Who is Spark?

Increasing our diversity is not only the right thing to do, it is how we complete our mission.

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Editor's note

Monday, September 5, 2022

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Hello! This is my revision of the beautifully written “Who is Spark” article written by Beez along with co-writers Pavan, Akash, and Steve. This semester, I am leading our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee to ensure the follow through of the goals we have set to diversify our membership. When revisiting this article, the question I kept asking was “why?——why does this article matter?” We wrote and tirelessly revised this blog post not just to be transparent about our faults and convince you to join our organization to fulfill our mission. It was written to communicate the work we are doing to make space within the Spark family for you, for more diverse perspectives.

How Spark defines:

  • Diversity...
    • is including people of a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as different genders and sexual orientations.
  • Equity...
    • is giving fair access and opportunity to all people considering historical and systemic barriers.
  • Inclusion...
    • is creating the space and environment where people of all backgrounds feel comfortable sharing ideas and expressing who they are.
  • Race and Ethnicity
    • is recognizing the intersections and complexities between the two. And so, we have addressed significant gaps within and between different groups. Specifically, we split up the Asian race category into different ethnic regions because we understand that Asian Americans experience the largest wealth gap.*

Lastly, before we dive into “Who is Spark,” here are some important thoughts from Beez that I would like to mention:

Entrepreneurship culture and resources at USC are enjoyed primarily by white, male-identifying, and privileged students.

While certain individuals in Spark have put serious effort into diversifying our membership, we, as an organization, regret that we have not committed to this goal until two years ago. Still, those individuals were right to lead us in that direction. We hadn't identified the homogeneity and inaccessibility in entrepreneurship at USC as an area of impact for us – despite our complicity in both problems.

Our DEI committee recognizes that we have a lot of work to do as an organization and, as I mentioned earlier, we are committed to creating change.

Keep reading to learn more!

*Rakesh Kochhar, “Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Rising Most Rapidly Among Asians,” Pew Research Center. July 12, 2018, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2018/07/12/income-inequality-in-the-u-s-is-rising-most-rapidly-among-asians/. (accessed Jan 22, 2022).

Who is Spark?

This is our most recent picture of some of our board members from Spring 2022; this reflects our current level of diversity pretty accurately.

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As we've discussed in our last two posts, Spark is identified and driven by its mission. You can also think of Spark as a group of people who share a culture and values. While we have a lot in common, our different backgrounds and problem-solving styles sharpen us.

Spark's members come from all sorts of intellectual and disciplinary backgrounds – even though we're an "entrepreneurship organization," a lot of our members' definitions of entrepreneurship don't only include founding a startup or building a product. To our members, entrepreneurship is designing clothes, making music, directing music videos, solving climate change, journalism, practicing medicine, writing graphic novels, and publishing research. This inclusive definition of entrepreneurship shapes the way we work toward our mission.

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Ironically though, Spark is still not that inclusive or diverse in other ways. Becoming a diverse and equitable organization is essential to our ability to fulfill our mission of “fostering entrepreneurial thought and action across communities of all backgrounds at USC.” As our membership expands to represent an expansive variety of backgrounds and experiences, we can empathize with more of the people we aim to serve at and around USC.

Our 3 Commitments to Improve our Diversity and Inclusion:

Three semesters ago, we began reaching out to leaders of other organizations on campus and met with Kristina Williams, critical race educator and founder of Unpacking, the leading online resource for antiracism education.

This past semester, Spark incorporated DEI through our DEI committee that worked to provide equal access to the organization by ensuring that our membership is diverse and representative, our culture is inclusive, and our initiatives reflect our mission. Below, we have outlined how we’ve approached our goals in the past along with our current plans for accomplishing them:

Goal 1: Embody Diversity in our Membership

We are committed to recruitment practices that reflect the values of DEI. We aspire to reflect the communities we work with at every level of our organization and will identify, attract, and retain diverse, qualified team members.

We are doing this by:

  • Reaching out to organizations that have a high Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Middle Eastern, and Native/ Indigenous membership to increase the diversity of our membership pool. These organizations include:
    • Asian Pacific American Student Association (APASA)
    • Black Student Assembly (BSA)
    • BSA’s Creative Experience
    • Latinx Student Assembly (LSA)
    • Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE)
    • *If you are apart of an organization that is not mentioned, please reach out through DM or email!

  • Our recruitment process was audited by Kristina Williams. Here are some of her thoughts:
    • Hosting a DEI workshop to boost cultural competency.
    • Working on relationships with cultural organizations by:
      • Creating cross-promotional events ex. pitch competition specifically for students in BSA.

We will do this by:

  • Expanding our personal friendships and networks beyond the academic and social relationships that come naturally.
  • Establishing better operational relationships with organizations on campus that have high Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Middle Eastern, and Native/Indigenous membership.
  • Increasing our minority populations by the end of two recruitment cycles. These percentages are based on trends observed from recent recruitment cycles:
    • ⬆️ Black population by 3%
    • ⬆️ Hispanic/ Latinx population by 3%
    • ⬆️ Middle Eastern population 1%
    • ⬆️ Native Indigenous population by 1%

Goal 2: Foster a Culture of Inclusion and Equity

We are committed to creating a culture of equity and inclusion based on mutual respect and trust. We aspire to foster an environment that respects each individual as their authentic self, seeks and values diverse perspectives and ensures each member is empowered to actively contribute to our mission.

