Black History Month at USC offers opportunities to celebrate and educate

USC’s celebration of Black History Month begins Wednesday with a livestreamed kickoff program inspired by this year’s theme: “Reclamation Through Resistance, Rebirth Through Reconciliation.” The hybrid event includes an in-person watch party at Tommy’s Place on the University Park Campus, where students, faculty and staff can watch the program together.

Black History Month logo“It’s one thing to watch it; I think it’s another thing to watch it in community,” said Damarea Parker, supervisor of the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, which is presenting the program. “It’s going to be a very diverse group that’s coming to celebrate. We all love being in person and being able to feel each other’s energy, being able to shake those hands, give those hugs.”

In addition to musical performances, the kickoff program will include messages from USC President Carol L. Folt, U.S. Rep. Sydney Kamlager-Dove, Trojan linebacker Shane Lee, Chief Lauretta Hill of the USC Department of Public Safety, Keck School of Medicine of USC’s Jehni Robinson and USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Associate Professor Miki Turner.

Black History Month at USC builds on national theme

The monthlong celebration takes its cue from the national theme of “Black Resistance,” according to Greedley Harris, director of strategic partnerships for USC Student Equity and Inclusion Programs.

“We took that theme and wanted to put our spin on it as a campus,” Harris said.”We’re reclaiming who we are, reclaiming our strengths and our identities. We’re resisting all these different things like institutionalized racism that are trying to tear us down.”

The campuswide series of Black History Month events throughout February will culminate in a “Family Reunion”-themed celebration at Alumni Park on Feb. 24. In between, the packed schedule includes movie screenings, forums, live performances, a job fair and a book signing.

Black History Month, officially recognized nationwide since 1976, celebrates the achievements of Black Americans and recognizes their central role in U.S. history — from activists and civil rights pioneers to leaders in culture, science, politics and more.

I think a lot of times throughout history, you’re not taught who you are and where you come from.

Damarea Parker, Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs

“When you learn about who you are and where you come from, you can be better prepared to show up in different spaces as your whole self with a sound understanding of your past and what you represent,” Parker said. “I think a lot of times throughout history, you’re not taught who you are and where you come from.”

The month grew out of Negro History Week, which was established in 1926. Expanding the occasion to a month was first proposed by Black students at Kent State University in 1969. A year later, that campus established the first monthlong celebration of Black history to take place in the U.S. In 1976, Gerald Ford became the first president to officially recognize Black History Month.

Opportunity to celebrate: Black History Month at USC

USC Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Christopher Manning sees the occasion as an opportunity to celebrate how Black people, who have experienced “centuries of generational trauma,” have resisted oppression, discrimination and prejudice throughout U.S. history.

This includes being brought against their will to the Americas as slaves between the 16th and 19th centuries in conditions that were not designed for them to survive. Although enslaved people were freed in the United States after the Civil War, they then began suffering through laws that enforced racial segregation in the South (known as Jim Crow laws) from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 until the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s. Despite these enormous hurdles, Black Americans have made countless contributions to the United States.

“One of the principal values of Black History Month is to show people their ability to be resilient, to triumph over odds that are no way in their favor,” Manning said. “Yet they managed to not only survive, but to come to see themselves as having certain characteristics that defined their peoplehood and created a solidarity that we presently understand as Black or African American people.”

The enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, has by no means put an end to systemic racism.

“Yet African Americans and American Black people have managed to be fundamental to the country,” Manning said. “You have great intellectuals, great activists, great artists and thriving communities. The impact on this country is so great that you don’t have the United States without Black people in it.”

Black History Month events at USC

Below are some of the ways to celebrate Black History Month at USC:

  • MLK in Los Angeles (through March 15): Visit USC Fisher Museum of Art for an exhibit that focuses on the Rev. Martin Luther King’s visits to Los Angeles in the 1950s and ’60s and to USC in 1967.
  • USC Black History Month Kickoff (Feb. 1): Join the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs for an in-person watch party beginning at noon at Tommy’s Place with a virtual celebration on Zoom at 12:30 p.m. Food will be served.
  • Black Career Fair (Feb. 1): The USC Black Student Assembly is providing students with an intimate opportunity to meet recruiters of color from major companies, including The Walt Disney Co., Boeing, Paramount Global, McKinsey & Co. and Riot Games. There will be traditional career fair tabling, sit-down speed networking, headshots taken and resume review.
  • SOUL! 2023: Producing to Power in the 21st Century (Feb. 1): Dedicated to the work and legacy of legendary producer Ellis Haizlip, this event features an uplifting conversation with Melissa Haizlip, the award-winning producer of the film Mr. SOUL!, and other prolific producers. The event will be moderated by USC Annenberg Associate Professor Robeson Taj Frazier.
  • February Movie Night — The Woman King (Feb. 3): Bring a lawn chair or a blanket for this outdoor screening on Pardee Lawn, which includes a pre-movie conversation on topics surrounding the film and free food to the first 150 attendees.
  • Voices of a Movement premiere and Q&A with Lora King (Feb. 7): The USC Charlotta Bass Journalism & Justice Lab’s Voices of a Movement series welcomes special guest Lora King, daughter of Rodney King and founder of the Rodney King Foundation. She is the inaugural subject of the Lab’s groundbreaking oral history collection, titled The Second Draft Project.
  • Book Signing: Psalms for Black Lives (Feb. 14): Join the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life for the Psalms for Black Lives book signing and a curated conversation with authors the Rev. Gabby Cudjoe-Wilkes and the Rev. Andrew Wilkes.
  • A.I.M by Kyle Abraham: An Untitled Love (Feb. 15): Don’t miss A.I.M by Kyle Abraham’s presentation of An Untitled Love, one of Abraham’s new evening-length works. Drawing from the catalogue of Grammy Award-winning R&B legend D’Angelo, the creative exaltation pays homage to the complexities of self-love and Black love, while serving as a thumping mixtape celebrating culture, family and community.
  • Films Reflecting Ourselves (F.R.O. Fest) (Feb. 17): Be in the audience for this annual festival that provides a platform to tell and celebrate Black stories. In honor of Black History Month, films by Black writers, producers, directors and actors from USC will be screened.
  • An Evening with Nikole Hannah-Jones (Feb. 21): This is the inaugural event of the Charlotta Bass Media Trailblazer Speaker Series at USC and features Nikole Hannah-Jones, staff writer at The New York Times Magazine and the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of “The 1619 Project.”
  • Black History Month Family Reunion (Feb. 24): Get ready for the closing celebration of Black History Month. The afternoon event in Alumni Park will feature live entertainment, booths representing community groups and local Black businesses, a DJ, food trucks, giveaways and more.

