Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 8, Number 2

Diversity Digest
Volume 8,
Number 2

Download our print issue (PDF)
Institutional Leadership and Commitment
The Lasting Legacy of Brown
University of South Carolina Upstate:
A Model of Excellence and Diversity
Fifty Years after Brown v. Board of Education: Reflections from an Activist-Administrator
Faculty Involvement
A Search for Deep Diversity in the Communication Classroom
Making Diversity News
The 1954 Brown Decision: Fueling the Torch of Liberation for Asian Pacific Americans
Brown v. Board’s Legacy and Contemporary Black Higher Education
Student Leaders Reflect on the Legacy of Brown
The Deep South Center for Environmental Justice: Education and Empowerment for an Engaged Citizenry
Diversity at Middlesex Community College
Books on Brown v. Board of Education

University of South Carolina Upstate:
A Model of Excellence and Diversity

By Leon Wiles, vice chancellor for student and diversity affairs, University of South Carolina Upstate

Posse Foundation
Students at USC Upstate

The historical record is filled with references to the staunch resistance to desegregation and social equity throughout the South. Educational settings became the primary battlegrounds across the state of South Carolina. The University of South Carolina (USC) Upstate, formerly the University of South Carolina Spartanburg, has emerged out of that contested past as a model of institutional transformation where excellence and diversity go hand in hand.

The city of Spartanburg has a direct connection to the 1954 Brown v. Board decision (Kluger 1987). In late 1954, when the United States Supreme Court sought to determine how difficult it would be to desegregate schools in southern communities, Spartanburg was studied as a typical southern city. Despite the Court’s thorough analysis and consideration of the impact of its ruling, it would be nearly a decade before the first African American student would attend a public school with white students in South Carolina.

Furthermore, it was not until 1963 that the first African American student enrolled in a public historically white university in South Carolina. That student was the former mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, the Honorable Harvey B. Gantt, who graduated with honors from Clemson University in 1965. It was during that same turbulent decade of the ’60s that USC Upstate (Spartanburg) was established. The name Upstate refers to the common name given to the region of South Carolina where Spartanburg is located.

USC Upstate gladly opened its doors to all races from its inception. Today, the institution is widely regarded as a leading example of interracial cooperation, cultural pluralism, equal opportunity, access, and equity. This has come about as a result of the vision and commitment of senior leadership; a sustained and energetic collaborative effort from all levels of the institution; the development of a clear institutional strategy; and broad participation by faculty, staff, students, and community stakeholders.

USC Upstate: A Growing Metropolitan University

Although the university was ethnically and racially diverse from its beginning, minority and international student enrollment and minority faculty and staff representation were modest. However, in the early 1990s, with Upstate South Carolina’s flourishing international environment and increasing levels of participation by African Americans and other minorities in higher education, the university’s leadership realized that a general regional mission was not enough to assure the institution a prominent and appropriate role as a resource for the development of the Upstate region. Moreover, diversity and internationalization are matters of institutional credibility in a metropolitan region where 30 percent of the population is African American. The Upstate region also has the largest concentration of international corporate firms in the state as well as a rapidly increasing Hispanic population.

With the recognition that the university needed to adopt a broader vision and achieve new goals to enhance its viability in the region, USC Upstate entered the conceptual framework phase of a four-phase mission change. This change included:

  • Development of a strategic framework
  • Early accomplishments
  • Tactical realignment
  • Goal achievement

Upstate maintained diversity as an essential component of the change process. In August 1994, following intense consultations during his initial weeks in office, the new chancellor, John C. Stockwell, delivered a speech to faculty and staff calling for institutional realignment as a “metropolitan” university. Since 1994, the university has continued to develop its metropolitan mission, which emphasizes a strong commitment to diversity. The university recognized and readily accepted the challenge of preparing its students to succeed in a pluralistic society and a global economy.

Strategic Framework

The university needed a comprehensive strategy to guide its campus community development efforts. The first three years witnessed tremendous accomplishments, including:

  • •creation of diversity-related courses;
  • approval of cognates in ethnic and women’s studies;
  • establishment of the Center for Women’s Studies and Programs and the Center for International Studies;
  • inauguration of an annual multicultural conference for pre-service teachers;
  • creation of a diversity incentive fund to support innovative faculty and staff efforts to educate students about various aspects of diversity and democracy;
  • development of a campus-wide diversity dialogue series in which faculty and staff learn about other cultures, discuss participation in the American democratic process, and debate controversial issues such as affirmative action, religious differences, and gender issues; and
  • recognition of extraordinary diversity-related achievements by faculty and staff.

In addition, the university focused on realigning diversity support structures. The chief student affairs officer was reappointed as the vice chancellor for student and diversity affairs and began reporting directly to the chancellor. Other structural changes were adapted to realign and sustain the institution’s expanded commitment to diversity, such as the establishment of an equal opportunity office, a disability services office, and a nontraditional student program.

Achieving Meaningful and Lasting Goals

Upstate has enjoyed significant success since it first embarked on its diversity agenda. Minority faculty representation has increased from 8 to 14 percent. Minority staff has increased to 18 percent. Minority and international student representation exceeds 30 percent. All institutional processes have been revised to reflect an emphasis on diversity. Diversity accomplishments are considered in the evaluation of senior-level administrators. In-service diversity training is offered regularly to the campus community. In addition, the chancellor served as the first chair of the board of the Urban League of the Upstate.

The institution has excellent working relationships with the international and Hispanic communities, local political and religious leadership, civic organizations, and numerous school districts. In addition, U.S. News and World Report ranked Upstate among the top five southeastern universities for its diversity achievement and identified it as one of the best public institutions in the Southeast (1998-2003). Upstate has achieved recognition as the organizational leader in diversity and international initiatives across South Carolina, and has received several statewide awards from civic organizations in recognition of its commitment to diversity and inclusion.

It is hard to conceive of any of these changes without the landmark Brown decision. The focus on inclusion, diversity, and community is a result of the struggles of many people. We believe that students who attend and graduate from Upstate are rewarded with much more than a college degree. They are prepared for productive citizenship in an increasingly pluralistic society and shrinking global environment. Upstate is a model for other institutions seeking to create excellent and diverse environments in which to live, learn, teach, and lead. Our roots are southern and we are proud of what Brown did for the country and for our institution.

Works Cited

Kluger, Richard. 1987. Simple justice: The history of Brown v. Board of Education and black America’s struggle for equality. New York: Knopf.

Smiley, Tavis. 2004. Brown v. Board of Education: An unfinished agenda. In The unfinished agenda of Brown v. Board of Education, ed. William Cox et al. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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