Since 2017, USC had held an annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Week each spring semester, a week-long series of workshops, research presentations, events, and social gatherings to help garner conversations around DEI. Since then, the University community has expressed a desire to have the Office of Inclusion and Diversity harness its energy to evolve DEI Week into sponsoring a year-long series of events calling the USC community into DEI action and addressing the challenges of today.

As a result, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity convened an advisory committee that included the Academic Senate, Staff Assembly, Student Affairs, Undergraduate Student Government, Graduate Student Government, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, University Communications, and the Office of Sustainability.  In the Spring of 2022, the committee agreed to a community call to action focused on the Community, Accessibility, Restoration, and Ecology (CARE) Challenge, a year-long series of programming of broad interests that would foster contributions and engagement from our university community (faculty, staff, students, from UPC, HSC, and satellite locations). The CARE Challenge awarded microgrants of $500 to $5,000 to organizations hosting university-wide events focusing on the  four characteristics:

  • Intersection: Demonstrate the intersection of DEI and Sustainability
  • Rigorous: the topics are submitted and evaluated to generate the strongest and broadest possible interest;
  • Inclusive: all of our community populations must have an opportunity to contribute to the series of events;
  • Accessible: all of our communities (staff and faculty, as well as UPC and HSC) need to be able to access the events in some manner.

A wide range of project types made up this inaugural cohort of awardees demonstrates the effort accomplishing goals it set out to, with some highlights coming to mind including:

  • Diversity of submitters/awardees, including student groups, individual students, faculty, and staff
  • Diversity of project types: funding events, educational programming, education through the arts, actual infrastructure, and improvements to sites/projects, which will last beyond the submitter and be of use to future students and USC Community members
  • Diversity of groups impacted, with projects focusing on students, staff, faculty, as well as local community members and as far-reaching as populations in the Philippines
  • There is a wide range of impacts within sustainability, with projects focusing on waste, land and resource conservation, and climate advocacy. 

Below are some examples:

USC Arts & Climate Sustainability Fair

The idea for the Arts & Climate Collective (ACC) emerged from the President’s Working Group on Sustainability, which recognizes the powerful interplay of art and culture work with research and action around sustainability. The Working Group comprises faculty, students, and staff. It is charged with developing an ambitious agenda that leverages the university’s resources to take on the pressing challenges of environmental justice and sustainability on and near campus, in Southern California, and globally. The event will showcase art, media, and culture projects focused on environmental justice, sustainability, and/or climate change. In addition, it will provide an opportunity for students, staff, faculty, and community members to learn about all the incredible work being done in this area of community/EJ/art/culture/sustainability, both on and off

campus, and uplift the work that community organizations are doing. The event facilitated building relationships between these groups and broke down barriers between on- and off-campus organizations and people. A truly sustainable future involves the meaningful participation of all community members.

Zero Waste Laundry Detergent Pilot Program

By distributing zero-waste laundry detergent to students of diverse backgrounds, students with

demonstrated needs, and students engaging in sustainability touch points, USC can make significant progress in achieving the goals in Assignment: Earth while serving as an institutional leader in sustainability. Additional funding will allow the pilot to expand to more campus affinity groups (e.g., La CASA and APASS), continue our partnerships with the USC Basic Needs Center and the USC Sustainability Hub, and reach additional students on campus. The pilot project targets reducing plastic waste and water pollution while providing increased access to sustainable products and bolstering student sustainability practices on campus. Hosting additional tabling events and posting informational signage and social media content will further support increasing environmental awareness across USC’s campus communities. Expanding the pilot will allow more students to gain awareness of sustainable alternatives to traditional laundry detergent and other ways students can integrate sustainability into their daily practices. The pilot educates students on the importance of sustainability and how USC empowers students to create new sustainability pathways. Beyond the pilot’s conclusion, the pilot organizers expect scalable reductions in campus waste from students changing their laundry and packaging consumption habits, as the survey results will support.