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USC trailblazer Tracy Poon Tambascia is no stranger to being a ‘first’

 

Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the academic year.

 

As the first woman of color to hold the position of president of the USC Academic Senate, Tracy Poon Tambascia is no stranger when it comes to being a “first.”

The courage to do difficult things is a skill that the USC Rossier School of Education professor inherited from her parents. They relocated from Hong Kong and immigrated to Southern California when Tambascia and her siblings were young. Her parents didn’t yet speak English, and they hadn’t lined up jobs prior to their arrival.

Title IX logoStraddling those two worlds — Hong Kong and the U.S. — “very much shaped my upbringing,” Tambascia said.

She and her siblings would emulate their parents’ bravery as the first in their family to go to college. Tambascia attended Occidental College, where she studied psychology. At the time, she did not know what it meant to be a first-generation college student. “After the fact that there were things that I didn’t understand,” she said.

But Tambascia did not let the unknown damper her pursuit of knowledge. She earned her master’s degree in psychology from California State University, Los Angeles, and her EdD in educational leadership from USC Rossier, where she now teaches courses on topics such as student affairs, governance and finance in higher education, and international higher education policy.

USC Title IX trailblazer sees legislation’s impact beyond athletics

Title IX is often remembered for how it transformed student athletics. But Tambascia recognizes there is much more to the landmark legislation and wishes there was a broader understanding of it.

[Title IX is] really about ensuring equitable access to education. And that, I absolutely celebrate.

Tracy Poon Tambascia, USC Rossier

 

“It’s not just about the equal number of teams, women athletes or funding and scholarships,” she said. “[Title IX] is very importantly about preventing assault and harassment, but it’s really about ensuring equitable access to education. And that, I absolutely celebrate.”

Tambascia believes she has greatly benefited from Title IX as she has carved a path in higher education with many achievements, from her 2014 Professor of Color Recognition Award from the USC Undergraduate Student Government to her 2020 Distinguished Faculty Service Award from the USC Academic Senate.

And while Tambascia says she is not one to have heroes, she has certainly had mentors — especially women in key positions who hired her and believed in her throughout her journey. She also draws inspiration from women who lead universities as presidents and provosts.

The strength these leaders have is particularly encouraging, she notes, “because it’s not easy to be a leader in higher education as a woman” — something she knows firsthand as president of the USC Academic Senate from 2021-22.

Staying true to herself is key to USC Title IX trailblazer

During her term, Tambascia further honed her leadership skills, all the while staying true to her own method of leading, one that prioritizes listening and observing, as well as bringing in the voices of others. It is an approach that has worked for Tambascia throughout her career, but which she says has been questioned at times — especially by men. She recalls having been told to be more assertive or to push harder — attributes often identified as masculine and believed by some to be the correct way to lead. Tambascia says she is showing people around her that there are indeed other ways to lead effectively.

Reflecting on her year at the helm of the USC Academic Senate, Tambascia cites the challenges of leading during a time when many were focused on COVID-19 concerns and gave less attention to challenges looming further ahead. As a result, one of the projects Tambascia focused on, the Faculty Fellows Program, will be launched this year under the support of a new president of the USC Academic Senate. The program includes two initiatives, one which will look at junior and mid-level faculty, their generational differences, expectations and needs, and the other to help prepare faculty to take on leadership roles, with a curriculum developed by their peers to help them understand university finance, compliance, administrative structures and policy.

When thinking about her purpose and why she committed to a career in higher education, Tambascia points to her experience as a first-generation college student. Supporting student success is at the heart of what she does, especially those who might feel marginalized or who have had limited access to the knowledge capital necessary to succeed in college — those students who are trailblazers in their own right.

“I think we’re here to serve and support students’ success,” she said. “That’s our job regardless of where we work, what division or what department.”

