As of Friday, USC wrapped up its Diversity and Inclusion Awareness Week, in which the University hosted a series of seminars and roundtable discussions catered toward providing students and staff alike an opportunity to develop skills in addressing diversity, as well as an outlet to share dialogue. The seminar and roundtables addressed topics including mental health, diversity in science, approaches to opening discussion, inclusion in the LGBTQ community and the #MeToo movement.
The existence of Diversity and Inclusion Awareness Week stands as a testament to the University’s commitment to providing the best education for its students. At a time when identity and inclusion are central issues in today’s political climate, USC successfully maintains an open climate primed for expanding the minds of future leaders. There is a significant difference between promoting an idea and promoting the discussion of an idea. College campuses should not be places where controversial ideas or difficult topics are shied away from, but instead should be spaces where students can cultivate opinions through debate and discussion.
But in such a chaotic political climate, exposing students to the aforementioned “controversial ideas” may not be so simple. Colleges across the country dominated the news this past year with outcry against various speakers. At UC Berkeley in September, when conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was scheduled to speak, the school ended up in a lockdown with multiple arrests and spent more than half a million dollars on security. Similarly, in October at the University of Florida, the arrival of National Policy Institute President Richard Spencer incited enough student protests to cost the school half a million dollars in security, as well as shut down half of campus.
USC’s own campus approaches discussing controversial subjects in a different manner — one that is much more effective. Rather than hosting singular figures to talk at students, the University creates topic oriented panels to provoke thought. The recent Diversity and Inclusion Awareness Week featured panels like “I Don’t See Colors and Other Myths of Cultural Competency,” “Minority Report 2: Reflections on Race Relations in America” and “Faculty Conversations on Diversity: Inclusion, Microaggressions, and Cultural Competence.”
The University could have hosted a single speaker to provide perspective on these subjects, but by turning a topic from a presentation into a conversation, the issue becomes more malleable. In civilized discussion, differing opinions are not personal attacks to stage protests about; rather, they are launching points for informed debate. For instance, when the University held “Minority Report 2,” the aforementioned panel on race in America — a certainly heavy topic of discussion — last Thursday, it opened up space for students to develop their ideas and world views through give and take.
In addition to the past week’s events, other schools within the University contributed to students’ enrichment. Last semester, for example, the Unruh Institute of Politics held a conversation between former president of the NRA and editor-at-large at the Washington Times, David Keene and Unruh’s own director, Robert Shrum. The conversation opened an exchange of ideas on gun control. By listening to differing opinions on an issue, students have the chance to consider alternative perspectives and develop their own.
The difference between USC’s events and those on other campuses is the approachability of the format. USC recognizes the various corners of contention in today’s culture, and in response, opens an opportunity for students to learn through discussion-based lectures. Biased and brutish people will always exist at universities, but intolerance can be treated with understanding developed through education and dialogue.
Perhaps USC President C. L. Max Nikias said it best in his 2016 State of the University Address: “With our great diversity, we must ensure that we remain a university to access, to opportunity, to inclusivity.”
USC’s drive to provide an open dialogue on difficult subjects is in the best interest of the students, and thus the University itself. In turn, it is up to the students to take advantage of these dialogues to fuel understanding and collaboration toward bettering ourselves and the world around us.