USC joins other universities nationwide in hiring Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer to oversee equity initiatives

Some students said they were surprised that the position had not existed before and shared their expectations for USC’s diversity efforts.

President Folt announced in an email to the USC community on Feb. 8 the appointment of USC’s Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer (CIDO) after an extensive hiring process. Christopher Manning will be the first person to fill the position.

Manning’s role as USC’s Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer begins on March 1. His responsibilities include leading the university’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, and overseeing both the Taskforce on Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and the Department of Public Safety Community Advisory Board.

The news comes several months after Provost Zukoski’s email on July 2, 2020 announcing the search for USC’s first CIDO, a role Zukoski called “long overdue at USC.”

Although the university founded a diversity, equity and inclusion task force in 2019 and has several “diversity liaison” positions for different schools within the university, the CIDO position is the first of its kind. Manning will report directly to President Folt, according to the USC press release announcing Manning’s hiring.

Following a summer in which activism and demands for sweeping reforms addressing racial injustice dominated national attention, many American universities said they would strengthen their commitment to policies of diversity and inclusion.

USC student Kierra Smith, a freshman Biology major, said she is happy to see USC taking action to prioritize diversity, but is surprised the university is just now establishing a Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer role.

“When I was looking at colleges, dedication to inclusivity was at the top of my list,” Smith said. “I saw all the posts on the ‘Black at USC’ Instagram page this summer and I was concerned that the school wasn’t taking these issues seriously, because so many students were posting negative experiences they’ve had.”

Another student, Lauren Schulsohn, shared Smith’s surprise about the previous lack of a Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer at USC.

“I was a little disappointed to know that we did not have [a position] in the past at that level,” Schulsohn said. “[These issues] have been going on for so long and it was neglectful of the university to not have a position like that in the past.”

Schulsohn said USC does a good job of promoting diversity and inclusion within the academic schools, but struggles to communicate a message across USC as a whole. She said she worries that “a lot of people and a lot of issues such as diversity slip through the cracks, so it is really important that we have someone who can facilitate that across the schools.”

Some fraternities and sororities at USC have Diversity, Equity and Inclusion chairs, but Schulsohn said she hopes that the motivation for having positions dedicated to diversity at the university level is more genuine than in Greek life.

She said she wants to ensure that “we’re not just doing things to do things. Sometimes I get worried with Greek Life… are [these DEI chairs] here because they feel like they need to be here to have an image? Or are they here because they really, truly care about what’s going on.”

Racism in Greek life was a major topic of debate among viewers of the USG presidential debates on Feb. 5.

Syracuse University, the University of Iowa and Florida State University all announced the appointment of Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officers this week, according to their respective university websites.

In California, USC and Pepperdine University are among the final California universities to establish positions dedicated exclusively to diversity and inclusion. Pepperdine University appointed Chalak Richards to the role of Assistant Dean of Student Life, Diversity and Belonging on July 1, 2020.

Richards said she is proud of the work she led at Pepperdine’s Caruso Law School to make diversity and inclusion a priority. “We have instituted a Race and the Law series, a Reimagining Justice series, a Martin Luther King Jr. program and several other programs that have fostered rigorous conversation in our community on issues like systemic racism, constitutional questions and what justice looks like today,” she said.

Loyola Marymount University’s Vice President for Intercultural Affairs Jennifer Abe said LMU developed her position over 20 years ago, but that the killing of George Floyd this summer and the successive protests prompted the university to “look within.”

“We’re examining our own values and actions,” said Abe. “We need to change. Institutions of higher education need to change.”