In a wide-ranging recent memorandum, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering reaffirmed its commitment to advance racial equity and inclusion and to help dismantle the structural and systematic factors that contribute to such inequities, both at the school and beyond.
Penned by Dean Yannis C. Yortsos and Brandi P. Jones, vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives, the memo summarizes the concrete steps USC Viterbi has taken – and will continue to take – in the aftermath of the brutal killing of George Floyd and the subsequent social justice protests that erupted nationwide, including in Los Angeles.
“The USC Viterbi School of Engineering continues to be committed to engineer a better world for all humanity, a goal that is more pressing now than ever before,” the memo said. “We are very proud that the Viterbi community is fully supportive of this effort and stands as a paradigm among many in changing the conversation about engineering, who we are, what we do and what we look like.”
The Oct. 26 memo, which went out to USC Viterbi faculty and staff, referenced a call to action recently promulgated by the engineering school leadership. After soliciting and considering suggestions from the Viterbi community, the school has promised to increase the number of Black, Latinx and Indigenous students and faculty to meet or exceed national averages; increase engagement with, support for and retention of students, faculty and staff from those cohorts; and to promote an inclusive and equitable environment that would empower all members of the community to thrive.
To achieve those lofty goals, USC Viterbi will review practices for developing and retaining students, faculty and staff; explore inclusive teaching practices to identify pedagogical strategies that actively engage all students and reduce achievement gaps; and re-examine policies, norms, and procedures to promote equity-minded practices, among other initiatives. Progress reports will be delivered on a regular basis by recently established working groups.
USC Viterbi wants to “sustain and further improve an inclusive culture that respects, treasures, and helps reach the unlimited potential of every individual in our extended Viterbi family, in our society, and in our world,” the Oct. 26 memo said.
Under Dean Yortsos’s leadership, USC Viterbi has played an important role in advocating for gender and racial equity.
In 2015, the school led a national diversity pledge that more than 230 engineering schools have signed since. In 2016 USC Viterbi articulated a Parity Objective, and in 2017, USC Viterbi received the ASEE President’s Award in recognition of these efforts. More recently, the fall 2020 online issue of USC Viterbi magazine includes re-imagined “Escape Velocity” podcasts. The new series features poignant stories about the discrimination faced by and triumphs of some USC Viterbi Black students, faculty and staff members.
Still, USC Viterbi needs to do much more to create a strong and equitable environment for all of the school’s underrepresented minorities.
“We should be willing to acknowledge, educate, stand up, commit to change, dedicate resources, prioritize, and be accountable,” Yortsos said. “We will innovate in these areas with actionable initiatives to uplift everyone’s hearts and our minds.”