1. You were selected as COSW’s first Diversity Fellow. Can you tell us a little bit
about what entails being a Diversity Fellow?
As the Diversity Fellow in the COSW, I work closely with the Associate Dean of DEI to gain leadership experience in diversity, equity and inclusion. Among other responsibilities, I help plan and coordinate programs, co-lead committee meetings and assist with College communications. These and other tasks offer me an opportunity to obtain knowledge and skills in areas such as program implementation, collaboration and networking, data analytics and assessment, as well as student, faculty and staff engagement.
2. You’re one of the University’s first Diversity Fellows. How does it feel to be a groundbreaker at USC?
It is wonderful to have so much support from the University. Many hard-working folks have laid the groundwork for the concept of a Diversity Fellow to come to fruition. So, I feel like less of a groundbreaker and more of a builder continuing the work atop a solid foundation. I hope to see more units across the University follow suit.
3. The COSW Diversity Committee has hosted a number of college events this year – what are some of your future events and goals for those?
Our goal for this year is to expand on some of the work we did last year – namely our Student Climate Survey and the Anti-Racism Teach-In – and to translate what we learned into action. A few programs to note from this Fall include the “Decolonizing Your Syllabi” faculty workshop, the faculty and staff “Implicit Bias” book club and our College-wide “Writing on the Wall” event. Last semester we were also awarded a grant from the University Office of DEI for some exciting Black History Month programming that we have planned. Finally, we intend to finish Spring 2023 with some well-informed recommendations for advancing DEI at the College. We hope to achieve this by working with the COSW community to establish our collective identity through the cooperative writing of a College diversity statement and by facilitating ongoing assessment in the form of annual climate surveys and guidance for annual performance review diversity statements.
4. What are your thoughts on the Fellowship assisting with the experience of underrepresented students?
Our internal climate survey and research supports the notion that students in general – not just at USC – are struggling, especially after the many community-level stressors endured over the past three years. Students from groups that have been historically targeted for oppression, and consequently underrepresented, are often impacted by these stressors more acutely than their majority-culture counterparts. It is imperative, therefore, that we continue the work to transform their experience while at the COSW.
5. What sort of growth around diversity – if any – have you seen here at the college and how are we moving that needle in climate improvement?
The College is making substantial headway in its pursuit of a more diverse and inclusive environment. A few efforts of note include a required diversity course for students, the addition of an all-gender restroom in Hamilton and COSW community conversations about race, oppression and exclusion among students, faculty and staff. While we are proud of these steps forward, we recognize that more work is needed and that growth in diversity and inclusion does not automatically translate to improvement in the College climate. This understanding was part of the impetus for the climate survey we conducted last academic year. We are using what we learned from that survey to inform our next steps.
6. What have you seen through our climate report that highlights areas we could grow?
Overall, last academic year’s report found that many students enjoy a positive and welcoming climate. This experience is not universal, however. Results of the survey suggest that there are some systematic differences in how students perceive and are treated by the COSW. For example, while almost two-thirds of students reported being satisfied or very satisfied with the College climate, on average students reported only modest levels of agreement with the idea that the COSW is committed to DEI and similarly reported only modest agreement with the idea that they feel valued or like they belong. Using the climate report as a springboard, we are guiding the College through a process to fortify what we are doing well in terms of DEI and to identify the practices that work against a positive climate in the COSW.
7. What’s your take on the most pressing diversity issues for the college?
The COSW is doing a good job of recognizing the need for change and many students, faculty and staff have accomplished a great deal in regard to DEI, but we need a more collective sense of direction. This has proven to be challenging because we are still working to establish a shared identity and a comprehensive plan for moving forward. With this in mind, I think collectively writing a COSW diversity statement and developing a DEI strategic plan is imperative. Defining the values that shape our College, identifying our shared goals and determining how we position ourselves within the larger community will help inform a diversity statement which in turn can guide strategic plan development.
8. What other boundaries do we need to push to ensure that academia continues to grow into an inclusive and diverse place where everyone feels they belong?
As social workers, we should lead the vanguard of social change, but as a profession we often find ourselves reacting to demands for social justice and struggling to be the change we wish to see. Altering our defensive posture requires a willingness to learn independently, to be corrected and to be allies in the fight instead of sympathizing spectators. Some folks have a relatively firm grasp on what it means to be inclusive, equitable and diverse. Some do not. Nevertheless, we all have blind spots and no one person knows the answer. Therefore, we must individually become comfortable with hard conversations and collectively identify these types of discussions as a norm in academic culture. Diversity is a start, including all voices is a positive next step, but giving those voices power and authority to ensure an equitable experience for all who work and learn in educational communities is the ultimate goal. I believe that being intentional toward this end is how we will grow.
9. Can you tell us a little bit about your research and how diversity is involved?
My research interests revolve around social justice as it relates to the human right to be and to belong. This interest currently presents itself in two ways: in a focus on the long-term implications of displacement and displacement pressure for residents of gentrifying communities and in a focus on the processes and implications of inclusion, equity and diversity efforts in higher education.
10. What’s your next step as a PhD student – where do you see yourself after finishing your dissertation and graduation?
I hope to settle into either a tenure-track position or a post-doctoral opportunity at a research-focused institution of higher education. I want to continue conducting research and to teach while also working with that institution on their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.