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USC student curators and designer bring ‘MLK in Los Angeles’ exhibit to life

When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke inside USC’s Bovard Auditorium in 1967, the civil rights leader told the crowd of 1,800 people, “I’m in the heart-changing business.”

Those words are among the memorable quotes by King that have been made into large, eye-catching murals for the new MLK in Los Angeles exhibit running through March 5 at the USC Fisher Museum of Art.

USC Roski School of Art and Design third-year student Nicolette Peji designed the exhibit and wanted it to have “as much loudness and kindness as it could,” with the goal of emulating King’s messages about unity, faith and strength.

Other King quotes given mural treatment include the famous “The time is always right to do right” and “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy,” which King said during a 1964 speech at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Taking up a wall from ceiling to floor is King’s quote in reaction to the Watts Rebellion in 1965: “The catastrophe in Los Angeles was a result of seething and rumbling tensions throughout our nation and, indeed, the world.”

“The idea was to make his quotes and his words look as large as they feel when you hear them,” Peji said. “These quotes are what he stood for and are the messages he tried to project. They are still pertinent to us to this day.”

The exhibit’s volunteer student curators — Kymia Freeman, Endiya Griffin and Sasha Lawrence — sought to honor King’s legacy with the quotes as well as never-before-seen images and audio and video recordings chronicling his visits to USC and South Los Angeles in the 1950s and ’60s.

“A lot of this exhibition was a learning experience for me,” said Freeman, a public relations major at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.”Getting to celebrate Dr. King’s impact and legacy this way is so meaningful to me as someone who loves art and who loves to write and who thinks that those things add so much to our world.”

Insights into King’s spirituality at MLK in Los Angeles exhibit

Lawrence, a psychology major at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said curating the exhibit gave her insights into King’s spirituality.

“Everything we read in school was very concrete and pertained mostly to civil rights and activism,” she said. “But he also was really big on compassion and love, and those are two things that really unify our world. If we have more compassion, we are able to achieve more.”

Greedley Harris, director of strategic partnerships for USC Student Equity and Inclusion Programs, praised the students for successfully connecting history back to themselves and to the community.

“I cannot wait to see the campus come through here and see the various quotes, hear the audio and be here in community with each other celebrating the legacy of Dr. King,” Harris said. “We’re all still fighting for equality and social justice and inclusion.”

The museum partnered with the USC Center for Black Culture and Student Affairs and the USC President’s Office to organize the exhibit.

Bethany Montagano, director of USC Museums, said the student curators and designer have given the university “an incredible gift” and presented them with bouquets at the opening reception held on Jan. 13.

MLK in Los Angeles: ‘You took the torch and you ran with it’

USC Black Staff and Faculty Caucus President Cynthia Brass was also at the reception. “We are so proud to see the young generation know who Dr. King is and what he did,” she said. “You took the torch and you ran with it.”

USC President Carol L. Folt toured the exhibit with the students and at the reception said of the group: “Talk about leaders. We’re going to be hearing from them for a long time.”

Folt further praised the exhibit at Tuesday evening’s screening of the documentary MLK/FBI at Norris Cinema Theatre, which was attended by more than 250 people including the film’s director, Sam Pollard.

“Can you imagine being 18 or 19 years old and doing your first curated show at a university museum?” Folt asked the crowd. “They are amazing students, and what they have put together is fantastic.”

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Trojan trailblazer has blended professional dreams with marriage and parenthood


Editor’s note:
Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the academic year.

USC Annenberg School of Journalism Dean Willow Bay recently read a dismaying Wall Street Journal article about a gender pay gap among male and female college graduates that develops within three years of graduation.

The piece was a cold dose of reality at a time when many are celebrating advances in gender equity during the 50th anniversary year of Title IX.

“Let’s celebrate how far we have come, but let’s be really clear on identifying the gaps that still persist and find ways to address those gaps,” Bay said. “How do we get to true equality and equity when we see pay gaps on the basis of gender emerge virtually immediately upon graduation from college? I think the future is bright for gender equity, but we have a lot of work to do.”

Bay, who was born in New York City, attended the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate then went on to earn her MBA from the New York University Stern School of Business.

“It was very clear to me after leaving college and entering the world of work that college was the most equitable environment that I would probably ever be in,” she said. “We were such a Title IX-governed culture in higher education.”

Title IX trailblazer recalls impact of Billie Jean King

Bay doesn’t remember exactly when she first became aware of Title IX but said, “I have a funny feeling that Billie Jean King was involved.” King served as a major advocate for the passage of the legislation the year before the trailblazing tennis icon defeated Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes match that captured the nation’s attention.

“She was such an early heroine of mine,” Bay said of King. “My very early feminist education was shaped by her professional journey.”

Title IX logoKing’s World Team Tennis doubles partner Julie Anthony served as another role model for Bay. Anthony, a family friend of Bay’s who earned a doctorate while competing on the women’s pro circuit, eventually became a sports psychologist for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team.

“She left tennis, got married, kept her name and sent an important message to me as a young woman that you could blend all these interests,” Bay said. “She turned them into very different but equally rewarding professional experiences and showed me that you could retain your own identity as you added marriage and parenthood to your set of roles.”

