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USC Race and Equity Center Unveils PRISM

A new racial equity tech tool from the Race and Equity Center at the University of Southern California (USC) will change the face of higher education and provide a platform for academic professionals of color to engage with potential employers and cultivate community.

Dr. Shaun R. HarperDr. Shaun R. Harper

Unveiled at USC’s campus this week, PRISM will go live on December 5, allowing people of color who are faculty, administrators and career-switching professionals to create profiles, search for jobs, form or join virtual groups and access professional learning sessions and resources. The tool also attempts to address often-stated claims that institutions cannot find qualified scholars or administrators of color by encouraging thousands of partnering colleges and universities to be intentional in their recruitment and hiring processes.

“This [platform] moves us beyond passive approaches to recruiting, meaning that it’s not just posting a position and whoever sees it applies,” said Dr. Shaun R. Harper, founder and executive director of the USC Race and Equity Center. “This allows you to post positions, but it also allows you to directly communicate with people who might potentially be a good match. So you’re not leaving it to chance that they may or may not see your ad. You’re going to ensure that those who you want to see it absolutely see it and that you see them.”

During Monday’s presentation, Wilmon A. Christian III, the center’s director of PRISM and the National Equity Network, echoed scholars who note that people of color are underrepresented in positions of power on campus, including in presidencies and executive roles.

This dearth of faculty and administrators of color in higher education can create an isolating experience for the few people of color already on campus, and be particularly disadvantageous to students of color who miss out on the academic benefits of having people who look like them, he said.

Through PRISM, faculty and administrators of color can connect with racially and ethnically diverse colleagues across the country who are conducting similar work or scholarship and create or join online groups on the platform.

Take for example Black women academics in political science.

“There are not a lot of them,” Harper said, adding that a virtual space on PRISM would include “sistas” who are political science professors, post-docs, Ph.D. students and so on.

“Eventually, that will become a really dynamic and robust community,” he said. “They can message each other about particular grant funding opportunities in their field, they can foster collaborative relationships with each other, they can also do some collaborative and collective mentoring of young Black women who are interested in academic careers in political science.”

Harper added that members of groups can use the space to “debrief” or share advice around handling instances of racism or sexism on their campus or in their department.

PRISM additionally offers a professional learning space for both members and subscribing institutions. There will be live virtual sessions once or twice a month, Harper said, on topics such as how to enhance your resume for senior-level positions or how a Ph.D. student can give an academic talk that increases their chances of receiving an offer.

Learning sessions for institutions will revolve around explicit and implicit bias in the hiring process, how to write a job ad to amplify your institution’s commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion, and how to retain administrators of color and strategically help them to advance their careers, among other topics.

Over time, PRISM will host a “fairly significant” archive of resources and recorded videos for professionals of color and institutions, Harper said.

While PRISM is free for individual members, institutions have to pay a fee to utilize the platform. Given that the equity-focused tool is accessible to multiple departments at a subscribing institution, it will pay for itself, said Dr. Charles H.F. Davis III, assistant professor of clinical education, director of research and the chief strategy officer of the USC Race and Equity Center.

Individuals can pre-enroll now through December 5. Between December and early January, they will be able to complete their profile.

On January 8, PRISM opens to subscribing institutions.

Dr. Michael Quick, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at USC, commended the Race and Equity Center for its work and affirmed that the university would take “great advantage” of the platform to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion on campus.

“This is a higher calling. This is why we brought the Race and Equity Center [to USC] to do the hard work of making this possible,” Quick said at the platform unveiling. “I look forward to using this tool.”

Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.

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