

In 1990, USC adopted the Carolinian Creed as its social honor code. This eloquent document speaks to what we value as a university while providing a vision that commits us to reaching beyond tolerance to inclusion. In part it says:

“I will discourage bigotry, while striving to learn from differences in people, ideas and opinions; I will demonstrate concern for others, their feelings, and their need for conditions which support their work and development.”

This is at the heart of what our university represents and what we should strive for in every interaction on campus. And this common understanding and respect for all students is becoming increasingly important as the nation’s demographics change.

According to a January article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, colleges and universities must prepare for what will be dramatic demographic shifts in our country. Half of the nation’s children younger than age 5 are minorities. There are also fewer children, with only 95 4-year-olds for every 100 18-year-olds today. As these trends shift, family income also is shrinking.

How will the University of South Carolina adapt to the student population of tomorrow? That is a real challenge and a real opportunity for us to reassess our vision for the future.

We already are implementing programs that will make the university more accessible to all students.

The Gamecock Guarantee and Opportunity Scholars program provides financial and academic support to students who are the first in their family to attend college and come from the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Gamecock Gateway is helping students get a firm foundation at Midlands Tech before they matriculate to earn their degree from USC.

Palmetto College offers a high-quality USC degree on regional campuses and online to students who are place-bound due to family or work obligations.

And the Carolina Completion Initiative aimed at helping Pell grant recipients graduate at higher rates earned White House recognition. These programs are a good start.

We can look to the three students who integrated our campus 50 years ago for inspiration. They knew that change was hard, but they were willing to take the first step. We must follow in their footsteps and continue their journey so that everyone has a role to play, no matter their unique life experiences. There is work to be done, and we are well on our way.

As we close this year of commemoration, we invite you to join us for the finale at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at the Koger Center. USC will present Our Journey Forward, a free evening of music and dance and recognition of the students who set us on this journey.

This is a chance to remember our past, celebrate our progress and share our future. Come be a part of this next step in our journey.