Ainsley Carry reflects on his tenure at USC

During Ainsley Carry’s six years at USC and three years as Vice President of Student Affairs, he focused on initiatives to improve student health and diversity and inclusivity. ( Andy Hsu/Daily Trojan)

“These are issues of life and death.”

Ainsley Carry recalls hearing this phrase back in early 2016 when he first started listening to students share their experiences at USC. As Vice President for Student Affairs, Carry helped lead the Provost’s then-newly established Diversity Task Force, which held roundtable discussions open to the University community every two weeks. And the responses they got revealed that students did not feel like they belonged at USC.

“Initially I thought to myself, [that phrase] may be overdramatizing it,” said Carry, who came to USC from Auburn University in 2013. “But as I continued to listen to the students, they were sharing pain. They were talking about, ‘I don’t feel like I belong here. I’m scared to go out at night. I can’t concentrate in class because I was called a certain name, or a faculty member used my race as an example in a session.’”

Based on these discussions, Carry and the rest of the task force realized that the gaps in inclusion on campus posed health issues that required immediate action.

“When a person doesn’t feel like they belong or don’t feel connected or feel marginalized, that impacts their health, and then their study habits, eating habits to sleeping habits,” Carry said.

According to the Provost’s website, the Vice President for Student Affairs is responsible for supporting students through his campus-wide initiatives. While his goals were centered on cultivating student support and advocacy, promoting student involvement and creating educational experiences outside of the classroom, Carry’s biggest priority was to make USC the healthiest campus in America.

On Dec. 4, Carry announced he would leave USC to become the Vice President for Students at the University of British Columbia in an email to the community. His appointment will begin April 1.

“Students are the heart of USC, and walking across campus with Ainsley shows how much of a personal connection he’s forged with them — they stop him every few steps,” Provost Michael Quick wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “Thanks to his work with Residential Education programs and his drive to heighten the student experience all across USC, Ainsley will leave a lasting legacy of deep engagement with and care for our students.”

For public health

In his six years at USC, Carry placed equity, diversity and inequity at the forefront of his agenda. After holding the diversity forums and round table discussions, Carry aimed to improve the campus culture for students.

“When we start to think about diversity and inclusion as a public health matter, it changes the types of solutions that we start to perceive and think about,” Carry said. “That’s been an important area of progress.”

That year, in response to student protests at colleges across the nation including USC, Carry established the Diversity Task Force. He worked with the task force to expand cultural spaces and hire people to staff them. And to increase transparency, Quick required all USC schools to make the their faculty demographics available online. Each school also established a diversity liaison who would be responsible for improving the diversity within their school through a five-year plan.

According to Carry, students also wanted to enforce mandatory diversity education. As a result, members of the task force, along with student leaders and the Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, began developing a one-unit course titled “THRIVE: Foundations of Well-Being” to advise students on wellness skills ranging from stress management to sustainability.

“There are 50 topics that are important when you get to USC,” Carry said. “There’s so many things that people care about. Equity, diversity and inclusion weren’t the only ones, so the class has a number of components in that space.”

Carry said members of the task force took on the “daunting” request for mandatory diversity education to enforce diversity training and initiatives through Residential Education. Resident assistants now undergo required training on social justice and diversity before they are able to conduct programs.

“What we wanted to do was say, as part of the residential community, let’s trip in our position around equity, diversity and inclusion so that as part of the living experience, they can be engaged with that,” Carry said.

Additionally, Carry worked with the Undergraduate Student Government to set requirements for executive board members of registered student organizations to go through training on matters of diversity.

Aside from diversity initiatives, Carry also led the implementation of USC Student Health’s Collective Impact Plan, a new cross-sector strategy that promotes shared governance and stakeholder input as a means of improving overall campus well-being.

In light of lawsuits against USC and former campus gynecologist George Tyndall for his decades of alleged sexual abuse of patients, the Office of Healthy Promotion Strategy has served as the “backbone” of the plan, which aims to cultivate four pillars: equity and inclusion, individual and communal well-being, substance abuse prevention and healthy relationships.

