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A Call to Action

USC Marshall Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosts A Collective Call to Action

June 12, 2020
student in mask

Nearly 500 members of the Marshall community joined together via Zoom on Friday, June 5 to acknowledge and confront systemic racism, and accept a call to action leading to its eradication. 

“Community Conversations: A Collective Call to Action,” hosted by Marshall’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, brought together a number of informed voices to help community members process, strategize, and move forward with an urgent and timely plan of action for the Marshall Community.

“We live in a time of historical injustice exemplified by the brutal, violent death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many more before them,” stated Associate Dean and Senior Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Dr. Sharoni Little.

As an educational institution, Marshall sought ways to collectively address racial equity, inclusion, and developing leaders to live, learn, and guide our global world. “We are a community that finds strength in our diversity—strength to face an uncertain future with openness, generosity and grace,” Little noted. 

“Apart from concrete actions and intentions to eradicate systemic racism and anti-black racism, we must remember that this is a heart and human endeavor—it can’t just be words.”—Sharoni Little, Associate Dean and Senior Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer,

School Administration, including interim Dean Gareth James, Chief Financial Officer, Sunny Donenfeld, and the entire dean’s cabinet joined other school leaders and community members, including academic department chairs, professors, staff members, alumni, students and friends of Marshall and Leventhal joined the conversation to improve School, University, and societal actions in response to systemic racism and oppression.

Marshall was joined by a team of mental health professionals from the University Engelmann Center where they served as small group discussion facilitators. “I don’t want to sit on the sidelines. I want to contribute to achieving something better for one another,” said Edden Agonafer, PsyD, assistant professor of psychology at Keck School of Medicine. “We can come together and think of ways we can professionally and personally move forward.”

Participants watched a slideshow of photos documenting anti-black racism, and a short film clip of author James Baldwin in the 1960s, explaining the generational impact of persistent systemic racism--Sharply illustrating that not much has changed in 50 years.

Following small group discussions that asked each attendee to think about their own commitment to change, as well as how the broader Marshall community must change, various suggestions were poignantly shared.

“We need to do more than talk,” said Courtney Brunious, a lecturer in Management and Organization. “Talk only gets you so far. Ultimately, you need action to actually make a difference.”

Dr. Shaun Harper, Provost Professor of Management and Organization, Clifford and Betty Allen Chair in Urban Leadership, Executive Director of the USC Race and Equity Center proposed seven strategies to bring about systemic and sustainable change, including:

“Actively recruiting—and keeping—black students and faculty, and bringing interdisciplinary skillsets to conduct research that will actually make a difference, in the academy and our global world.”

Among the most important action that Marshall can take is to create curricula that will help students understand and address these problems going forward.

“We must better prepare our students to take on these issues as they move into leadership roles throughout business and industries,” he said.

Leadership indicated they had heard the message and wanted to work further.

“Let’s all lean in,” said Suh-Pyng Kuh, Vice Dean for Graduate Programs and Professor of Clinical Finance and Business Economics.

In closing, the participants acknowledged that there is much work to do, with Dr. Little noting, “Apart from concrete actions and intentions to eradicate systemic racism and anti-black racism, we must remember that this is a heart and human endeavor—it can’t just be words.”