In 1995, Bay married Robert Iger, currently CEO of The Walt Disney Co., and together the couple has four children and five grandchildren. As they raised their family, Bay continued her high-profile career in television.

She was with ABC News, reporting and anchoring for the network’s Good Morning America Sunday and serving as a correspondent for Good Morning America and World News Weekend, until she was wooed away to anchor a pair of shows for CNN in the late 1990s.

Bay became the first woman to co-anchor CNN’s daily financial news program Moneyline. She also anchored Business Unusual and Pinnacle, the network’s weekend business news programs.

For NBC, Bay co-hosted NBA Inside Stuff through much of the 1990s and later served as a freelance correspondent for NBC’s The Today Show and MSNBC.

Despite her high-profile success, Bay said she “of course” has faced gender-based discrimination during a career “that had a lot of different twists and turns.”

“I worked in sports, I worked in news and I worked in financial news, which were not always the most hospitable spaces for women of my generation,” she said. “But those jobs also led me to remarkable colleagues and allies and certainly led to opportunities to succeed and flourish and thrive.”

Title IX trailblazer leads school in which 3 out of 4 students are women

Bay came to USC Annenberg from her post as senior editor and senior strategic adviser of what is now known as HuffPost and was a special correspondent and host for Bloomberg Television. She spent three years as director of the USC Annenberg School of Journalism before becoming the school’s first female dean in 2017.

“As the dean of a school with a 72% female student body, I am grateful not to have to fight for the rights of a majority of my students on a daily basis,” she said. “I appreciate the [Title IX] enforcement measures that we have in place to make sure we don’t backslide in our progress toward a truly equitable world. That’s no small thing to be able to say that.”

Bay is confident that Title IX will continue to be key in providing women with equitable education and sports opportunities.

“We would not have made progress toward equitable outcomes the way we have without Title IX,” she said. “We would not have the rich college sports programs for men and women the same way we do today, and we would not have the majority of college graduates be female without Title IX. There are so many outcomes that we are experiencing today that have enriched our society in immeasurable ways.”

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MLK/FBI screening is centerpiece of USC’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration

Filmmaker Sam Pollard, who has dedicated his career to chronicling the Black experience in America, will have his documentary MLK/FBI at the center of the 42nd annual USC Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 17.

The film, released to general audiences in 2021, uses recently declassified files, documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, archival footage and new interviews to show the extent of the FBI’s surveillance and harassment of the civil rights icon. King was the chief spokesperson for nonviolent activism in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s, which protested racial discrimination in federal and state law.

“America in the 1960s was a very complicated place racially, socially and economically,” Pollard said. “Here we are in 2023, and America is still a very complicated place. History is not always the past — it reverberates with the present.”

Presented by USC Visions and Voices, the USC School of Cinematic Arts, the USC Black Staff and Faculty Caucus and the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, this year’s MLK event explores the theme of “Lest We Forget … We Are Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.”

The Black Staff and Faculty Caucus has been organizing a King-related event on its own for more than four decades but decided the time was right to join with other campus entities this year to present a single large-scale event, according to caucus President Cynthia Brass.

We have always tried to shine a light on Dr. King’s vision, what he was focusing on back then and how it applies to what is happening right now.

Cynthia Brass, USC Black Staff and Faculty Caucus president

 

“We have always tried to shine a light on Dr. King’s vision, what he was focusing on back then and how it applies to what is happening right now,” Brass said. “We have to keep pushing and fighting against racism because if you pull the skin back off of every last one of us, we are all the same.”

Greedley Harris, director of strategic partnerships for USC Student Equity and Inclusion Programs, hopes that many of the 300 available seats inside Norris Cinema Theatre for the MLK/FBI screening will be filled with students who might not know very much about the civil rights movement that King led until he was assassinated in Memphis on April 4, 1968. (The event is fully booked, but there is an online waitlist.)

“We want to honor Dr. King and all those that he worked with,” Harris said. “We want our students to see the depth and the strength and the resilience that some of our leaders have — and they have too. They can make a connection in the work they are doing now and be empowered and strengthened.”

Harris said this year’s theme underscores the responsibility of making sure students know what people had to go up against for them to have the opportunities they have now.

“We don’t want our students to forget. We don’t want to forget,” he said. “Because when you forget, history can repeat itself.”

Discussing King’s legacy

USC President Carol L. Folt will introduce the screening of MLK/FBI after a pre-event reception in the USC Queens Courtyard. Pollard will later join USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Associate Professor Miki Turner for a post-screening conversation about the film and the legacy of King.

“Hold on to your seats,” said Pollard, an Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated director and editor. “This is an opportunity to see how the FBI, under the leadership of [former Director] J. Edgar Hoover, tried to destroy one of the seminal figures not only in American history, but in world history.

“When someone like Dr. King came along in the 1950s, he was looked at as a dangerous radical who was upsetting the American apple cart,” Pollard said. “Hoover saw it happening, and his mission was to destroy King’s reputation by any means possible.”

When someone like Dr. King came along in the 1950s, he was looked at as a dangerous radical who was upsetting the American apple cart.

Sam Pollard, filmmaker

 

Pollard has directed or co-directed many documentaries, including Lowndes County and the Road to Black Power, Citizen Ashe, Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me and Black Art: In the Absence of Light. He shared an Oscar nomination with Spike Lee for Best Documentary Feature for 4 Little Girls and won an Emmy for editing By the People: The Election of Barack Obama.