Pollinator Biodiversity Workshop @ the Festival of Books

Many students across LA grow up in areas with less green space. This project intentionally communicates challenges surrounding how a lack of green space and access to biodiversity is a DEI issue. The pollinator booth at the Los Angeles Festival of Books attempts to address this disparity by offering the USC Peace Garden as a resource for the community, a hands-on educational opportunity for participants, and a way to bring more biodiversity to their backyards. This booth will serve as a safe, educational space to connect with nature without the financial barriers of entrance fees or programming costs. Specifically, the seed-bursts activity will allow participants to bring drought-tolerant native CA Wildflowers to their homes, which will, in turn support pollinators in their neighborhoods.

Additionally, the “pollinator houses” are an accessible way to create a habitat for threatened native bees (solitary) and other beneficial insects. These houses are pre-built, making supporting biodiversity easy and requiring little installation effort. By hosting this table at the LA Festival of Books, we hope to make space for even more access to community members, specifically among youth (some attending USC’s family of schools), parents, and all urban constituents.

Physician Assistance Pathways

We aim to create a habit for students to bring their reusable water bottles and use refilling stations throughout the university and surrounding communities. We also want to have conversations around the intersectionality between DEI and Sustainability in the context of the

Social Determinants of Health. Our students are the direct beneficiaries of understanding and being part of the sustainability process. Hence, we are also teaching how to advocate for their community’s well-being and health, aligning with the Social Determinants of Health. Our program is becoming increasingly zero waste and focuses on developing a healthy ecosystem. Because of the limited funding of this DEI-focused program, limited resources afforded to the population served, and the frequency of our engagement with participants, we seek an accessible, equitable, durable, practical, and sustainable approach. Inequity is being unable to participate in sustainable programming in solidarity with USC initiatives because of cost.

Advancing Health Equity and Environmental Justice

The University of Southern California (USC) has established Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals to foster a campus environment that embraces diversity, promotes equity, and ensures inclusivity across all university life. Additionally, USC is committed to sustainability goals focused on reducing its environmental impact and promoting responsible stewardship of resources. This project aligns with USC’s DEI goals by actively engaging MSW alumni and students from diverse backgrounds in addressing the Tijuana sewage crisis from a health disparities perspective. By involving individuals with diverse experiences and perspectives, the project promotes inclusivity and ensures that marginalized communities disproportionately affected by the sewage crisis are represented in advocacy efforts. Furthermore, the project’s focus on health equity and environmental justice directly supports USC’s commitment to promoting equity and inclusivity, as it seeks to address systemic disparities and advocate for equitable solutions to environmental challenges. This project aligns with USC’s commitment to environmental stewardship by addressing the environmental impacts of the Tijuana sewage crisis. By advocating for improvements in sewage infrastructure and wastewater management systems, the project contributes to preserving water quality and reducing pollution in the Tijuana River Valley. Additionally, the project’s emphasis on sustainable solutions underscores USC’s dedication to promoting environmental sustainability and responsible resource management.

USC Pop-up Pow Wow

The USC powwow is an opportunity for Indigenous students to practice and share our culture on

campus. For many years, the US and Canadian governments forbid all Indigenous peoples under the age of sixty to dance on the powwow trail. This was an attempt of the US and Canadian governments to erase our cultures and kill the traditions that bring us closer to ourselves and our relatives. By helping to host a powwow at USC, the office of DEI is helping to promote resilience, diversity, and survivance of cultural traditions. Our powwow also promotes inclusivity, as it brings together Indigenous peoples of all tribes and non-natives from all walks of life. It is an event that fosters respect and understanding and celebrates the diversity of our campus community.

El Salvador Shipment

Blueprints For Pangaea is a 501(c)(3) student-run nonprofit organization that works to reallocate excess medical supplies from local hospitals and pharmacies to various communities in need. The USC chapter alone has donated over $910,000 worth of medical inventory to 8 different countries on four continents and the local Los Angeles area. Blueprints comprise a diverse and unique community of 34 students from various cultures, ethnicities, and academic backgrounds. Our members come from Indian, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Burmese, Filipino, Pacific Islander, Latino, and African-American backgrounds. Our team also encompasses students with career interests ranging from computational neuroscience to environmental science. This allows them to synthesize their distinct perspectives for the shared vision of improving global healthcare accessibility. This diversity enables us to connect with various beneficiaries and minority groups who would benefit from the medical supplies we have in our inventory.

