Race and Equity Center pilots diversity training program

The USC Race and Equity Center is debuting its USC Equity Institutes program, a virtual diversity training course for administrators, faculty and staff from universities across the country, after completing its pilot initiative last semester.

Universities can sign up to take eight-week courses that meet once a week with various instructors in video conferences. According to Jade Agua, associate director for learning and organizational development at the Rossier School of Education, the courses include two weeks of foundational training focused on the basics of racial equity in higher education institutions.

The remaining six weeks focus on each institution’s specific needs, such as recruiting and retaining more faculty and staff members of color, or focusing on the experiences of students of color in Greek life.

“Our strategy is unique in that we are targeting executive level leadership,” Agua said. “So vice presidents and above, people who can make some big decisions on their campuses, but also with an eye toward sustainability, so building in what they’re learning, so that the work continues far beyond the eight weeks of our program.”

Stanford University and four other institutions will start their training this month, according to Agua. She said the program will continue to run through the 2019-20 fiscal  year.

After completing the course, Agua said participating universities will continue to work on projects they created during the course to execute their individual goals. She said the Race and Equity Center will act as a project management team to periodically check in with and guide the universities.

“For the sort of change that these institutions are looking to make, it’s not reasonable to think that in two months it’ll be done,” said Joanna Drivalas, a research associate at the USC Race and Equity Center who served as a teaching assistant for some of the courses. “It takes time for things to sink in, for things to be applied to their setting and then to actually make policy and practice changes on their campus.”

Kaylan Baxter, a research associate at the USC Race and Equity Center, has seen how the course has impacted its students while working as a teaching assistant for some of the courses.

“People, especially people from different racial backgrounds, have had really candid conversations that they probably wouldn’t have been able to have in moments of crisis or a regular meeting,” Baxter said. “I think those have been the most transformative exchanges that I’ve watched.”

Agua said that university administrators don’t often receive training on diversity. The Equity Institutes give participants the opportunity to learn about the language and skills of inclusivity to create a more welcoming space for everyone on their campuses, she said.

“There aren’t always opportunities for people to dig in and understand and change not only their own mindsets or approaches to how they think about problems …  but also their strategies for how to change them or address them,” Agua said. “We are hoping to meet that need where our leaders don’t find themselves so distanced from students or so distanced from these topics.”