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Who is Spark?

Increasing our diversity is not only the right thing to do, it's what's best for our mission.

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Editor's note

Saturday, August 7, 2021

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I wrote and published this with the help of several other Board members this past January, as we geared up for another round of recruitment. We need to update some figures before statistics are accurate for Fall 2021, but I think this is important to share in the meantime. Here's a more recent picture of some of our Board members though, just for reference:

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Who is Spark?

This is an old picture of Spark from 2018, but one that 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 actually 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. If you identify as Black, Latin/Hispanic, or Native/Indigenous, we really want you to apply! Becoming a diverse and equitable organization is essential to our ability to fulfill our mission, and we have a ways to go before we can consider ourselves a truly diverse organization. We're beginning our commitment to growing more diverse over time by learning from organizations on campus that have done this successfully, speaking to leaders in equity and inclusion training, and getting our recruitment process audited. As our membership expands to represent a widening variety of backgrounds and experiences, we start to empathize with more of the people we aim to serve at and around USC.

Our ethnic and racial diversity

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Spark is not particularly ethnically diverse. By the numbers, here's Spark's racial diversity across our 43 current members:

  • 21 Asian members (Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Russian, mixed) = 49%
  • 9 white members = 21%
  • 8 Desi members = 19%
  • 3 Hispanic & Latino members (Mexian, Chilean, mixed) = 7%
  • 2 Black members (Nigerian, African American) = 5%
  • 1 Middle Eastern member (Egyptian) = 2%

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

  • 3 white members
  • 1 Asian member
  • 1 Desi member

Compare our statistics to USC's 2020-2021 diversity statistics:

  • White students = 29.4%
  • International (mostly Asian) = 22.6%
  • Asian (American) students = 18.6%
  • Hispanic students = 15%
  • Black students = 5.5%
  • Other ethnicities = 8.9%

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Here are some statistics from our Spring 2020 application, the most recent recruitment round, to show who applies to Spark. These numbers are consistent with numbers from previous recruitment seasons.

First-generation applicants /non-first-generation applicants:

  • 32 first-generation college students = 32 applicants / 15.9% of applicants
  • 169 Non-first-generation applicants = 84.1%

Racial breakdown of our applicants. This is self-reported data.

  • 84 East Asian applicants = 43.5%
  • 45 white applicants = 23.3%
  • 39 South Asian applicants = 20.2%
  • 21 Southeast Asian applicants = 10.9%
  • 14 Latin/Hispanic applicants = 7.3%
  • 8 Black applicants = 4.1%
  • 3 Middle Eastern applicants = 1.6%

Preferred pronouns of applicants

  • 107 he/him/his = 53%
  • 94 she/her/hers = 46.5%
  • 1 they/them/theirs = 0.5%

Owning up / Changing our approach

Currently, our Black, Hispanic and Latin, and indigenous membership fall below USC's greater enrollment. Our goal isn't to match USC's diversity, but being less diverse than USC itself is unacceptable if our mission is to serve all of campus. What's more, entrepreneurship culture and resources at USC are enjoyed primarily by white, male, and privileged students. While certain individuals in Spark have put serious effort into diversifying our membership, we regret that we have not committed to this goal as an organization until this past year. 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 leadership team and membership are not diverse, and we explicitly need more Black, Latin/Hispanic, and Native/Indigenous students to apply to join us in our mission. It's literally impossible for us to "to foster entrepreneurial thought and action across communities of all backgrounds and interests within and beyond USC without making our own membership more inclusive and accessible.

Last semester, 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. Here's how we are approaching our lack of diversity:

Our main goal is to increase diversity of our applicant pool and work with primarily BIPOC orgs to create more inclusive initiatives. We'll do this by:

  • Creating better operational relationships with organizations on campus that have high Black, Latin/Hispanic, and Native/Indigenous membership
  • Expanding our personal friendships and networks beyond the disciplinary and social relationships that come naturally

So, like we said at the beginning – if you identify as Black, Latin/Hispanic, or Native/Indigenous, we need you to apply! If you're interested in chatting with a member before applying to discuss questions or reservations about applying to Spark, DM us on Instagram or email us and keep an eye out for more recruitment content. This recruitment season starts in a week.

Gender diversity

Spark has spent a lot of time focusing on gender parity and inclusion in recruitment. Gender is not a contributing factor to anyone's acceptance or rejection from Spark. In fact, gender is not listed in our recruitment data apart from an optional question on our written application. We ask for gender expression so we can track the equity of our outreach efforts.

Here are our numbers on gender expression:

  • 2 non-binary members = 4.5%
  • 0 transgender members*
  • 20 woman-identifying members = 45.4%
  • 21 man-identifying members = 47.7%
  • None of Spark's members identify as transgender. If you identify as trans, Spark is a group of people that welcomes you! Your gender expression is valid, and we'd love for you to apply!

Supporting diverse membership

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We want to make sure that all members feel supported once in Spark – no one should feel like they're here because they provide us with a unique, racialized, or gendered perspective. Here are some of the methods we use to keep Spark equitable:

  • 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 or 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 it.
  • 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 work, while remaining a part of our family and welcome at any meeting or fellowship event.

This piece was titled "Who is Spark" – and admittedly, this article got pretty granular and clinical. 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 true. We're constantly trying to improve our approach to SparkΒ  That's all for now – keep an eye out for our application when it drops on Tuesday, Jan 19.

Email us with any questions or comments or DM us on Instagram!