“None of these documentaries I’ve made are things that should be made and screened and put away for 15 years,” he said. “They are living organisms with vitality and relevance long after they are made.”

USC MLK celebration: Marching in Kingdom Day Parade

About 100 members of the USC Trojan Marching Band will be participating in the 38th annual Kingdom Day Parade on Monday. The parade along Martin Luther King Jr. and Crenshaw boulevards begins at 11 a.m. and has the theme of “Making America the Last Best Hope of the World.” KABC-TV (Channel 7) will broadcast and livestream the event.

This is the first time the USC band is taking part in the parade, according to Stephen Wesson, USC managing director of community partnerships, who led the effort to make it happen. The parade took a two-year hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I lived on the parade route for many years, and my daughters and I went every year,” Wesson said. “To now be involved at USC and participate in this way is full circle. It’s very important for me to see the university embrace this significant parade, which highlights the life and contributions of Dr. King.”

Also marching along the 2.5-mile parade route will be the all-Black majorette team Cardinal Divas of SC, a new student club that became an internet sensation last fall with their appearances at USC football games.

Before the parade, Folt will join Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass and Kingdom Day Parade Grand Marshal George Fatheree III at a special breakfast where the USC president will be among the speakers. Fatheree made headlines after working to secure the recent return of Bruce’s Beach to the descendants of Willa and Charles Bruce. The property had been seized from Black landowners by the city of Manhattan Beach in 1924.

Fisher Museum exhibit part of USC MLK celebration

The legacy of King is also being celebrated with an exhibit that opens this week at USC Fisher Museum of Art.

The MLK in Los Angeles exhibit will run from Jan. 13 to March 5. The exhibit focuses on King’s visits to Los Angeles and to USC and features several never-before-seen historic images, audio and video recordings.

King’s visits to USC, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and other South L.A. landmarks in the 1950s and ’60s included a 1967 speech at Bovard Auditorium that was interrupted by a bomb threat. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 1,800 was evacuated from the building 30 minutes into the event, though King returned shortly after to resume his speech. He would be murdered less than six months later.

The campaign for a federal holiday celebrating King began soon after his assassination in 1968. In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law. It is observed on the third Monday of January each year.

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Creating space for equity in academia

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Creating space for equity in academia: answering the call of the next generation

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Creating space for equity in academia: answering the call of the next generation

An award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funds continued efforts in diversity, equity and inclusion in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences.
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Following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery – and the public outcry that followed – businesses and institutions across industries looked inward to confront and address longstanding diversity and discrimination issues.

As academia continues to examine and act on challenges and opportunities, the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences has been awarded approximately $300,000 over 18 months by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The award is part of their Transforming Academia for Equity initiative, aimed at progressing faculty diversity, equity and inclusion in departments and schools of public health.

The Department joins a collaborative of six other awardees focused on breaking down exclusionary structures and policies and building up pro-actively inclusive ones. Consulting are Change Matrix, the Coordinating Center for the initiative, and the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), which helps the collaborative understand how to accelerate learning and create change.

“Bringing together a group of diverse individuals from different types of academic institutions is really an important way for us to all learn and grow together,” says Chanita Hughes Halbert, PhD, Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, and member of the Department’s Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Council.

The desired outcome of the initiative is to increase the diversity of health research by providing underrepresented scholars the conditions they need to thrive, and in turn positively impact both individual researchers and the populations and communities their research could benefit.

The right conditions are all that is needed to see underrepresented minorities excel, according to Ricky Bluthenthal, PhD, Associate Dean for Social Justice at Keck School of Medicine, Vice Chair for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences and REDI Council member. Bluthenthal also serves on President Folt and the Provost’s Task Force on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) .

“In areas where our society has either achieved desegregation, or worked to reduce discrimination, you end up seeing tons of African American and Latino excellence,” said Bluthenthal. As an example, he notes that there is a higher percentage of African American military officers than African American population overall.

Bluthenthal is quick to note that progress is reliant on intentionality, a concept the Department and Keck School of Medicine have turned into action. In fall of 2020, the School formed Justice through Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, Well-bring and Social Transformation (JEDI-WeST) with Bluthenthal at the helm. On the department level, the Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Council took shape.

The council, originally assembled and organized by students, is made up of faculty, staff and student leaders from the Department. It takes aim at creating and maintaining a culture of learning and health promotion; empowering underrepresented minorities in the Department and research participant community; and uprooting manifestations of racism in academia and health care. The Department also formed a Guiding Team, made up of 11 faculty and staff members previously committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, and representing diverse perspectives, to collaborate with the council.

The groups and initiatives are vehicles and drivers for a growing collection of efforts including anti-bias and allyship training, installing infrastructure promoting and celebrating diversity, race climate surveys and anti-racism book clubs. The REDI Council is also leading and informing the essential work within the Department of developing pipelines and mentorship processes, facilitating conversations and reworking curriculum to include anti-racism education in every course.

It is work that the award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will help continue. Being part of the initiative, says Bluthenthal, “gives us additional resources to really support all of the activities and to focus on creating an environment where these young scholars, and assistant professors, can grow and matriculate, as well as our trainees.”

