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USC center’s new director sets ambitious plans

La Shonda Coleman has transcended traditional gender roles. (USC Photo/Lillian Insalata)

For La Shonda Coleman, new director of the Center for Women and Men (CWM), coming to USC was fate.

Coleman had just completed her bachelor’s degree in sociology at California State University, Northridge, and was researching master’s programs in social work. Thinking that USC was beyond her reach, she decided to explore options at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA). However, en route to CSULA, she realized she had unconsciously driven to USC.

“I remember going into the admissions office and thinking ‘this is USC. There must be meaning in that,’ ” Coleman recalled. “That’s when I decided that this would be the only school I would apply to — and I got in.”

After earning her Master of Social Work, Coleman served as a consultant. While working with the Rape Treatment Center (RTC) staff at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, Coleman screened a documentary she had made about acquaintance rape for her master’s program. The RTC staff offered her a job on the spot.

For the next seven years, Coleman was an outreach program coordinator, initially educating high school students about sexual violence and then working at universities to raise awareness and reduce sexual assault.

During her time at RTC, Coleman worked with the USC Center for Women and Men to support programs such as Take Back the Night and the Clothesline Project, offer crisis intervention and share information about RTC services. There were so many innovative programs at USC and CWM, Coleman said, that she felt compelled to come back to collaborate with the “pioneers of Southern California.”

As the center’s new director, Coleman can do exactly that. Her goals for the upcoming year are ambitious, including facilitating cross-cultural examination and discussion of gender-related issues, which strikes a personal note for her. As a working mother married to a stay-at-home dad, she has experienced the backlash that comes with transcending traditional gender roles.

“It doesn’t fit into that gender box, the stereotype that he’s supposed to be the breadwinner,” she said. “That furthers the passion I have to create room for respecting how we as individuals decide to live our lives.”

Another component of Coleman’s mission is to create a university-wide program for prevention, awareness and reduction of sexual violence. She envisions all USC schools pooling their areas of expertise to create a safer university for all.

Coleman will also be working on her PhD in clinical social work through the Sanville Institute in Berkeley, Calif.

She’s eager to get started.

“There’s the excitement of what this work will bring,” she said. “And there’s so much to learn. What a gift.”

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