OPINION: USC should support equity in local schools

Within the past 50 years, America’s shifting demographic makeup has led universities to recruit increasingly diverse student bodies and implement inclusive educational programs and social aspects for their student bodies.

Art by Di Wu

These institutions have worked to create a well-rounded student population with students hailing from all walks of life, across racial, socioeconomic, gender and political spectrums. Yet, there is an increasing awareness that diversity and inclusivity should be introduced earlier in childhood development, as primary and secondary institutions should adopt a similar mindset to the collegiate model.

USC has been at the forefront of various diversity initiatives to emphasize diversity and inclusion into daily campus life. In January, for example, USC’s Diversity and Inclusion Awareness Week hosted thought-provoking seminars and wide-ranging discussions for faculty to better address diversity and inclusion in their classrooms. USC also constantly emphasizes its racial diversity and its vibrant international student community.

But, simply discussing the concepts of diversity and inclusion is not enough. USC officials and students must think outside the box to ensure these concepts are valued in the lives of prospective students and individuals from the surrounding South Los Angeles community, specifically focusing on the USC Family of Schools, the 15 schools surrounding the University Park and Health Sciences campuses.

Forward thinking is necessary for educators who are teaching young children how to respect those different from them, and this concept should be implemented earlier in the educational process. As a premier research university, USC has the resources to study households, preschools and playgrounds across the Los Angeles area.

These resources should be directed toward introducing the value of diversity as early as possible into a child’s development. USC should involve students and faculty in the disciplines of education, childhood development, economics and public policy to challenge themselves to come up with workable solutions to bring early diversity education into the surrounding community.

The Department of Education’s 2016 report on the state of racial diversity among public educators reveals that a majority of public school teachers are white, while the racial makeup of classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse. This statistic alone reveals how crucial diversity and inclusion training should be in order for public educators to ensure equal support and access to educational opportunities for students of color.

The website Teaching Tolerance, a project from the Southern Poverty Law Center, it states that teachers should reach out to students in ways that are culturally and linguistically appropriate by examining their inherent biases. “In this era, it’s simply not enough to operate on the axis of color-blindness,” the website writes.

Similarly, it’s especially important to establish this training for teachers and even for parents with children who are most likely attend elementary school with children from diverse backgrounds. Enthusiasm for inclusivity is wonderful, but educational institutions like USC, which has a strong influence over its surrounding communities, should not be satisfied with just four years’ worth of diversity and inclusion exposure provided for a student’s undergraduate experience. Diversity and inclusion must be fostered at a young age to actually impact students’ life experiences.

This concept is exemplified by a statement made by William G. Tierney, the Wilbur-Kieffer Professor of Higher Education at USC Rossier and co-director of the Pullias Center for Higher Education: “Understanding differences is a lifetime event.”

The earlier this understanding begins, the greater the likelihood that it will have to affect a person’s organizational behavior toward diverse groups later in life.

True engagement of students and faculty is crucial to promote the importance of diversity and inclusion regardless of race and ethnicity, sexual orientation or political beliefs. USC leads the nation as the one of the most diverse universities, ranked sixth according to Priceonomics.

It is up to this generation of students and faculty to extend inclusion and diversity principles to young children and their families early in life, whether it be through local mentorship programs or providing research to support increased equity in education.

With USC’s major role in the South L.A. community and its connections to various primary and secondary schools, the University should strive to introduce its diversity and inclusion initiatives off-campus to positively impact the educational experience of prospective Trojans. USC has the infrastructure in place to make a difference for the community at large. Ensuring diversity on campus is a great first step, but bringing inclusivity to our surrounding communities would be wholly transformative.