One way the REDI Council intends to implement intentional change is through the development and maintenance of pipeline programs. While student pipelines have existed as programs like the Summer Program in Diabetes and Obesity Research (SPIDOR), Bridging the Gaps and the Los Angeles Biostatistics Education Summer Training Program at USC (LA’s BEST@USC), the Council recognizes the need for more, and is putting new focus on faculty pipelines. “We’re trying to identify promising postdocs to bring in and then create a pathway for them to become faculty,” explains Bluthenthal, citing the need for “an ecology of success.”

Hughes Halbert sees pipeline generation, including institutional training programs, as one of the long-term outcomes of this work. “Institutional training programs are such a powerful and important resource for recruiting our next generation of faculty members,” says Hughes Halbert. “I think that by going through this process of really understanding our strengths and weaknesses and opportunities… it will enable us to generate our own pipeline.”

Students have also identified a diverse faculty as a priority, and Bluthenthal and Hughes Halbert credit a group of students with being the catalyst for many new Department efforts, including the creation of the REDI Council.

Doctoral candidates in Health Behavior Research, Cynthia Ramirez and Brooke Bell united student groups across the Department following a student-led book club examining race and racism, which Bell had organized. They discussed the issue of race in academia, science and health, and institutions’ responsibility to act.

“I learned that the construct of race was created by scientists,” says Ramirez of the reading materials. “Sitting with that, I felt that as scientists ourselves, we have a moral obligation to study our fields’ history, acknowledge its harmful effects, and proactively work towards making it a more equitable space.”

The group compiled a list of student needs – populated through surveys and town halls that the students organized – and submitted it to the Department. It was embraced by faculty and leadership. “I was nervous about potential push back,” says Ramirez, “at one point we were even prepared to go into negotiations… but we were met with such support from faculty and admin. I’m really grateful that it happened that way.”

As part of the Transforming Academia for Equity initiative, the Department takes action to further its progress in representation and equity – as a department focused on population and public health in a large, diverse city. “We have a categorical imperative to do something in this area,” says Bluthenthal. “If we want to change, we have to be intentional. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is providing us additional resources to make that intention a reality.

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Keck Medicine of USC launches Gender-Affirming Care Program

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LOS ANGELES — When Bridget, 57, moved from the East Coast to Los Angeles, she sought health care to maintain and monitor her hormone therapy.

She was quickly disappointed. One provider admitted they knew nothing about transgender health, and another labeled her transgender status as a “medical problem.”

She then discovered the Keck Medicine of USC Gender-Affirming Care Program and met with Laura Taylor, MD, a Keck Medicine family medicine specialist and medical director of the program. Taylor has been Bridget’s primary care doctor ever since.

As Bridget experienced, transgender people often face barriers to equitable health care. According to a 2021 study from the Center for American Progress, one in three transgender adults said they had to teach their doctors about transgender health to receive appropriate care. Nearly one-half reported having negative or discriminatory experiences with a health care provider.

To address the many health care disparities faced by transgender individuals, Keck Medicine has launched the Gender-Affirming Care Program to meet the comprehensive needs of the transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse community. Services include everything from routine health care, such as preventive cancer screenings, yearly checkups and flu shots, to gender-affirming hormone therapy and surgery.

The program is comprised of physicians from several disciplines including family medicine, plastic surgery, gynecology, urology and otolaryngology. Specialists in voice, occupational and physical therapy are also available to patients.

A nurse navigator coordinates care with the providers to ensure patients receive seamless specialized treatment. The physicians and program staff have collectively received more than 600 hours of gender-affirming sensitivity and inclusivity training.

“Our program brings together a multidisciplinary group of physicians across specialties to address the specialized needs of this underserved population,” said Taylor. “We’re proud to offer a full range of health care services in a safe and supportive environment.”

Another key aspect of the Gender-Affirming Care Program is that it was designed with input from the local transgender community.

“Due to historic marginalization of the transgender population, some within the community view medical providers with distrust,” said Roberto Travieso, MD, surgical director of the program. “It was important to make our local community part of the process as we built the program.”

As part of its outreach, Keck Medicine partnered with The TransLatin@ Coalition, the largest trans-led nonprofit organization in Los Angeles that advocates for the needs of transgender, gender non-conforming and intersex immigrants across the country.

This collaboration helps Keck Medicine establish a strong foundation within the transgender community and provides ongoing feedback on how the program can best serve patients.

The Gender-Affirming Care Program was in development for several years, but came to full fruition with the arrival of Taylor and Travieso to Keck Medicine, respectively in 2020 and 2021. Taylor is trained in LGBTQ+ health care and Travieso is fellowship-trained in gender-affirming surgery.

The program leaders hope to hire and train more gender-affirming practitioners, build more mental health services into care and foster additional community partnerships.
Meanwhile, for patients like Bridget, the Gender-Affirming Care Program is a gift.
“I am doing really well under Dr. Taylor’s care, and feeling happy and healthy,” she said.
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For more information about Keck Medicine of USC, please visit news.KeckMedicine.org.

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Report updates USC’s Culture Journey, an ongoing examination of the university’s values

USC leadership on Tuesday released an update on the university’s Culture Journey, a multiyear examination of the institution’s values and priorities.

