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Nickey Woods promotes diversity at Gould – Daily Trojan

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For Nickey Woods, seeing a 2017 Southern New Hampshire University commercial was an experience in which she realized the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. A University official spoke at a commencement in the commercial, calling on graduates to stand up if they were a first generation college student, a mother or in a military family, before saying that “the world in which we live equally distributes talent, but it doesn’t equally distribute opportunity.”

The commercial, coupled with Woods’ own experiences as a student and observing her son’s educational experiences, made diversity and inclusion something Woods, who now serves as the Gould School of Law’s first ever Assistant Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, has always been mindful of.

Knowing Gould was the first top-25 law school to offer a required race and equity course coupled with last year’s events relating to race and social justice, Woods was not surprised to see the creation of the position she would later occupy at the school. Although Woods hadn’t originally planned on applying for the role, after further research, she said she thinks the role is “consistent with USC’s culture journey.”

“What it signaled to me was Gould is serious about these issues related to DEI,” Woods said. “I think it makes a lot of sense to create a position like this, particularly within the law school, where you’re training people to go out and advocate for things and concepts and ideas related to social justice.”

Woods received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA and her master’s degree in education with an emphasis in cross cultural teaching from National University. She began her professional career as a teacher in an independent study program in the Long Beach Unified School District, where she attended school growing up.

For Woods, working with high school students who were having difficulties in the typical high school environment encouraged her to delve deeper into DEI within education.

“If I’m in an environment where I see things that aren’t right, I feel compelled to do something about it or try to work to make sure that systems work more fairly for everyone,” Woods said.

Calling herself a “Brujan,” — a combination of Bruin and Trojan — Woods worked as the Assistant Dean for Diversity, Inclusion and admissions at UCLA for six years, after receiving her doctorate in educational leadership with an emphasis in educational psychology at the Rossier School of Education. Her role at Gould differs from her previous role at UCLA and involves an element of the law in addition to DEI efforts.

“In thinking about how DEI manifests in the law school, it’s really how it manifests anywhere, because it’s just working on thinking about the issues that come up when people are engaging with each other,” Woods said. “Because I’ve always had a really strong lens in terms of justice and fairness and social justice, I’ve probably always been a closet attorney, and this role is a really good fit for me.”

Since joining in mid-June, Woods has met with multiple student groups and faculty members to discuss her new role.

“Because it’s a new position, I wasn’t stepping into a role that somebody else had previously occupied, and I was able to really have this blank canvas,” Woods said. “I’m a lot busier than I thought I would be, but I love being busy and I love collaborating and meeting with people and really thinking about DEI in an innovative way.”

As for her own aspirations for the position, Woods envisions “three broad but interconnected areas of DEI” – knowledge and skill development, community culture and climate and assessment planning and evaluation – and has worked toward these goals in a multitude of projects, including training lecturers on creating more inclusive classrooms and planning DEI events for Gould students.

“I was able to create a vision for what each of these three broad areas would look like, and it was great because what it’s allowed me to do is undertake initiatives and goals that fall under these categories, and a way that I’m able to communicate on a consistent basis what DEI looks like in Gould,” Woods said.

Woods also plans on implementing new programming at Gould, such as a benchmark assessment to gauge where the community sees DEI efforts currently.

“We’re going to use the results of that to inform and guide our DEI efforts for the remainder of the academic year,” Woods said. “We’re also looking at launching a DEI dialogue series, where we invite people from the legal community that do great DEI work back to Gould to talk with students.”

She also works closely with Gould’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fellows, four law students who support the DEI office to advance initiatives throughout the law school.

In a statement to the Daily Trojan, Gould Dean Andrew Guzman wrote the school is excited to welcome Woods, who “brings extensive professional expertise, along with cultural competency, a caring approach and an authentic warmth to our law school community.”

“[Woods] has shown a tremendous understanding of the sensitivities and challenges of DEI work within an academic setting, and the strong desire to further the law school in its path toward being not only diverse but also a more inclusive place, where all students feel at home, supported, and can succeed,” Guzman wrote.

Laura Riley, assistant professor of lawyering skills and assistant director of academic success, works with Woods to co-chair the diversity, equity, inclusion and anti-racism faculty committee.

“I love that [Woods] has a background as an educator and she also has a background in DEI from her doctoral work at Rossier. So she understands both the organizational leadership piece plus the academics plus the DEI components,” Riley said. “I just think that combination will be really valuable to the Gould community.”

Woods said she’s “really looking forward to collaborating with others on campus,” and continuing conversations with USC Race and Equity Center Executive Director Shaun Harper and Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer Christopher Manning.

“The Gould community has been really receptive of this position thus far, and … [I’m] really excited to be here,” Woods said. “I’ve only been here a few months, I think we’ve only scratched the surface of all the great things that we’re going to do.”

This content was originally published here.

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