The shipment to El Salvador plays a crucial role in promoting equity by addressing historical legacies like colonialism as well as the existence of gang violence and society’s deep-rooted economic disparities. The United States discards over $12 billion worth of medical supplies each year. Colonialism’s enduring impact on El Salvador has left deep scars on its healthcare infrastructure, hindering the development of quality, universal healthcare; even today, emergency ambulances in El Salvador lack basic supplies. Moreover, pervasive gang violence has created a culture of fear that has led the El Salvadoran government to neglect establishing proper healthcare facilities in gang-affiliated areas. Finally, structural poverty perpetuated by systemic racism has only amplified the asymmetrical distribution of healthcare to the elite upper class—making it more difficult for indigenous, Black, and mixed-race communities to afford access to essential healthcare services. By delivering essential medical supplies to these marginalized communities, our initiative directly challenges the systemic barriers that have restricted their access to healthcare for decades. Through this shipment, we are taking a significant step towards closing the equity gaps in healthcare while restoring accessibility to essential medical resources. At the same time, we also hope to combat the often-overlooked consequences of systemic racism, colonialism, and classism on the state of public health. Our main priority is to promote the fundamental human right of sustainable, affordable healthcare across the globe while raising awareness about this issue so that others are inspired to do the same.

Leading Enabling Adolescents’ Futures in STEM

The Aerospace Corporation and the University of Southern California (USC)

Viterbi School of Engineering K-12 STEM Center is inviting high school students with a physical or cognitive disability to the inaugural – Leading Enabling Adolescents Futures in STEM Pilot (LEAFS) program. LEAFS is a free one-day STEM course that provides hands-on learning taught by USC students and space experts. Students will explore how 3D printing, programming, and robotics are used in space. Adaptive equipment and support personnel will be present at the event to accommodate the needs of all students.

Students with disability face many barriers to participating in STEM. Because of physical and cognitive differences, students often feel excluded or less included in opportunities to participate in STEM. For one of the activities in the LEAFS event, students will design and 3D print phone holders that allow for solar charging.

Earth Month Dialogue: Coping in a Changing World

This program hopes to foster meaningful connections and engage in conversations about coping strategies and resilience. Our agenda includes a keynote speaker, documentary screening, panel discussion, climate action workshop, and a mental health resource fair. This program is primarily geared towards USC students.  We are also working with the Annenberg Center for Climate Journalism this year! Our keynote speaker, Isaias Hernandez (aka @QueerBrownVegan), is being finalized as we write this application. The documentary is from the team over at Stranded Astronaut; they have toured this short documentary in collaboration with the Climate Mental Health Network. We aim to engage students in this topic and space on campus and in the community.

LSM First Annual Pre-health Conference

Our first annual pre-health conference brings together experts from various disciplines who are passionate about addressing health issues affecting underserved communities. This year’s theme is Cultivating your Superpowers: Inspiring the Future Leaders of Healthcare. Through this conference, high school and college students from various backgrounds will gain knowledge, compassion, and enthusiasm as they progress toward becoming healthcare professionals. This conference will also be an excellent opportunity to network and connect with other medical professionals and institutes and learn about the different resources available beyond the university setting. This event will have workshops with current health professionals, panels with graduate students, and clinical training opportunities.  By featuring speakers from underrepresented backgrounds, addressing unique challenges faced by minority groups, and providing networking opportunities, the event actively promotes diversity and equity in healthcare. By prioritizing accessibility, the event demonstrates a commitment to inclusivity and breaks down barriers for participants facing physical or cognitive challenges. Focusing on financial aid options, scholarship opportunities, and affordable pathways to medical education helps address disparities in access to resources and supports equitable opportunities for all. Minimizing waste through digital materials, promoting sustainable transportation options, and sourcing locally-produced, environmentally friendly materials for event logistics demonstrate a commitment to environmental responsibility. Reducing the event’s ecological footprint through eco-friendly practices demonstrates a commitment to sustainable event management and encourages participants to consider environmental impacts in their future medical careers. By including diverse voices in the planning process, the event ensures that it reflects the needs and perspectives of underrepresented groups, fostering a sense of belonging and community. By raising awareness about healthcare disparities, the event creates a platform for discussing solutions that consider social justice and environmental sustainability, recognizing the interconnectedness of health equity and ecological well-being. By collecting data on participant demographics, feedback on inclusivity, and environmental impact, the organizers can assess the event’s effectiveness in achieving its goals and identify areas for improvement in future editions.

