USC’s board of trustees appointed Julian Williams as the university’s first vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion. He is set to start his position at USC on June 15.
According to Williams, one of the reasons he was so attracted to USC was its role as a flagship institution in a state with "deep and rich history" in the context of diversity and inclusion.
“There's a ton of good things that we have to report, and there's some things, as we look back, that we have to reckon with and atone for, and some of the types of experiences that some of the students have had on campus, historically, that we need to, I think, be honest with ourselves about,” Williams said.
However, Williams said he believes USC, despite its past and the history of South Carolina, has the potential to become a pioneer in diversity and inclusion in higher education.
“We think about the issues of race, and I think that what I want to bring to the campus is the opportunity that we can be a national leader in this space,” Williams said.
Williams is currently the vice president for inclusion and diversity at George Mason University in Virginia. According to Williams, his role at George Mason consisted of ensuring the diversity of the faculty and staffand creating an environment where everyone feels valued and supported by the university.
Although he said he believes his role at USC will differ from that at George Mason University, Williams thinks he will still have the same overall responsibilities.
“I’m excited about the chance to build an office of diversity, equity and inclusion that is truly focused on supporting students, supporting faculty and staff,” Williams said.
USC’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion has less compliance-level responsibilities than George Mason University, according to Williams, which he said gives him a greater opportunity to create “a true inclusion and diversity office.”
With this room to grow, Williams said he plans to focus on building inclusive classrooms and teaching methods, broadening the admissions pipeline for students of color and supporting diversity officers within academic units.
Williams has a lot of other ideas to build up USC’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. He plans to listen to individuals in the Carolina community once he arrives on campus, using their voices and concerns to determine what resources should be added to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“Within my first three to six months, just come in and do an assessment, do a listening tour with students, meet the staff there [and] get a better sense of what their day-to-day looks like,” Williams said.
Margo Jackson is the director of student diversity, inclusion and engagement in the College of Education and the director of the Apple Core Initiative, which works to recruit underrepresented minority students into teacher education programs.
Jackson said Williams’ experience and track record will be beneficial to USC and diversity programs such as the Apple Core Initiative.
“He’s been very successful with recruiting underrepresented minorities to PWI’s [predominantly white institutions], and so I hope that we can learn some from his work, how we can successfully do that better at USC,” Jackson said.
Reena Patel-Viswanath is a fourth-year doctoral studies student in the College of Education’s higher education, administration and policy program. She’s also a student in the AACTE Holmes Scholars program, which provides financial support to education students from underrepresented communities.
Patel-Viswanath is excited to see Williams’ plans for the USC community and the changes he’ll bring, especially given the growing momentum that diversity and inclusion initiatives have been gaining within higher education.
“I’m really intrigued to see what his vision plan is and to see how, specifically as a student, how he connects with students of color on this campus and what opportunities will he bring to hear our voices,” Patel-Viswanath said.
Jackson is also excited for Williams to assume his position at the university and believes he is fully committed to building up work in diversity, equity and inclusion at USC.
“He has a reputation for getting out, meeting folks and for going from building to building to try to determine what he thought, and so I hope that that is something he will definitely do at the university so that he can really find out what it is that individuals on the campus are looking for,” Jackson said.