By Matthew Kredell
Toward the end of the spring semester, representatives from three university student organizations showed up at a class taught by USC Price School of Public Policy Professor LaVonna Lewis and announced she had been chosen as the recipient of the 2018 Student Government Community Achievement Award.
The representatives noted that Lewis had been nominated anonymously by a student in her PPD 300 course, Social Justice in Public Policy and Urban Planning, and that she had “consistently advocated for cultural competency as an essential skill in public policy education,” fostering “a safe environment to discuss uncomfortable topics.”
The Community Achievement Award is presented by representatives from the Undergraduate Student Government. This year’s award was sponsored by the Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, Queer & Ally Student Assembly and the International Student Assembly.
According to the congratulatory email sent by representatives of those three organizations, the award recognizes professors who have gone above and beyond for their students, making meaningful contributions to the education of students of color and/or who identify as LGBTQ.
“It was very powerful for me, personally,” Lewis said. “I had the same experience reading through the student evaluations from the class. It’s very affirming to hear people say that you made a difference in terms of their understanding of different groups and some of the issues that groups face, that people felt they could be honest and not be judged, that they recognize the options they have to be allies for other people, and to be able to say that they see themselves and their colleagues in a more positive way.”
Leading the charge toward change
As director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at USC Price, Lewis has been instrumental in leading the school to improve its cultural competency in classroom instruction, enhancing career service resources and expanding a catalog of research related to social justice in public policy.
She helped launch the online forum Moving Forward as a hosted space for diversity, inclusion and social justice dialogue at the Price School.
In addition, Lewis has led workshops on cultural competency and implicit bias, a discussion on the blurred lines between free speech and hate speech, a recent health equity summit, and is entering her 17th year hosting the USC Diversity in Healthcare Leadership Initiative Summer Enrichment Program.
The in-class announcement concluded: “She is approachable and is always there for her students as well as very receptive to their feedback and concerns. Despite having so many various commitments, Professor Lewis has taken the time to show her care for her students by reaching out to them personally to check on their well-being. She has gone above and beyond in her duties as an educator and her care and dedication have not gone unnoticed by the USC community.”