Price School PhD students lead workshop on Building Capacity to Engage Differences Constructively
By Matthew Kredell
Three USC Price PhD students from the Price PhD Association hosted a workshop titled “Building Capacity to Engage Differences Constructively” on Jan. 24, providing a safe space for students, faculty and staff to voice and discuss concerns of safety, accessibility to resources, and campus/classroom climate.
Sean Angst, a PhD student in Public Policy and Management, along with Jocelyn Poe and Marisa Turesky, PhD students in Urban Planning and Development, facilitated the cross-stakeholder discussion.
Sean Angst, PhD student in Public Policy and Management, facilitating the discussion. See more Workshop: Building Capacity to Engage Differences Constructively photos on Flickr (Photo by David Giannamore)
“What we want to create here and in Price at large is a safe place, where everyone feels comfortable being themselves. We’re all very different so we also want to understand that there will be some constructive discomfort,” Poe said in opening the workshop. “We want to create a space where we’re not all homogeneous, so it’s going to be a little discomforting; we can feel safe, while experiencing constructive discomfort. The fact that you and I are different shouldn’t make you feel unsafe.”
USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott and Vice Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion LaVonna Lewis were among approximately 45 students, staff and faculty who participated in the workshop.
“I’m appreciative that Dr. Lewis and the Dean’s Office gave us this opportunity,” Poe said. “Some schools don’t value student input or student leaders. PPA had a lot of power in designing this event and we got a lot of support. I believe this was a good start in addressing the power dynamics within the school.”
Lewis praised the PhD students for answering the call she and Dean Knott put out last semester for the Price School to look inward and use the expertise within the USC Price community to produce a more inclusive school.
“One thing that always bothers me is that people – whether it be a student, staff member or faculty member – feel they can’t be honest,” Lewis said. “Because we’re not willing to be honest, we can perpetuate bad behavior or things that cause harm. If people suspend judgment and meet people where they are, and be honest about what they think and what they see, the needle can move. My hope is that discussions like these will make the needle move.”
The PhD students leading the workshop asked participants to answer questions on color-coded Post-it Notes explaining a time they felt their voice was heard or silenced at USC Price, the opportunities or avenues they have used to express issues of difference, additional feedback or reporting mechanisms they would like to see to express differences, and where they go to learn about others.
They then entered into conversation circles. First the students talked while faculty and staff listened, then faculty and staff talked while the students listened.
“Students and staff have their own ideas, and it’s rarely the case that we’re all in the same room and can see the overlap,” Angst said. “I thought today it was particularly powerful to see a lot of us are thinking in similar ways, and hopefully we can gain some traction on ways we all think we can improve.”
The workshop, held at USC’s Town and Gown Ballroom, was a follow up from the “Honest Conversation for Turbulent Times” facilitated by Lorraine Aguilar, Chief Engagement Officer at Working Harmony, who was obtained for the workshop by the office of Dean Knott.
“It was nice to hear people’s experiences and hear people get pretty vulnerable with the whole group,” Turesky said. “I think because of the way we asked the questions, participants could provide experiences that built a foundation for tangible next steps, which seemed like a good transition from the last workshop.”
The Price Student Organization Coalition, of which the PhD Association is a part, is working on proposed additions to the Inclusive Excellence at Price Plan with a purpose of identifying gaps where improvements can be made.
The PhD students plan to take suggestions from this workshop and hold another workshop toward the end of the semester to discuss how to execute these ideas.
“Today was a great representation of all the work Dr. LaVonna Lewis has been doing for years and we have been doing as a PhD Association along with master’s students to really take a hard look at the culture at Price and strengthen the diversity and inclusiveness plan to truly make this a safe space for everybody,” Angst said.
While acknowledging that there are legitimate reasons why people may have been unable to attend, Lewis about the need for more Price faculty and staff to make an effort to participate in meaningful discussions like this workshop.
“What I hope will come of this work is that we commit to finding a way to recognize the people that are making an effort to make a difference in the environment at Price and find a way to let people know that, if they’re not contributing, there should be consequences for being on the sidelines,” Lewis said. “We should say we’re not comfortable with that, and find a way to hold people accountable.”