Achieving Diversity Through Inclusion: The University of South Carolina’s Active Commitment

When hired last year as the University of South Carolina’s (USC) first chief diversity officer, John Dozier had his work cut out for him. While minority student enrollment at the university is at 20 percent, that number has remained steady over the last several years.

“It’s hard to attract people to a place that’s not always perceived as diverse,” says Dozier, who is also director of community engagement for USC and a native of South Carolina.

Prior to becoming USC’s chief diversity officer, Dozier spent 12 years in higher education administration with the City Colleges of Chicago, where he eventually became president of Kennedy–King College.

The University of South Carolina’s campus in Columbia, S.C.
The University of South Carolina’s campus in Columbia, S.C.

Since returning to his home state, Dozier has worked closely with top USC administrators to develop a strong strategic plan around diversity and inclusion. The purpose of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Dozier says, is to create a learning, living, and working environment where all students, faculty, and staff feel that they — and their work — are valued.

“Diversity and inclusion involves not only helping underrepresented students; it’s helping all students, faculty, and staff to be successful,” he says.

With this in mind, USC has worked to ensure the success of all students — from minority students to those from low-income households — by focusing on inclusion and support.

“This is a dynamic environment that offers a lot, but we recognize that many students come here and have challenges making the kinds of connections that will lead to their success,” says Dozier. “As such, [at USC] the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ aren’t nouns; they’re verbs. We’ve coined the phrase ‘dive in,’ which articulates the spirit of engagement needed to help us [as a university community] experience the strength of our diversity, break down walls of exclusion, and live our values.”

USC offers a variety of services, resources, and multicultural programs through its Office of Multicultural Student Affairs (OMSA) to meet the needs of underrepresented students.

Its Minority Assistance Peer Program (MAPP), for example, helps first-year minority students and minority transfer students with the transition to college life. The program provides them with a trained mentor their first year and helps them establish positive networks within the campus community.

Students at the University of South Carolina
Students at the University of South Carolina

“We have found that MAPP  students have a 98 percent retention rate from their first to second year at USC, and 80 percent go on to graduate from the university,” says Shay Malone, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. “MAPP is the first supportive network that helps you navigate the nuances of campus life. You know you have a safe space on campus when you get here.”

Tamagail Tarrant is a MAPP success story. Tarrant, who is Filipino and African American, is a senior biological science major at USC. She has been involved with the program since her freshman year and believes it has helped her grow.

“Because of MAPP, I’ve been given amazing opportunities … that I would not have been able to experience if I never joined,” says Tarrant, who is now a MAPP mentor. “The support it provides for multicultural students is vital because it gives them a place, a common ground, where they are important to other individuals on campus.”

USC takes its commitment to inclusion seriously. In addition to offering support for multicultural students, the university also helps ensure the success of low-income students with its Gamecock Guarantee, a need-based financial aid award. This award provides a minimum grant of $2,500 to students who meet certain criteria and is accompanied by the promise that if this amount, combined with the student’s other financial aid, doesn’t cover the cost of undergraduate tuition and technology fees, USC will cover the difference. Students who receive this assistance are required to become actively involved with other USC programs, like the Opportunity Scholars Program (OSP).

Another USC program designed to encourage student success, the OSP is open to Pell Grant students who may also be the first in their families to attend college. By creating small and supportive campus communities and providing academic support services, tutoring assistance, research guidance, and study abroad and cultural enrichment opportunities, OSP seeks to increase the probability of these students’ success by helping them adjust to college life.

Much like the Gamecock Guarantee, OSP also provides financial support to students in need by offering a tuition break to students who enroll in three or more OSP courses.

Paul Beasley, director of TRIO Programs (which includes OSP and the Gamecock Guarantee) at USC, says these initiatives offer invaluable support and have led to graduation rates that are as high as — and sometimes higher than — that of the general student population.

“With a commitment to serve the educational interests of the state, USC must also be committed to tapping into that pool of talent by providing opportunities for poor and working- class students to come to campus, engage the academic community, experience meaningful education, and earn degrees,” Beasley said in an email. “The Opportunity Scholars Program and the Gamecock Guarantee address the barriers that most often restrict access to the university.”

USC students, faculty, and staff also take the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion seriously and have adopted a values statement called “The Carolinian Creed.” Created in 1990, the creed obligates each member of the university community to adopt a code of civilized behavior, which includes:

● Practicing personal and academic integrity
● Respecting the rights and property of others
● Discouraging bigotry while striving to learn from differences in people, ideas, and opinions
● Demonstrating concern for others, their feelings, and their need for conditions that support their work and development

“The Carolinian Creed is an important statement regarding who we are as a university community,” Dozier says. “To that end, we must continue to educate our community about how to apply these values in addressing the differences encountered at this university. We must also be intentional about how we help our students develop healthy attitudes about race and other differences, as we are creating tomorrow’s community, civic, and business leaders.”●

Tannette Johnson-Elie is a contributing writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity. Alexandra Vollman is the editor of INSIGHT Into Diversity. The University of South Carolina is a 2012, 2013, and 2014 HEED Award recipient.