Headshots to Handshakes

The Headshots to Handshakes program was established to address the growing need for professional development among USC students, staff, faculty, and alumni. A strong online presence and networking skills are crucial. The program provides accessible resources, including free headshots and workshops, fostering a community of empowered and professionally equipped individuals. Moreover, the Headshots to Handshakes Program confronts the inequities present in the job search process. Historically, marginalized communities and underrepresented groups have encountered barriers to accessing professional development resources and networking opportunities. By offering complimentary headshots, workshops, and digital business cards to all members of the USC community, our program aims to foster an inclusive environment where individuals from all walks of life can excel professionally. Students and student organizations participating in the Headshots to Handshakes program receive a free digital business card, contributing to sustainability efforts by reducing the need for paper production and printing. This aligns with eco-friendly practices and supports the university’s commitments set forth by President Folt to reduce its environmental footprint. Lastly, introducing digital business cards supports the university’s sustainability efforts by reducing the need for paper business cards and resumes. The program encourages environmentally friendly practices while providing a modern networking solution.

Ocean-Friendly Care Packages for the Unhoused

This event is focused on promoting the equity and inclusion of unhoused people in access to low-waste and water alternatives to everyday hygiene products. This event aims to create 60 care packages with ocean-friendly hygiene product alternatives that have lost waste packaging, don’t require water, and/or have minimal environmental impact when used outdoors to distribute to unhoused people in our community. This intersects with DEI because unhoused people are a marginalized community, and often, their needs are ignored in society. Many USC students/people are generally uncomfortable around unhoused people, which is why this event is an excellent place to have meaningful conversations about our biases and experiences that cause those feelings. Additionally, this program brings sustainability by using ocean-friendly products.  This effort connects with USC’s sustainability goals by engaging students, reducing waste and water pollution around our campus, practicing equitable environmental stewardship, creating real-world impact, and more.

Exploring Critical Pathways for Advancing Global Agendas on Youth, Peace, and Climate Change

This event will be a half-day event planned for April 11th, 2024, at the UPC campus and will include two key sessions – one aimed at faculty and one at students – from across USC. This event will bring together faculty from across USC who work in various disciplines such as public policy, law, environment, sustainability, engineering, health, social justice, economics, and communications in ways that address or intersect with today’s challenges around the intersectional and intergenerational aspects of peace, security and climate change. The event will provide participants with a better understanding of current efforts to improve peace, security, and climate change happening globally and the challenges experienced; a space for discussing how collaboration may help to address these challenges or other identified gaps; and an opportunity to collectively brainstorm the implications of the current landscape to advance research, training and policy change at global and local levels. Young people often face marginalization, feeling ignored and excluded from critical decisions impacting their lives. This is universal but especially pronounced in conflict settings. Join us in learning how youth worldwide shift this narrative by engaging as partners in peace and climate efforts. This workshop is for undergraduate and graduate students passionate about peace, climate change, sustainability, and justice. This session will outline the intersectional and intergenerational aspects of the Youth, Peace & Security agenda and provide opportunities for students to explore critical pathways for engaging and contributing to this global agenda. Both events will be co-moderated by Saji Prelis, a world-renowned expert on youth movements who has 25+ years of experience working with youth to shape global agendas for change and has led some of the most crucial peace movements in the last two decades, including the historical UN security council resolutions on youth, peace, and security, along with Dr. Shubha Kumar, Associate Professor at USC.