University pilots culture sessions

Charles Holmes and Annalise Jennings, from third-party organization Barrett Values Centre, provided expert insight into the cultural climate on campus. The pair emphasized a community desire to develop a culture of accountability. (Vincent Leo/Daily Trojan)

The University held the first two of eight town halls to initiate open dialogue and better understand the USC Culture Journey Tuesday in response to results from the USC Values Poll administered last Fall. The town halls will be accompanied by at least 60 more intimate discussion sessions. 

The culture sessions will be led by Barrett Values Centre, an external consultant chosen by the University after two years of research, which will share the high-level results of the USC Values Poll. Sabrina Pasztor, the director of USC Culture Transformation, has been working closely with the Office of Culture, Ethics and Compliance since last year to understand and improve USC’s culture. 

“I think there are a lot of contributing factors to where we are today,” Pasztor said. “Part of that is that over the course of the past three to four years, USC has undergone a considerable amount of things that aren’t necessarily the newsworthy things that we know we can be recognized for.” 

The USC Values Poll had 19,756 participants across staff, faculty and students, with a 27.4% participation rate. 

“Since we had almost 20,000 people contribute to the poll, the plan was always to then have additional opportunities for cultural conversations, like town halls and discussion sessions that are at the USC-wide level, and then we’re actually going to have those school by school and unit by unit as well,” Pasztor said. 

The event commenced with a welcome speech from Stacy Giwa, the vice president of the Office of Ethics and Compliance. Giwa presented a video from President Carol Folt highlighting her vision for values and culture and then introduced Charles Holmes and Annalise Jennings from Barrett Values Centre, who explained and analyzed the poll results.

Jennings explained that, in addition to providing expertise from Barrett Values Centre, she and Holmes have been training faculty and staff within USC to lead the discussion sessions. There are currently 44 people who have completed intensive four-day training and 80 who have completed two days of advocate training. 

“This isn’t something that ends in a year,” Jennings said. “It doesn’t end in two years. It never ends. So we have to invest in our people to facilitate ongoing conversations.”

Mable Johnson, a project specialist in the USC Human Resources Division, was one of the staff members in the audience.

“I’m excited to see the changes that come out of this,” Johnson said.

Jennings and Holmes broke down the results of the USC Values Poll from an expert perspective, categorizing the responses based on the three parts of the poll: current culture, desired culture and personal values. They presented the top 10 selected terms identified for each category. 

“Trojan Family” was the most selected term in the current culture category, “accountability” in desired culture and “hardworking” in personal values. “Compassion,” an ideal highlighted in the presentation, was the second most chosen value across the three parts. 

Nancy Lu, a graduate student studying journalism, attended the meeting to become more involved in the USC community. 

“It shows unity,” Lu said. “I’ve never experienced this, so I think it’s cool. Maybe I should attend another session to learn more about it.”

Paul Menker, a graduate student studying physics, said he was optimistic about the potential for progress.

“At first I was a little bit cynical — it felt like a lot of buzzwords with very little substance,” Menker said. “I think when we got more into the data, I saw some value in being able to analyze more specifically what’s good or bad … I don’t think this specifically is enough to instill change, but I think you need a clear vision of where you are before you know where you can go where you need to be.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified Annalise Jennings. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.