Enhancing Diversity: The University
of Southern California
Center for American Studies and Ethnicity
By Dean Campbell, research assistant, Center
for Higher Education Policy Analysis; William G. Tierney,
Wilbur-Kieffer professor of higher education and director,
Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA);
and George J. Sanchez, associate professor of history,
American Studies and Ethnicity and director, Program
in American Studies and Ethnicity
University of Southern California
The University of Southern California’s (USC)
Center for American Studies and Ethnicity (CASE) has
been funded by a 3-year Campus Diversity Initiative
(CDI) grant from the James Irvine Foundation to work
toward three goals. They are: (1) to promote the retention
of minority doctoral students; (2) to enhance the working
conditions of minority faculty; and (3) to enhance campus-wide
discussions of diversity. Achieving these goals will
ultimately increase the number of faculty of color in
the higher education pipeline, enhance USC’s campus
dialogues on diversity, expand faculty research about
race and ethnicity, and increase undergraduate students’
exposure to both race and ethnicity research. To help
determine the institution’s progress toward these
goals, USC’s Center for Higher Education Policy
Analysis took part in the implementation of the grant’s
The Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis (CHEPA)
evaluated two CASE-sponsored activities, the Irvine
Doctoral Fellowship Program and the Minority Summer
Dissertation Workshop (MSDW). Each program provides
programmatic support for the recruitment and persistence
of forty-four doctoral students of color and addresses
the particular challenges students of color face in
predominately white research universities (e.g., lack
of mentorship from faculty of color, limited peer networks
with others minority students). Below, we have provided
a brief sketch of these two activities as well as recommendations
based on what we discovered through our evaluations.
Doctoral Fellowships and Dissertation Support
To reward academic departments for their commitment
to enhancing diversity, the project has awarded fellowships
to twenty-nine new doctoral students of color, twenty-seven
of whom remain enrolled at the University. In addition
to portable tuition and stipend support, students engage
in a variety of professional development activities
that support Fellows in continuing their doctoral studies,
enhance their doctoral experience, and prepare them
for faculty careers. Activities include a new student
orientation and information session, monthly seminars,
meetings to discuss research and form collaborative
partnerships within a learning cohort, as well as attendance
at national conferences.
The MSDW has provided programmatic support for advanced
doctoral students of color at the dissertation proposal-writing
phase—a critical point in a future faculty member’s
academic career. Gaining a place in the workshop is
competitive. Applicants must submit faculty letters
of recommendation and a draft dissertation proposal
to earn admission into the intense, three-week program
that takes place over the summer. An external group
of leading faculty scholars reviews draft proposals
in formal one-on-one and group sessions. The workshop
agenda also provides time for students to practice the
peer review process by examining and commenting on each
other’s proposal drafts. Sometimes these reviews
occur during off-campus, informal, social dinner meetings
with faculty visitors.
“Portable” research assistantships are
given to the students directly rather than to particular
departments or programs. This gives students the opportunity
to work with specific faculty of color independent of
whether the faculty member and student are situated
in the same academic program. These portable awards
also provide faculty greater flexibility in attracting
doctoral students of color, particularly those students
whose research interests match those of faculty of color.
Some minority faculty members are currently working
on proposed publications with the Fellows as a result
of these portable assistantships. In addition, USC faculty
of color have found new resources for their research
through this Fellowship program.
Findings from the MSDW
show that collaborative relationships among students
and between students and
faculty are important and motivate students in
the advanced stages of doctoral study.
Although the thirteen advanced doctoral participants
in the summer workshop came from six different academic
departments, each participant received the same instruction
on the proposal writing process using the same proposal
format. The MSDW faculty presented proposals at the
workshop sessions that had earned them extramural funding
or invitations to serve as visiting faculty at other
prestigious research universities. The combination of
financial assistance and the restructuring of the research
assistantships better prepares students for later phases
of their academic careers.
Findings from the MSDW show that collaborative relationships
among students and between students and faculty are
important and motivate students in the advanced stages
of doctoral study. The peer relationships developed
in the workshop were shown to be equally important.
In the six-month period following the workshop, eight
participants’ dissertation proposals were submitted
for departmental approval with three accepted and the
other five pending review.
Recommendations for Improving Doctoral Education
Although the suggestions given for improving doctoral
education address the particular challenges students
of color face, many are also helpful for all graduate
• Provide flexibility in graduate assistantships.
Direct funding to students of color has important effects
on the qualitative aspects of students’ time-to-degree.
Evaluators of other minority fellowship programs have
coined the term “check and a handshake”
to describe funding models that provide minority students
adequate cash but do not foster relationships between
students and faculty—an aspect of the learning
experience central to student success and job placement.
Departments might consider the option of teaching or
research assistantships for doctoral students of color
earlier in the doctoral program to provide adequate
time for students to form social and professional relationships
with faculty whom they might invite onto their qualifying
exam and dissertation committees.
• Focus on placement through faculty networking.
One of the main sources of value for a research university
is the placement of its doctoral students into professorships
at other leading research universities. Other research
universities should adopt the goal and develop a plan
for promoting the nationwide scholarship of its leading
students of color. The MSDW provided this exposure for
its participants, which resulted in many invitations
to Fellows from the MSDW visiting faculty to present
at national conferences.
• Engage in continuous evaluation.
The challenges to recruiting and retaining minority
doctoral students will remain a topic of interest while
minorities continue to be underrepresented in the American
professorate. CHEPA researchers will continue to investigate
the challenges to minority student and faculty retention.
Sharing the findings of our research has already influenced
USC’s approach to recruiting graduate students
of color. Previously, each school/college within this
large research university conducted its own recruitment
effort. Some of our findings pointed to the utility
of a more centralized approach. In part, as a result
of the reports produced by this project, a new senior
level administrative position was created to oversee
the university’s minority graduate student recruitment
As the project approaches its final year, other questions
remain, including how the project fosters diversity
and organizational change and the impact of the project
on policy reform for graduate study.
For more information about the project, see the CHEPA
Web site, www.usc.edu/dept/chepa/case/.