Inn at USC hosts 35th annual Multicultural Symposium

A licensed child clinical psychologist shared her insight on diversity, equity, inclusion and the importance of empathy with USC graduate students and faculty on Friday.

For the 35th annual Multicultural Symposium, the Black Psychology Graduate Student Association (BPGSA) brought Olivia Moorehead-Slaughter to the Inn at USC. The psychologist spoke on the relationship between diversity, equity and inclusion ("DEI") in institutions like universities.

“This event provides a forum to share with our university community innovative research relevant to the health and well-being of diverse populations,” Nicole White, a fourth-year psychology doctoral candidate and member of BPGSA, said in an email. 

Kickstarting the symposium, Suzanne Swan was presented the Outstanding Faculty Member award for her commitment to promoting cultural diversity and awareness. 

Moorehead-Slaughter then took the podium. She has more than 30 years of experience in her field and comes to Columbia from the Center for Multicultural Health in Boston, where she has a private consulting practice. Moorehead-Slaughter is also a psychologist for the Park School in Massachusetts. 

With schoolchildren as her focal point, Moorehead-Slaughter dove into the relationship between diversity, equity and inclusion and the "empathy imperative."

While DEI are important, Moorehead-Slaughter said, they must be taken seriously and in conjunction with empathy.

"DEI" policies are common among people and institutions, Moorehead-Slaughter said. She said the policies are commonly discussed because some institutions feel pressured to have DEI policies even when they would rather not. 

“Even when we are attending to DEI, we can miss the mark in attending to empathy,” Moorehead-Slaughter said. “And I’m concerned that empathy is not extended to all children equally.”

Lack of empathy is especially apparent with the racial empathy gap, Moorehead-Slaughter said. She cited implicit bias, or unconscious prejudice, as a reason why teachers of any race are more empathetic to white children than black children. 

Attendees of the Multicultural Symposium were USC graduate students and professors from several departments, but primarily psychology.

“I appreciate the head-on way that she addressed the lip service and the superficial appearance of diversity as opposed to addressing the systemic issues,” said Mackenzie Hart, second-year psychology doctoral candidate.

Devaun McFarland, a doctoral candidate in the department of computer science and engineering, related his experience in computer science to the empathy imperative.

“For me, being a computer scientist, if you don’t know how to solve a particular problem, the best way is to solve all  the sub-problems and bring them together, so when you’re including the empathy with everything else, it makes a full package,” McFarland said.

Moorehead-Slaughter said that DEI and empathy are not mutually exclusive, but they must work together, especially when dealing with children in schools. 

“When we don’t talk about it, then you have these spaces that aren’t empathetic to issues around diversity and that’s because they haven’t been steeped in the experiences of others,” White said. 

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