Despite backlash that the plan fails to support minority groups, USC is one of the first universities in the nation to adopt the plan campus-wide. As such, much is still unknown about Collective Impact.

“I wouldn’t say mission accomplished on that topic yet,” Carry said. “It’s ongoing, constant work. But we did a lot to start the momentum of moving that ball forward.”

Restructuring Greek life

When Carry and members of the task force were building the first-year wellness seminar course, they conducted analyses across schools and departments to evaluate the first-year experience at USC.

“As we went around and met with different types of students and different groups of students, the things we were promoting as the Trojan experience were not acceptable to all,” Carry said. “So depending on what you join and who you are related to, you had access to different things.”

Students brought up the rigor of pledging Greek life organizations, an issue Carry’s predecessors also attempted to address.

Faculty members notified Carry that groups of male students fall asleep in early morning classes every semester — and most of the time, they are pledging fraternities. According to Carry, parents also expressed concerns that freshmen feel pressured to join fraternities and sororities immediately and asked if the University could amend Greek life, so students could properly adjust to college.

“We were just hearing from parents, current students, former students about the rigor of going through this process in their very first year,” Carry said. “So with our student leaders in Greek letter organizations, we brought the topic forward.”

In September 2017, Carry released a letter to the USC community officially instating new Greek recruitment requirements of a minimum USC GPA of 2.5 and 12 completed units for the Interfraternity and Panhellenic councils. These standards, which were made effective in Fall 2018, barred first-semester freshmen and new transfer students from joining Greek life in the fall.

“I don’t want to create the impression that everybody jumped up and said, ‘Yes, let’s do this! Let’s require first-year students to shut out a semester,’” Carry said. “That wasn’t the spirit of it … [but] we have to think about the mental health and well-being of students in their first year of enrollment.”

In response to Carry’s letter, the Panhellenic Council expressed that it was ready to work closely and openly with the University to implement the changes. Meanwhile, IFC leadership released a letter opposing the decision, including a proposal for a public meeting with administration and non-binding mediation.

Carry said that in listening sessions he held with IFC and Panhellenic, members brought up concerns about how the decision would affect various facets of Greek life such as philanthropy due to financial losses from lack of recruitment. As a result, the administration met with IFC and Panhellenic to discuss their finances.

Another concern Carry attempted to address was hazing, especially in Greek organizations. When the administration receives a report of hazing, it conducts an investigation while it places the organization on an interim suspension. If the Office of Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards finds credible evidence, the organization will be sanctioned accordingly.

In the past year, five Greek organizations were investigated: Pi Kappa Phi, Theta Xi, Phi Kappa Psi, Phi Sigma Kappa and Sigma Alpha Mu.

“[And] unfortunately, in the past two years, we’ve had to suspend quite a few organizations, and I’m not a fan of that,” Carry said. “I want healthy Greek communities on our campus or a better community where students have organizations to join and participate in … We cannot sacrifice a healthy Greek community for student health and wellness.”

Now, Carry said that he has received more reports, regarding hazing in campus organizations than before, including one dating back to 2015.

“The toughest challenge with any student groups is that they graduate, they move on, so the knowledge leaves, and you’ve got to re-educate the next year to say, ‘Hey, we want you to know that [hazing] is inappropriate,” Carry said. “So every year we have to be vigilant about keeping the education.”

Moving forward

On April 1, Carry will be appointed vice president for students at UBC. Carry said he is thrilled about USC President-elect Carol Folt’s ability to steer universities in the right direction.

“I can’t think of anybody more capable to lead us right now,” Carry said. “She has been through many of these things at University of North Carolina … She faced real pressure around monument removal on campus, so she understands how to run in a large organization and help us get better.”

Carry said he hopes to have left a legacy that gives the University the momentum to address critical issues across campus, but what he will miss most about USC — and is excited about at UBC — is engaging with the student body.

“Whether it’s at USC, Auburn, Arkansas or UBC, my commitment to the work is the engagement [with students], which is what energizes me,” Carry said. “That’s what keeps me going and is what keeps me coming back.”