USC appoints first chief inclusion and diversity officer

Christopher Manning worked on diversity efforts at Loyola University Chicago, where he served as associate provost for academic diversity. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Manning)

Christopher Manning will serve as USC’s first chief inclusion and diversity officer, President Carol Folt announced in a Universitywide email Monday. The all-new position was created following the events of last summer, including the national Black Lives Matter movement and the creation of the @black_at_usc Instagram page, and the role was defined through “extensive community feedback,” according to Folt’s email. Manning will assume the role March 1. 

Manning’s 90-day plan once he assumes the role involves facilitating conversations with students, faculty, staff and administrative leaders about their understanding of diversity at USC, and areas in which there is room for growth. In addition, he plans to conduct an audit of all the diversity, equity and inclusion work done to understand the University’s current state. 

“I’d like to combine the qualitative information from those dialogues with the quantitative information from that audit to then begin identifying high yield opportunities,” said Manning in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “My hope would be to start really launching some pilot programming in response to what we learned in that first survey of information as early as fall.” 

In the long run, Manning said he hopes to establish regular channels of communication with student affinity groups to “more effectively respond to student needs.” Following the national Black Lives Matter movement, Manning said that he doesn’t “want to pursue a model where the only time we communicate is during crisis.” 

Manning also consulted the @black_at_usc Instagram page, which provides a space for Black students, faculty, staff and alumni to share their experiences of anti-Blackness at the University,  for insight into the University’s need for diversity. He noticed that the page included stories not only about faculty and staff interactions but also students’ interactions with each other. 

“We need to think about a systematic way to equip students to be global citizens,” Manning said. “What I would like to do is encourage dialogue … and to figure out, ‘How can we create experiences that all of our communities have to go through that prepare them to be better participants in our miniature global community, that’s our campus, but more importantly, the larger global community that we all live in?’”

In addition to creating and implementing diversity-focused programming, Manning will lead the University’s Diversity and Inclusion Council. He will also assist in executing the President and Provost’s Taskforce on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and the Department of Public Safety Community Advisory Board. 

Previously, Manning served as the associate provost for academic diversity at Loyola University Chicago. There, he worked in diversity, equity and inclusion at an academic affairs level, creating a staff of diversity, equity and inclusion liaison trainers this year. He also served as an American Council on Education Fellow in 2019,  where he studied student success and metrics for diverse student populations. 

“I realized that diversity and success … are flip sides of the same coin,” Manning said. “You want to have diverse populations, and you also want to see evidence that they are fully actualized as human beings in whatever their role is in the institution.” 

Manning also founded nonprofit Inspiración Dance Chicago, a Latin dance company that teaches dance to young students at area schools, and hopes to utilize his experience in the arts to inform his work in diversity, equity and inclusion with artists at the University. 

“I am hoping that my understanding of what it feels like to have a life as an artist will enable me to communicate with artist populations, both within the University, but also connect to artist populations that are outside of the community, building partnerships and relationships that relate to our work in [diversity, equity and inclusion],” Manning said. 

As Manning begins the transition to take on his new role, he said he is “very excited to be a part of the USC family.” 

“I hope that, in time, USC will be a place where every one of our populations, students, staff, faculty, administration feels that USC is a place [where] they can be fully successful and actualized human beings, without regard to any aspect of their identity,” Manning said.