“The 2022 Culture Report I am sharing today demonstrates progress in key priority areas and reflects your commitment to advancing our values and holding ourselves accountable,” USC President Carol L. Folt said in the report. “Most importantly, the critical work highlighted here is brought to life by you — passionate individuals dedicated to making positive changes at USC.”

For three years, tens of thousands of students, faculty, staff and administrators have contributed to Culture Journey discussions and surveys. The result was the creation of USC’s Unifying Values — accountability; integrity; excellence; open communication; well-being; and diversity, equity and inclusion — and a commitment to an ongoing process of collective self-examination, improvement and renewal.

“Our culture shapes our future,” Folt said. “Each day, there are countless meaningful conversations and advancements happening in every corner of our university and medical system. Listening to the community, learning from our collective experiences and centering our Unifying Values are fundamental tenets to building our culture together.”

The report can be read online.

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Pioneering pharmacy professor learned early to work hard and help others


Editor’s note: Title IX — the landmark legislation that prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding — was signed into law on June 23, 1972. In recognition of this anniversary, we’ll be profiling Trojan Title IX trailblazers throughout the academic year.

When Jean Chen Shih interviewed for a faculty position at the USC Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in 1974, she was told there were 70 other applicants for the job and left campus feeling unsure about her chances. Shih was nearly nine months pregnant, but no one seemed to notice after two days of interviews and a seminar presentation.

Title IX logo

Just days after giving birth to her second son, Shih received a call from a man congratulating her. She replied, “Thank you! It’s a boy!” After some confusion, Shih was surprised to discover she was not speaking with a family well-wisher but with the head of the USC search committee who was calling with an offer to join the faculty.

“He said, ‘I didn’t know you were about to deliver a baby,'” she recalled. “I didn’t know if it was an important issue and didn’t know what they thought about it.”

Shih didn’t ask; she just got to work. During her nearly five-decade career at USC, she has done groundbreaking scientific research and become a world leader in understanding the neurobiological and biochemical mechanisms behind such behaviors as aggression and anxiety. She is also developing cancer drugs with dual therapy and diagnosis functions.

She is a University Professor and holds the endowed Boyd P. and Elsie D. Welin Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences chair. Her areas of expertise include brain development, autism spectrum disorder and repurposing antidepressants for brain cancer and prostate cancer.

Shih’s many honors and accomplishments include two prestigious MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) Awards from the National Institutes of Health. Fewer than 1% of researchers who apply for federal funding are chosen to receive a MERIT Award, which provides five years of grant support with the option of an additional five years. She is the only faculty member to hold this honor in USC history. She is also the founding director of USC-Taiwan Center for Translational Research and past president of the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America, a leader in global interdisciplinary and translational research.

Title IX trailblazer: Working twice as hard

Title IX had been signed into law just two years before Shih’s hiring at USC. The landmark law prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other educational program receiving funding from the federal government.

“Most women like me didn’t know what our rights were,” Shih said of her early days at USC. “When anything would happen to us that wasn’t fair, we just thought, ‘That’s the way it is.'”

The discrimination wasn’t obvious, but it was there.

“In 1974, there were fewer female faculty members, and our slogan was always, ‘A woman has to work twice as hard to get credit,'” Shih said.

Title IX also couldn’t make it easier for Shih to juggle her responsibilities at work and at home.

“Sometimes a faculty meeting would go past 5 p.m., and I’d have to pick up my son from school,” she said. “But at that time, I was afraid to say, ‘I cannot stay.’ I would get to the school and there would be my son standing at the football field by himself waiting for his mother to pick him up. I’d feel terrible.”

She pointed out that faculty meetings began to finish much earlier once male faculty members became involved in picking up their kids as well.

Although Shih has seen changes and improvements, she believes Title IX is as important now as it was 50 years ago.

“Now we have more female students, and I think this law has really helped people at all levels to see the importance of equal rights — especially in education,” Shih said. “It’s very important that more and more people are aware of this law. Then, I think the improvement will be expanded exponentially.”

A mother’s example to a Title IX trailblazer

Born in China, Shih moved with her family to Taiwan when she was 8 years old. She lived there until after graduating as valedictorian with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from National Taiwan University.

Shih said “education was always everything” because of the influence of her “trailblazer” mother.

“I was brought up to always do my best in everything I do and always try to help others,” Shih said. “I’ve known many Nobel Prize winners, but she is the person I admire the most.”

It never occurred to Shih, the second of three daughters, that she wasn’t as smart as the men in her classes. She had the confidence and the drive to leave Taiwan and earn a doctorate in biochemistry from a joint program at the University of California, Riverside, and UCLA.

My mother never even for one day let us think that females are different.

Jean Chen Shih, USC pharmacy professor

“My mother never even for one day let us think that females are different,” she said. “She believed education would bring us to a higher level to help more people.”

Her mother not only stressed academics, but also being a good person. She led by example: “When I was little and wanted to buy shoes, she would also buy shoes for the neighbor who was poorer than us.”

Shih believes she has continued her mother’s legacy of education and helping others through her teaching.

“I have been here 48 years, and my female students always write to me saying I serve as a role model for them and how much they appreciate me,” she said. “Some of their daughters have graduated from college now. I feel good that I have been able to pass along that important, good message.”

