‘People First’

USC Upstate prioritizes diversity and inclusion efforts in the community and on campus.

Stacey Mills, ’92, is a well-known advocate for equality, serving on the National Board of the Urban League, as a member of the Greenville Race Equity and Economic Mobility Commission, the Spartanburg Racial Equity Collaborative, and as chair of the Greenville City Council’s Citizens Advisory Panel, which develops recommendations to improve hiring of minority candidates, among other responsibilities.


Students on Campus image
USC Upstate student-athletes joined student and campus organizations to lead a social justice march, "Be the Bridge," in October.

Early in 2020, USC Upstate joined a group of 15 area organizations to form the Spartanburg Racial Equity Collaborative. Among these partner organizations are the City of Spartanburg, the Mary Black Foundation, ReGenesis Healthcare, Spartanburg County, Spartanburg School District 7, and the United Way of the Piedmont, all of which have come together to realize a mission to “eliminate racial inequities in Spartanburg County through racial healing and systems change.”

USC Upstate’s educational mission complements the collaborative’s efforts to advance awareness, education and training around racial equity, foster authentic dialogue, and advocate for equitable policy and system changes. Indeed, these ideals are embedded in the university’s strategic objectives to provide accessible education and enhanced quality of life for citizens of the Upstate.

“With many first-generation and adult students choosing Upstate for their academic goals, economic mobility can be tied directly to educational attainment,” says Stacey Mills, who leads USC Upstate’s role with the collaborative as assistant vice chancellor for Regional Engagement and executive director of the Greenville campus. “A college degree changes the trajectory for multiple generations in families, and USC Upstate provides a gateway to accessible and excellent educational opportunities and improved quality of life.”

Peopel First photo

“As municipalities strengthen resolves related to race, equity and mobility, our ‘people first’ strategic imperative lives in the work of groups like the Spartanburg Race Equity Collaborative,” Mills adds. “ As a partner in these initiatives, USC Upstate is well positioned to continue to contribute to stronger lives and brighter futures.”

On campus, several new initiatives aim to promote awareness of racial inequity and opportunities for change. Utilizing data in the Spartanburg Racial Equity Index that was published in 2018, academic and student affairs leaders have come together to facilitate dialogue and provide students with new opportunities to contextualize the racial unrest they’re witnessing across the country.

“Imagine, if you are a man or woman of color, or of a minority orientation, a minority disability, or of a minority faith tradition, what 2020 has done to your psyche,” says Robert “Brit” Katz, interim vice chancellor for Students Affairs and Dean of Students. “We’ve morphed from multicultural programming to intercultural education and engagement because the world — and our university — is an intersectional experience of gender, race, sexual orientation, faith tradition, and socio-economic status. Our programs must represent the spectrum.”

Interim Vice Chancellor for Students Affairs and Dean of Students Brit Katz, right, works closely with student government leaders such as Student Body President Adib Kapasi, left.

Since Katz arrived on campus last spring, he’s created a new group that is dedicated to advancing the status of the Black/African American student experience. He’s supported faculty and students who have similar goals for recognizing challenges and concerns of Latinx students and families and those with disabilities. And he revised the USC Upstate Student Conduct Code to ensure these efforts and ideals become embedded in the campus culture.

“There is now a clear, non-discriminatory harassment clause in our code that addresses behaviors – an impingement of free speech, for example,” says Katz. “A student cannot threaten, diminish or coerce – in other words, deny – another student an opportunity to learn freely as he or she or they are.”

Nick Gaffney, USC Upstate’s director of African American studies, is among faculty who have developed new programs for students. The “Black Carolina Lecture Series” introduces the community to the work of scholars actively conducting research on African Americans in South Carolina and the southeast.

The Campus-Community Book Club and Study Group allows students and community members to participate in a series of seminar-styled discussions of four to six books over the course of an academic year. All of the title selections share a common theme of “Historicizing Inequality: The Construction of Racial Disparities in American Society.”

“We’ve seen a lot of angst about recent waves of social activism and police brutality,” says Gaffney. “One of the things students come to realize is that these are historical problems that have repeated themselves since the World War II era, so we find ways to crack open the history books and talk about this, to recognize the cycles, look for the silver linings, highlight the optimism, and examine how to move forward.”

Professor photoAraceli Hernandez-Laroche, associate professor of modern languages and assistant chair of USC Upstate’s languages, literature and composition department, has been a force for cultural diversity, inclusion, and equity, and has modeled service across campus and in the community. She has been involved with numerous organizations, including Alianza Spartanburg, which is dedicated to improving quality of life for the Latinx community, and the  Líderes Avanzando Through College Program in partnership with UnidosUS, which supports first-generation Latino students. “Our Latinx faculty are  engaged in collaborative, public-facing work, with local community members and civic leaders throughout South Carolina on issues related to authentic outreach, advocacy, inclusion, leadership development, and language accessibility, including translation and interpreting studies,”says Hernandez-Laroche. “Through public scholarship and community-based learning, we connect our students to a powerful network of mentors representing a wide range of industries and nonprofits.”