The university needs more diversity in academic leadership and faculty to better represent the students of USC and provide a comfortable space for them.
To do this, the university should make an effort to hire more people of different backgrounds and retain the diversity that USC already has.
Within the university’s 54 leadership positions, there are no Black women and only five Black men. And eight out of the 12 faculty that left the College of Arts and Sciences this year were Black as of October 2022, according to The State.
The Black Faculty Caucus wrote a letter to the USC president and provost in August about concern over the university’s lack of commitment to maintaining and increasing Black faculty.
Nearly 25% of the students at USC are of underrepresented minorities, and African American enrollment increased by about 33% from last year. With the increase in diversity amongst students, the university should focus its efforts on making a diverse faculty and group of leaders and creating an inclusive environment so that students can feel represented.
"I definitely think there is work to be done, and we've seen some growth in that in the past couple of years, but definitely a lot of room for growth," Ariel Shepherd, the vice president of the Black Honors Caucus, said. "It would be nice for the diversity to better reflect the diversity in the student population."
She said as a minority, she feels less represented than her white peers since most of the professors that she has had are white. She sometimes feels that she has to seek representation within the campus, such as opting to take a class with a Black professor to feel more represented.
There is a supportive community within USC, but the lack of representation within academic leaders and faculty creates a struggle for students to find representation within USC. Students should have the opportunity to easily find mentors that look like them so that they can feel represented and have somebody to look up to.
"I remember my first time having a Black (professor)," Asia Turner, a fourth-year early childhood education student, said. "I was literally so excited ... Me seeing that Black lady as my teacher and her being a doctor made me feel like 'oh my god, I could be a doctor.'”
Turner thinks that often departments see minorities, especially Black women, as an afterthought in the hiring process. The department only tries to make an effort to hire more people of color after looking at the lack of diversity within the department.
The university should make efforts to not only hire more diverse leaders and faculty, but also understand the underlying barriers that prevented minorities and underrepresented groups from attaining these positions in the first place. USC should focus its efforts on making the Gamecock community feel more inclusive so that they retain the diverse faculty that they have now.
The university has programs such as the Executive Leadership Academy, consisting of a group of inaugural seven diverse women, to help groom the next generation of women leaders that La Trice Ratcliff-Small, the assistant director of institutional effectiveness, mentors. Another program called the Emerging Scholars Workshop helps open pathways to tenured positions for underrepresented groups at various institutions in the Southeastern Conference.
"There is a lot of activity in academic affairs, and that's where I work, but I also see lots of promise and opportunity at the University of South Carolina to expand that to some of the other divisions at our institution," Ratcliff-Small said.
Although the university has made improvements in trying to help people of color attain these higher positions, the university still needs to make improvements by creating more intentional and specific programs to help increase diverse faculty and increase inclusivity within USC.