Employee Resource Groups Promote Collaboration

May 15, 2020 at 4:31 pm

The University of South Carolina Upstate has launched a number of employee resource groups (ERGs) as part of its ongoing effort to build and maintain an inclusive – and welcoming – campus environment.

“The ERGs were a natural outgrowth of the hunger of our employees to have a more effective and identity-affirming way to share common interests and collaborate with each other beyond their specific job responsibilities,” Chief Diversity Officer Alphonso Atkins says.

“Our employee resource groups reflect an inclusive best practice in promoting employee voice and creating a vehicle to share interests and collaborate in service to the Impact Agenda and the university more broadly.”

Each group meets regularly to share information, offer support, advocate for policy changes and hold social events.

The groups were created as a direct result of Upstate’s commitment to enhancing the contributions of and supporting historically underrepresented populations, which is one of the three core strategies in the university’s Equity and Inclusion Blueprint.

So far, the following employee resource groups have launched:

  • Upstate Gamers ERG
  • Upstate Women’s Alliance ERG
  • Upstate Collective ERG
  • LGBT Resource and Advocacy Group
  • Upstate Adjunct Faculty ERG
  • Exercise is Medicine ERG
  • Young Professionals ERG
  • Latinx ERG

Dr. Jeannie Chapman, dean of the College of Science and Technology, has taken the lead with the LGBT Resource and Advocacy Group. She says the idea for it came from realizing that prospective employees would want to know that Upstate offers a safe space where they can be their authentic selves. With 14 core members, the group has been meeting since June.

Early on, discussions focused primarily on the campus environment, Chapman says, things that contributed to a positive environment or areas that need more work.

“The discussions almost always centered on the student experience, even more so than our own experience,” Chapman says. “No matter who you are on this campus – student, staff member, visitor, faculty member – it is important your experience here, no matter what community you’re a part of, be a positive experience.”

For instance, if you are a freshman leaving home and for the first time feel free to be out with your sexual orientation or gender identity, what does that look like?

The group has spent time discussing gender-neutral restrooms – the need for more of them, and the need to make the ones that already exist more accessible, so there isn’t a stigma associated with using them – and has reported back to the Chancellor’s Office, Chapman says.

Together with the student organization Spectrum and Brittney Scurry, the assistant director for multicultural programming with Student Life, the group hosted National Coming Out Day events on Oct. 10 and 11.

“It was very well-received. I teared up a few times,” Chapman says. “We had a rainbow cake and we handed out rainbow ribbons, and those who came by were super stoked that we were there. Half of the students were probably allies, but they felt recognized and appreciated and welcomed.”

Dr. Araceli Hernandez-Laroche, associate professor of modern languages, has taken the lead with the Latinx ERG, which is somewhat newer. The group first met on Nov. 1 — Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Participants took turns reflecting on a loved one who had passed. Later in November, the group discussed equal pay for Latinas. And in December, Dr. Flor Urbana Barrera, a historian and anthropologist from the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez, joined the group to provide insights on La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico and the Americas.

The conversations, which take place over lunch in the CLC Dining Hall, help build cross-cultural understanding, Hernandez-Laroche says.

“If we don’t have dialogue, we can’t see each other,” she says. “If we can sit across from each other, hear each other, speak to each other… That is already powerful. That builds solidarity. And now, I feel the focus is more coming together, in terms of how can we better understand the growing student population that we have.”

For more information about any of the employee resource groups, contact the Office of Institutional Equity, Inclusion and Engagement at 864-503-5959 or equity@uscupstate.edu.