We are doing this by:

  • Spark wants to make sure that your financial background has no impact on your membership in Spark. As an org, we don't have dues or hard fees for membership for any of our events or activities.
  • Spark is arranged into a relatively flat, voluntarily-organized structure to make sure that all members can lead initiatives or lead Spark in a direction they care about without requiring a title to do so.
  • Once you're in Spark, you're in Spark for good. After your Sparklet semester, you choose how you want to engage with Spark. You can lead an initiative, apply for our Core Team, or take a break from involvement while still remaining a part of our family who is welcome at any meeting or fellowship event.

We will do this by:

  • Making sure board and committee meetings are safe spaces where people of different backgrounds can speak using inclusive language.
  • Respecting and recognizing all religious and cultural obligations of our members.

Goal 3: Incorporate DEI goals within each committee

We are committed to embedding DEI into all of our operations to make sustainable and systemic change as an organization. We will equip our teams with systems to measure and report progress and outcomes.

We will do this by:

  • Creating a DEI goal for each committee and assigning a liaison to help execute the goal.
  • Collaborating with cultural organizations to create and develop our initiatives.

In Spring 2022, we began implementing our goals. As a result, we had our most diverse applicant pool, hosted internal culture nights, and assisted committees with their DEI goals. We are excited to continue this growth this semester.

The Truth of the Matter

We are committed to our changes as we recognize that our Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Middle Eastern, or Native/Indigenous membership fall below USC's greater enrollment. Our goal isn't to match USC's diversity, it is to have equitable representation. Being less diverse than USC itself is unacceptable if our mission is to serve all of campus.

Being around people who you look like and who you are able to speak freely with only makes you more comfortable to innovate.”

Here are our statistics on membership, leadership, and applicants compared to the USC population:

Our ethnic and racial diversity

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Spark is not particularly racially and ethnically diverse. By the numbers, here is Spark's racial and ethnic diversity across our 56 current members:
  • 1 Native member= 1.8%
  • 3 Middle Eastern members = 5.4%
  • 6 Hispanic/Latinx members = 10.7%
  • 6 Black members = 10.7%
  • 7 South Asian members= 12.5%
  • 10 Southeast Asian members= 17.9%
  • 15 White members = 26.8%
  • 17 East Asian members = 30.4%

Compare our statistics to USC’s 2021-2022 diversity statistics:

  • Black students = 5.8%
  • Other ethnicities = 8.9%
  • Hispanic/Latinx students = 15.6%
  • Asian (American) students = 19.1%
  • International (mostly Asian = 78.5%) students = 23.8%
  • White students = 27.3%

Here's the ethnic breakdown of our Core Team, our leadership team of five people:

  • 1 Latino member
  • 1 White member
  • 1 Black member
  • 1 East Asian member
  • 1 South Asian member

“While our ultimate goal is to widen the tent of and redefine entrepreneurship, it’s also important that we do this internally as well. Diversity allows us to better meet the needs of the communities we serve and ensures that our impact outlasts us—there is a powerful domino effect when you teach a member of Spark how to teach skills and knowledge and they can then bring that back to their communities.”

First-generation members:

  • 11 first-generation members = 20% of members

Preferred pronouns of members

  • 1 they/them/theirs = 1.8%
  • 27 she/her/hers = 48.2%
  • 29 he/him/his = 51.8%
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Here are some statistics from our Spring 2022 application, the most recent recruitment cycle, that reveal who applies to Spark. These numbers are consistent with numbers from previous recruitment cycles.

Racial and ethnic breakdown of our applicants. Keep in mind that this is self-reported data.

  • 7 Middle Eastern applicants = 4.1%
  • 11 Black applicants = 6.4%
  • 15 Hispanic/Latinx applicants = 8.7%
  • 25 Southeast Asian applicants = 14.5%
  • 25 White applicants = 14.5%
  • 43 South Asian applicants = 25.0%
  • 62 East Asian applicants = 36.0%

First-generation applicants:

  • 43 first-generation applicants = 25% of applicants

Preferred pronouns of applicants

  • 1 they/them = 1.0%
  • 70 she/her/hers = 40.7%
  • 92 he/him/his = 53.5%

If you identify as Black, Hispanic/Latinx, Middle Eastern, or Native/Indigenous, we encourage you to apply! By joining, you not only provide a unique perspective to spark, but also gain life-long mentorship, a tight-knit family, and a place where you are free to experiment in spite of the outcomes. You not only make an impact in the entrepreneurial space on campus, but you also learn how to become a leader.

This piece was titled "Who is Spark" – and admittedly, it got pretty granular and clinical. Overall, we're a family of students who love each other for our differences and shared passions. The lifelong friendships that we described in "What is Spark?" are real, and the intentions that we described in "Why is Spark?" are genuine. We're constantly trying to improve Spark.

If you're interested in chatting with any of our members (especially ones you identify with) before applying to discuss questions or reservations about applying to Spark, DM us on Instagram or email us. Keep an eye out for more recruitment content.

That's all for now – and remember our application is due on Saturday, September 10th at 6:00pm!