USC taps diversity expert to run new research center on race and equity

USC has hired a leading expert on campus diversity and racial equity to launch a new research center on campus.

Shaun R. Harper will join the USC Rossier School of Education in July as a professor and founder of the USC Race and Equity Center, the university announced Monday.

Six years ago, Harper founded the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, which became a go-to resource for university leaders nationwide as diversity and inclusion became increasingly hot topics on campuses.

The new USC center will expand upon Harper’s projects at Penn.

“We've been working really hard on issues around diversity and inclusion, and this is sort of that milestone moment where we bring a big center in that has a national presence,” USC Provost Michael Quick said. “Having Shaun and his team come here sends a certain signal about the university's commitment, and it's also going to really help us as we continue to think through how we're going to move forward.”

USC has been committed for years to increasing higher education opportunities for low-income and first-generation students and others who are underrepresented on campus, Quick said. Numerous professors and students in fields including health, law, criminal justice, education, science and economics already are studying race equity in their disciplines.

Having a physical center on campus that brings everyone together to collaborate  is the natural next step, Harper said. “The opportunity for us here is to coordinate on that expertise.”

He said he’s excited to broaden the work he’s done at Penn to deeply explore racism in all sectors of society, and hopes to work not just with education leaders but also with city officials and community groups.

“We want USC to be the go-to place for Los Angeles, the place that the city knows it can turn to for analysis and deep thinking as well as strategic partnerships and solutions for diversity and inclusion,” Harper said.

At least two of Harper’s colleagues at Penn will come with him to USC, and the center will open its doors with nine full-time staff members, Harper said. They expect to work with about 40 faculty members and dozens of doctoral students across the campus.

“This will be big,” Harper said. “We’re talking about a center that engages somewhere between 80 to 100 people at USC.”

With his team at USC, Harper plans to launch  the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates, which will survey students at hundreds of colleges and universities across the U.S. each year on their racial experiences and sense of belonging on campuses.

Such data, Harper said, is desperately needed right now, “especially given the uptick that we've seen in overt racism, during and immediately after the presidential election.”

The USC center will continue projects that Harper began at Penn, such as RISE for Boys and Men of Color, which aims to advance research that will improve educational experiences and outcomes for Asian Americans, blacks, Latinos and Native Americans in education, health, criminal justice and workforce development. His team conducted a large study across New York public schools and could do similar work in L.A., Harper said.

That L.A. already has some of the nation’s leading researchers on these issues — such as Tyrone Howard, who runs UCLA’s Black Male Institute — made coming to the city especially exciting, Harper said.

Harper began his academic career at USC in 2003 as an assistant professor of clinical education. He has been at Penn since 2007. 

He has written 12 books and currently serves as the president of the Assn. for the Study of Higher Education.

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