Through the Lens of Equity

Students at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.

Students at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Trade-Technical College.

Center for Urban Education helps students by focusing on improving the institutions that serve them

By Dan Gordon

Joseph Guerrieri hadn’t viewed seating patterns within his classroom as an equity issue.

“I knew some students always chose to sit in the back, but I just figured they were the quiet ones, while those in the front were more active and engaged,” says Guerrieri, who teaches digital media at Los Angeles Trade-Technical College (LATTC). “But when you begin to look at those decisions through the lens of equity, it forces you to ask why certain students make those choices.”

LATTC is one of many two- and four-year colleges and universities that have partnered with the USC Rossier-based Center for Urban Education (CUE) since the center was established in 1999. CUE assists the institutions in closing gaps that adversely affect historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in areas such as enrollment, retention and academic success — taking faculty and administrators through the Equity Scorecard, a process of looking inward to identify policies and practices that contribute to the inequities and then developing, implementing and evaluating potential solutions.

The oldest of the nine public two-year community colleges in Los Angeles, LATTC boasts a highly diverse student population. Many come from disadvantaged neighborhoods in South Los Angeles, where an institution focused on a technical education represents a route to a good job with a middle-class income. “Over the past few decades, the emphasis has been on building diversity in higher education by increasing college access for students of color,” says CUE Associate Director Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux PhD ’08. “However, diversity is not enough. Latinos, African-Americans, Native-Americans and other minoritized groups continue to experience inequities in outcomes — even at very diverse institutions. Through our partnerships with institutions like LATTC, CUE works with faculty to identify the structures and practices that create barriers to student equity.”

LATTC began working with CUE in the summer of 2014 by launching a series of workshops designed to raise awareness among faculty and administrators. Through the partnership, CUE is facilitating three LATTC “evidence teams.” The process focuses on race discussions, campus collaboration and buy-in, examination of data to identify racial/ethnic gaps and self-inquiry to explore the causes. “When you look closely at the numbers, you’re forced to recognize that there’s something there,” Guerrieri says. “Then, we begin to consider how we are contributing to the gaps.”

CUE helps faculty members and others at colleges like LATTC explore how their practices, beliefs and values might be contributing to inequality in outcomes.

“We assist professors in becoming critically conscious of race within their classrooms and showing African-Americans, Latinos and other marginalized groups that they are cared for and their success is important,” says CUE Director Estela Mara Bensimon, professor of education at Rossier. “For too long faculty and others have misinterpreted color-blindness as fairness; CUE helps them see that color-blindness is an obstacle to racial and ethnic equity.”

Guerrieri says working with CUE has made him more aware of the impact of common teaching practices on student achievement and equity. “This has opened my eyes in so many ways,” he says. “I’m looking forward to seeing what informed strategies we can implement and then using this inquiry process for continuous improvement.”

This article appeared in the fall/winter 2016 issue of USC Rossier Magazine.

*Thank you to all of our donors who generously supported USC Rossier during fiscal year 2016 (July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016).

View the Honor Roll