September 28, 2020

SCA Launches Black Student Welcome Experience

This semester the School of Cinematic Arts launched a new program, the Black Student Welcome Experience, aimed at onboarding Black students in a way that provides community and information that would contribute to their success. The program consisted of two days of events. On August 22th Dean Elizabeth Daley welcomed the new students via zoom. SCA alumnus Prentice Penny, showrunner of the Emmy-nominated comedy Insecure, then offered advice in a wide-ranging Q&A about finding success in Hollywood. Students also got introductions from Black faculty and staff, and the day ended with a no-holds-barred panel discussion from recent graduates Thembi Banks, Malik Vitthal and Neil Creque Williams, who talked about their successes and disappointments and broke down their strategies for finding work in film, television and commercials.

On August 31st, new students were invited back for a zoom mixer with current SCA students who talked about their diversity in their divisions and offered advice for navigating the School. Importantly, the students talked about how to make projects that were true to their vision as Black creators, when those projects would be initially presented to classmates and faculty who might not understand their vision or the subject matter.

The Black Student Welcome Experience was the brainchild of Maria Warith-Wade and Taylor Yarber-Smith, second-year students in the Peter Stark Producing Program. “We wanted a black student orientation because we realized so many of us are siloed within our divisions, and during a moment in U.S. history where we’re experiencing the largest demonstration of riots and  protests in defense of black lives – we want to create a community for black artists to support each other during these uncertain times,” says Warith-Wade.

Maria Warith-Wade interviews Prentice Penny

The program comes at a time where Black students across USC are discussing their experiences of discrimination online and appealing to the university to make changes. Through social media accounts like Black@USC, students have found encouragement and support. Yarber-Smith says the need for community made the program feel urgent. “We were able to come together as Black students to build a sense of community, for us, by us at USC. We hope this orientation can make SCA a place where Black students across the diaspora feel included, supported, and can thrive,” she said.

Insecure showrunner Prentice Penny answers students’ questions

The plan is to make the Black Student Welcome Experience an annual event that will be organized and led by student leaders from across the SCA divisions, with the help of the Office of Student Services and the Council for Diversity & Inclusion. The success of this year’s events certainly fueled the desire to make it an annual event. Maria Warith-Wade said that success was due to representatives from every SCA constituency showing up to show support for its students. “It was great to have Alumni come together and help us pull this off. Thankfully Prentice Penny was able to join us to kick off the event and bring tangible advice,” she said. “We also had a majority of the Black Faculty and Staff to introduce themselves and provide insights on how to use them for resources. We were honored to have Neil, Thembi, and Malik to discuss navigating the industry and tips to jumpstart our careers.”