From the moment he first saw the University Park campus as a prospective undergraduate student in the mid-’90s, JaBari Brown knew he wanted to be part of the USC culture. “It was just one of those things where, I could see myself here,” he said.
Brown graduated in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and psychology from USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Now senior associate director of academic advisement and civic engagement with USC Annenberg’s Office of Student Services, he has been a fixture at USC for going on 20 years.
In addition to helping countless students navigate their USC experience, Brown has been involved in the wider university community for years, earning him the respect of his peers. He represented USC Annenberg on USC Staff Assembly for two terms, and in late 2018, he was elected as the first president of the newly established USC Annenberg Staff Council.
“JaBari’s colleagues across USC often refer to him as ‘The Mayor,’ and you can’t walk across campus without him without being stopped multiple times,” said James Vasquez, USC Annenberg’s associate dean for operations. “JaBari is the best of what USC embodies.”
This year, he took on another important role as a culture facilitator in what is being called the USC Culture Journey. The university-wide initiative seeks to co-create USC’s values, align the supportive behaviors that bring those values to life, and shape opportunities to improve systems, processes and culture. The process began last October, when faculty, staff and students participated in a values poll. The initial results of that poll are now being shared and reflected up through university-wide and school-specific town halls, discussion sessions and foundation workshops that aim to capture the community’s feedback.
Brown, Vasquez and Senior Associate Dean for Administration Debra Lawler are serving as USC Annenberg’s culture facilitators throughout this phase, which seeks to identify what is working well at USC and what needs to change.
“We are taking this cultural journey very seriously,” Brown said. “The individuals who were involved in these scandals represent less than .001 percent of everybody who works for the university. I take pride in the fact that the majority of us are following the rules and being good stewards of students’ academic journeys.”
A San Diego native, Brown says his commitment to helping others began even before he came to USC. “One of the things that’s been consistent for me is volunteering and service,” he said.
After volunteering with Reading Literacy Learning, a nonprofit founded by his father that gives brand-new books to San Diego kids, he is now on the organization’s board of directors. He also worked as a camp counselor at Troy Camp for three years while an undergraduate, and also has been the staff advisor to the USC Special Olympics Club for the past four years.
“I’ve seen firsthand how involvement with kids from your community can have an impact on their lives,” he said.
The summer after his senior year of college, Brown worked as an orientation advisor at USC. Shortly thereafter, he left for a position at Loyola Marymount University working in continuing education — but he says he missed direct contact with students. After a little less than two years at LMU, when he had an opportunity to join student services at USC Annenberg, he jumped at it.
Starting as an academic advisor, Brown has taken on increasing responsibility over the years, and is now managing the entire undergraduate advising office.
“One of the things I think has been consistent at USC Annenberg throughout my experience is the care and dedication all of the faculty and staff show when serving students,” he said.
As both an alumnus and a longtime staffer, Brown says the campus scandals of recent years have taken their toll on USC’s institutional culture. “The things that went on were infuriating,” he said. The only way we are going to be able to move forward is by admitting that these things shouldn’t have happened — and we’re committed to them not happening again.”
Along with his fellow culture facilitators Lawler and Vasquez, Brown trained for the role in December and January, as he prepares to lead conversations, which will include town halls, discussion sessions and foundation workshops. The campus-wide gatherings began in January; USC Annenberg’s sessions will begin in February. All USC faculty, staff and students are encouraged to participate and earlier participation in the poll is not a prerequisite.
“I gladly accepted this role,” Brown said. “I’ve never wanted to sit on the sidelines — I like to get involved and share my voice, and also make sure that the voices of my colleagues and friends are heard, as well.”
That, he believes, will be one of the first steps to helping redefine and strengthen the culture of the university.
All USC faculty, staff and students are encouraged to participate in the university-wide culture sessions and can sign up at TrojanLearn.usc.edu. USC Annenberg staff, faculty and students are welcome to attend USC Annenberg’s culture sessions, which will be kicking off with a Town Hall on Feb. 18. Staff, faculty and students can also attend discussion sessions by clicking here.