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Trojan brings her advocacy efforts to Paris Fashion Week

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Tiana Day is committed to making impactful dreams come true. As the founder of the nonprofit Youth Advocates For Change, the USC Iovine and Young freshman uplifts and empowers students who are making the world a better place through the convergence of art and social justice. Since her organization’s inception in 2020, Day has boosted the voices of young changemakers through photoshoot campaigns, fundraisers, protests, and community service, but her reach isn’t limited to USC’s campus or her homebase in the Bay Area. She recently got the opportunity to bring her dynamic inspiration to Paris Fashion Week, sponsoring 14-year-old (yes, you read that right!) Ashlyn So, a fashion designer and activist whose work aims to combat Asian hate.

The heart of Youth Advocates For Change’s mission is “to amplify youth voices through intersectional social justice issues and creative arts.” The organization’s model works off the concept that students pitch ideas to Day that constitute these pillars, and So’s ambitions exemplify the types of projects Day is wholeheartedly devoted to supporting. Day found So when the then-thirteen-year-old was interviewed for Youth Advocates For Change’s student-run Amplify For Advocacy Podcast. She instantly connected with her story.

“Anywhere that bridges that gap between art and activism is where I want to come in and provide students with opportunities, resources, and connections to make their dream projects come to life,” Day says of her ultimate goal.
A woman wears a mask and a black t-shirt and poses with her back to the camera
When Day heard So illustrate her objectives as a young fashion innovator driven to represent the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, she said she “had seven lightbulbs go off” that would eventually further ignite So’s movement. Being Black and Filipino, Day felt personally aligned with So’s plight. So, who started sewing at age six and participated in her first New York Fashion Week at age nine, presented a 2021 collection sponsored by Youth Advocates For Change that acted as an “ode to activism,” designed to fight Asian American racism.

“She called it Beneath the Surface,” Day describes. “It was all repeating colors and lines and patterns that showed beneath the surface we’re all the same, and therefore we should unite in love. It was a really beautiful message.”

Day and So continued their purposeful partnership by organizing a collaboration protest called the Gold and Black Unity rally, uniting the Black and Asian communities, but they didn’t stop there. When Paris Fashion Week called, they answered with enthusiasm. So unveiled her latest collection in France on Oct. 2 during the storied sartorial event. Of course, Day and her team were right there lending encouragement (and walking the runway, because why not?).
A woman poses on the runway at a fashion show in a gown and pearls with her hair up
Photo Credit: Arun Nevader

Now an Academy student, Day has many titles under her belt – model, nonprofit founder, and CNN Hero, to name a few – but she didn’t aspire to become an activist until she fell into the role of one in a massively effective way. At age 17 in 2020, she led a Golden Gate Bridge Black Lives Matter Protest, co-organizing the event in just 18 hours. Thinking she would be expecting a group of dozens, Day was surprised and invigorated by the thousands that showed up to march alongside her. Suddenly she was a leader.

Day recalls, “After that everyone was like, ‘you just organized one of the largest protests in the country for BLM, what’s your next move and how do you want to create impact?’ These were questions I never had asked myself. I had never considered myself an activist before that moment.”

Day reveals that up until that turning point her surroundings and local worldview informed a lack of passion for education. That all transformed when she realized she could carve out an inclusive space for herself through art and advocacy that centered on the next generation of social justice trailblazers.

“I grew up in a suburban area that didn’t have a lot of representation. Being one of the only Black students and Black women, I constantly felt very isolated, which led me to start organizing for Black Lives Matter in 2020. I was finding my voice in this movement and youth advocacy in general,” Day notes. “I just realized there were a lack of spaces that offered that kind of support for young people.”

Day says that she took it upon herself to learn – and unlearn – history she had been taught relating to race and injustice. Soon enough her calling was set aflame and education became a newfound interest. She actualized the impact she was able to make and the ability to “love life again.” Youth Advocates For Change ended up raising $30,000 for Black students to go to college. When it came to higher education for Day herself, she felt the Academy was the only way to go. It was the one school she applied to.

“Once I found out about it, I had tunnel vision. I was like, ‘I will be here.'”
a woman stands in front of stairs wearing a baseball cap and denim shorts while surrounded by red and gold balloons
Day made it. Now that she’s here, Day’s set on making the most of her collegiate experience. Discovering a love for design after her time immersed in the fashion industry, she wants to “actually make things” now that she has access to the Academy’s tools and studio spaces. She looks to her peers to embolden her to innovate creatively while enacting meaningful change.

“It’s just a really inspiring environment. I knew that with my passion being multifaceted and wanting to be a changemaker and shake things up, being in a space with people who are like-minded to have those same kinds of goals was really important,” she says. “When I found the Academy, the only thing I could think of was how aligned it was with my organization and that’s why I chose it.”

Day adds, “I feel very supported at the Academy. I can’t describe it any other way. The main reason I started organizing was because of the lack of support I got in education and the space I grew up in. Here, I feel like it’s, ‘we got your back.’ It just makes me so happy.”

While Day sets out on her own academic journey, Youth Advocates For Change continues to expand. It’s hard to even imagine how Day and her organization might “shake things up” next, but if her story is any indication of what lies ahead, Paris Fashion Week is only the beginning.

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