New USC Race and Equity Center to Be Led by Shaun Harper

January 11, 2017

One of the country’s foremost scholars on campus climate will be returning to USC Rossier in July

By Ross Brenneman

Dr. Shaun Harper

Dr. Shaun R. Harper

When colleges and universities across the nation struggle with racial problems on campus, many have turned to the same expert for help: Shaun R. Harper.

Through his own research and with his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education, Harper has become one of the country’s foremost scholars on diversity and inclusion on college campuses. At the center, which he founded in 2011, Harper and his associates have interviewed more than 10,000 students, faculty members and staff about race at institutions of higher education across the country.

Now, Harper is bringing his work to the USC Rossier School of Education. On July 1, Harper will join the school as the Clifford and Betty Allen Professor in Urban Leadership.

“USC is one of the finest and most ethnically diverse universities in the world,” Harper said. “I most look forward to collaborating with committed others across campus to advance racial equity. I can think of no better place than USC to do the work that Los Angeles and our nation so urgently need.”

The move is a homecoming for Harper, who was an assistant professor of clinical education at USC Rossier from 2003 to 2005. During that period, he was instrumental to developing the school’s degree programs, including as founding executive director of the Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (EDL) program.

“Dr. Harper provided extraordinary leadership more than a decade ago when he served as the inaugural executive director of a program that quickly became a national model,” said Karen Symms Gallagher, dean of USC Rossier. “We have not been surprised to see him go on to build a career of impact within and beyond the academy. His return marks a pivotal moment not only for USC Rossier but for the entire university, which will no doubt benefit from Dr. Harper’s transformational leadership on issues of race, equity and inclusion.”

Harper will also launch the USC Race & Equity Center, designed to continue the work he started at Penn. The center will unite dozens of professors across USC’s academic schools whose scholarship focuses on people of color, racial inequities, immigration and related topics. Faculty will work together across disciplines to study and help solve several of the most pressing race problems in America.

The center will be “the epicenter for interdisciplinary scholarship, resources and meaningful activities,” Harper said.

“We are very proud to welcome Dr. Harper back to USC,” said USC Provost Michael Quick. “He is the leading voice in the country on race and equity in higher education and brings strong expertise and an exciting vision to our campus. This is a key piece in our overall strategy to maintain a sharp focus on diversity and inclusion. Dr. Harper, and the USC Race & Equity Center, will work with our experts across the university to move our diversity and inclusion efforts forward while he also continues his groundbreaking research and teaching.”

Improving Belongingness and Inclusion

In addition to continuing the type of work Harper conducted at Penn, the USC center will also launch the National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates (NACCC), a quantitative survey instrument that will be annually administered at hundreds of colleges and universities across the country.

The new survey will give institutions valuable quantitative data about students’ feelings of belongingness and inclusion and racial climates on campus. To help with that and other center work, Harper will bring with him two current colleagues: Charles Davis, who will serve as director of research and a member of the USC Rossier faculty; and Wilmon Christian, who will serve as director of professional learning and campus partnerships.

“Charles, Wilmon and I will quickly assemble a dynamic team of colleagues to launch this important center,” Harper said. “With generous support from the USC Provost’s Office, our team is incredibly well positioned to do its best work.”

Harper earned his Ph.D in Higher Education from Indiana University in 2003. After his initial time at USC Rossier, he became an assistant professor of education at Penn State University, before joining the University of Pennsylvania faculty in 2007.

He is the current president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education and an elected member of the American Educational Research Association executive council. In 2015, Harper was named to the advisory council of the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, an initiative launched by President Barack Obama to improve the lives of boys and young men of color.

Harper has published more than 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and other academic publications, as well as 11 books. His twelfth, due out this March from Routledge, examines major sports scandals at universities. And this fall, Johns Hopkins University Press is publishing Harper’s next new book, Race Matters in College.

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For media inquiries, please contact Ross Brenneman at or (213) 740-2327.