Campus News

Department launches continuous learning initiative for antiracist curriculum change

The initiative will focus on fostering a culture of self-reflection, learning and continuous improvement to advance racial equity.

Carolyn Barnes June 01, 2023
antiracism story feature image

(Image Canva)

The CLARCC Fellowship is currently seeking applications. All faculty and staff in the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences who work with students, inside and outside the classroom, are encouraged to apply.

To apply, please fill out this Google Form by June 30, 2023. To maximize participation, two cohorts will run, from August-December 2023 and January-May 2024.

Find more on CLARCC here.

View the PDF description here (filed under “Programs in Promotion”)

The Department of Population and Public Health Sciences at Keck School of Medicine of USC is set to launch the Fellowship in Continuous Learning for Antiracist Curricular Change (CLARCC), a cohort-based curriculum initiative focused on fostering a culture of self-reflection, learning and continuous improvement to advance racial equity. The initiative aims to strengthen the ability of participants to embed principles of antiracism into educational efforts.

Over the next year, two cohorts comprised of six to twelve faculty and staff members from the Department will meet over five months in either fall 2023 or spring 2024. Each group will embark on a guided journey of self-reflection and personal growth, followed by a structured commitment to embed antiracist principles in their educational work. It is through this that the Department hopes to provide a more inclusive educational experience to its students. “There are specific indicators of cultural change that we are aiming for with this initiative,” says Jonathan Cohen, JD, MPhil, clinical professor of population and public health sciences, director of policy engagement at the USC Institute on Inequalities in Global Health, and CLARCC faculty coordinator. “One of them is that faculty who participate in this will feel more confident in applying antiracist principles to their courses and educational offerings.”

Fellows will receive continued group training, individual coaching, and peer-to-peer support toward success in implementing the new practices they will develop. “It’s very much designed in a spirit of adult learning, recognizing that different people learn in different ways,” says Cohen. “By offering people different modalities of support, we expect that everyone will respond in a way that makes sense to them.”

The fellowship is one of several efforts organized by the Department’s REDI Council – a dedicated team of faculty, staff, and students – and is part of the national Transforming Academia for Equity (TAE) Initiative supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The initiative also complements a number of ongoing curricular reform efforts, echoing USC’s larger culture shift and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts in recent years. “Creating an inclusive educational and research environment requires all of us to learn new and better ways of interacting,” says Ricky Bluthenthal, PhD, associate dean for social justice at Keck School of Medicine and vice chair for diversity, equity and inclusion in the Department. “These fellows are leading the way for all of us in the Department to make our learning environments as inclusive and effective as they can be.”

The CLARCC initiative is an intentional response to requests from USC public health students; these include addressing the impact of racism and colonialism on health and public health in courses, increasing diversity in instructors and in curriculum, and embracing cultural sensitivity.

Through CLARCC and other efforts, the Department looks to ensure that those most impacted by curricular decisions have a voice and influence in shaping the learning experience. “Students feel their needs are seen and experiences acknowledged when faculty and staff support programs of antiracism and inclusivity,” says Roberta McKean-Cowdin, PhD, professor of clinical population and public health sciences and vice chair for education in the Department. “Many of our faculty are bringing their knowledge of health disparity and structural racism into classroom discussion, and initiatives like CLARCC help all of us learn to do this better and with greater understanding.”

The inclusion of staff within the fellowship cohorts is also specific and intentional, given their close involvement in the education programs. “Staff spend significant time with students,” says Karina Dominguez-Gonzalez, MPH, CLARCC staff coordinator. “I think a lot of these efforts have failed, or haven’t been completed, because we’re missing so many different perspectives,” she says, noting this will be one of the first major curriculum efforts to include staff.

Whether staff or faculty, Cohen and Dominguez-Gonzalez emphasize the importance of a willingness to learn, and of intentionally creating space to challenge the status quo in institutional culture. “This is something we know from antiracist theory, and from feminist theory, that unless you make a proactive attempt to challenge hierarchy, it rears its head,” Cohen says. “That’s why it’s important to make that kind of proactive effort.”

The cohorts will be advised by a reference group, convened in January 2023 with the purpose of setting the foundation for the task ahead. The group is made up of diverse faculty, staff and students from the Department. Since its formation, the reference group has been developing a toolkit which consists of modules for the cohorts to follow, and includes exercises and activities meant to stimulate introspection and introduce diverse perspectives. The group, selected based on expertise and commitment to equity, will continue to play a vital role in monitoring the initiative’s progress and coaching the cohorts.

Following what will culminate as an 18-month long process, the Department hopes to take stock of significant shifts in mindset and integration of antiracist education. “We believe that a culture of learning about antiracism will enable, improve and sustain all efforts related to education going forward, to succeed at having first-rate, world class curricula in public health,” says Cohen. “If we can succeed in changing our culture in that way, there is no limit to what we can accomplish in educational excellence for our students.”