New CBCSA director focuses on students, collaboration

Greedley Harris III, the new director of the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, wants to encourage more underclassmen involvement and try to retain Black students and faculty at USC.  (Keer Wu | Daily Trojan)

Greedley Harris III attended his first USC football game only days ago, sporting his custom cardinal and gold Nikes that he designed three years back. 

“I’ve always had an affinity for USC,” said Harris, the newly appointed director of the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs.

Harris, who previously served as the interim director for African Student Programs at UC Riverside, arrived at USC only three months ago. But despite the short amount of time he’s been at the University, Harris has already implemented a number of changes at CBCSA.

Harris replaced previous director Rosalind Conerly, who took a job as the director of Black Community Service Centers at Stanford University.

Since his arrival, Harris reworked the physical layout of the CBCSA office. In an effort  to make the center seem more welcoming to students, Harris proposed moving the student lounge to the back of the room and placing the front desk and student workers near the door — the room’s layout had previously been reversed, with the front desk located at the back and couches directly in front of the door. Though a seemingly small change, Harris hopes this will allow for students to be greeted and assisted upon their arrival.

“In my mind, that’s kind of intimidating,” Harris said of the old layout. “We just changed our physical space because we want our front desk staff and our student staff, that are amazing, to catch those [new] folks and be that first point of contact.” 

However, Harris hopes to create more changes to CBCSA than simply modifying the space. He has four overarching goals this school year: strengthening the inner workings of CBCSA, ushering new students into the center, creating relationships with other USC departments and formalizing aspects of CBCSA processing.

He also hopes to welcome new students to CBCSA. Whether a freshman or transfer student, Harris wants the community to know about the space and resources the organization has to offer.

“We ran a little bit of data and about 80% of students [that] come into the space are junior, senior [or] graduate [students], and that’s great. But, we want our first year students to know about this space,” Harris said. “The earlier they know about it the earlier they get connected to resources and the earlier they get connected and interjected into the community.”

Harris, who describes himself as a “relational” person, wants to improve the relationship between CBCSA and USC organizations. He seeks to collaborate with departments, organizations and clubs like the Trojan Food Pantry and other cultural centers.

Harris also hopes to tackle one of the main issues he believes affects Black students on campus: representation. 

According to Harris, retention of both staff and student resources plays a key role in bringing more Black students, staff and faculty to USC. According to University statistics, 5.6% of students identified as Black/African American during the Fall 2018 semester. While staffing isn’t necessarily in Harris’ job description, it’s a task he still feels the need to address.

“The Black faculty and staff are the role models, they are the mentors, they are the resources to our Black students,” Harris said. “If our Black faculty and staff are constantly cycling in and out … there’s not a lot of stability.”

Harris believes that the issue of Black faculty retention and student representation is an institutional issue and acknowledges that CBCSA cannot fix this issue alone. 

“That’s something that we need to … do a better job as an institution …  and again, this office can help with that. But you know, they’ll need to be institutional support for that as well,” Harris said. “We’re not recruiting Black faculty staff, but retaining them.”

Working with student leaders is also crucial to Harris’ vision for CBCSA. Harris, who has a background in working with Black student leaders and organizations, has already began monthly meetings with USC’s Black Student Assembly.

“We’re even thinking about creating orientations for our Black student organizations out of this office to give some more support — that’s a crucial component,” Harris said.

Jasmine Blevins, the BSA programming chair, had the opportunity to work directly with Greedley in furthering developing the Somerville Floor, CBCSA’s Black residential community floor in Fluor Tower. Blevins is also a resident assistant for Somerville Floor.

“He’s very knowledgeable on … how to bring people together, especially the incoming class because freshman year, as a lot of us know, can be an adventure,” Blevins said. “With Greedley’s help and all his guidance that he’s made … we’re going to be making a lot of great strides in terms of turning Somerville into a greater space.”

Blevins hopes to see Harris bring unity within CBCSA for both undergraduate and graduate students. She believes Harris’ and CBCSA’s new use of Dinka symbols throughout the center is a first step in accomplishing that sense of unity.

“They’re West African symbols that symbolize different traits, leadership traits,” Blevins said. “He’s making sure that every initiative that they put forward, … that they collaborate with another cultural floor or any other organization on campus has something to do with those traits … and building some type of trait in us, us as students and putting that in the forefront of everything that we do.”

Jaya Hinton, a new student worker at CBCSA, believes Harris’ previous work at other institutions will allow him to tackle USC’s problems in a new manner.

“There was a lot of turnover within the University as a whole last year but it’s always nice to get, you know, a fresh face, someone who’s … always willing to go a little bit more above and beyond when they first start because it’s all their new initiatives,” Hinton said. “It’s what they did with them beforehand and it’s without kind of being jaded from whatever hasn’t worked at University beforehand.”

Most importantly, Harris wants to continue contributing to CBCSA’s lasting legacy.

“This particular department been around since 1977. So, it’s older than some of the colleges here,” Harris said. “I want it to be seen as an important part of Trojan history, [an] important institution, [an] important resource for Trojans, Black Trojans, but also a part of Trojan history.”