“I’m a Scholar, Not a Criminal.” These six words, written by USC graduate student Makiah Green, went viral in the aftermath of the Los Angeles Police Department’s arrest of six black students at an off-campus party last May.
They were posted on Green’s blog, “Makiah-isms,” and fueled the USChangeMovement, an initiative against LAPD’s alleged racial profiling.
The charges against the six students were eventually dropped, but Green’s activism has only grown stronger. She has been working closely with the USC Dept. of Public Safety to implement new party procedures this semester for off-campus social events to avoid future misunderstandings.
“I felt extremely compelled to really push this thing forward and do everything that I could to make sure that developments were getting done,” Green said. “We must take advantage of this opportunity to create change.”
Green said she has been meeting with DPS Chief John Thomas and Capt. Steve Alegre to solidify new policies to improve communication between USC students and law enforcement.
Thomas said one of his goals this semester is to encourage students, DPS officers and community members to become engaged with each other in a progressive way.
“What I want is to create community — that’s common unity,” Thomas said. “I want everyone to engage with each other to the degree that people know who’s on their block and are looking out for each other.”
To improve this communication, Green and other students have dictated a new party protocol and notification policy for off-campus social events. This involves having a party liaison present, meaning two sober attendees will be responsible for interacting with DPS or LAPD.
Students will have access to an informal party registration form to notify DPS when they are hosting a large-scale party, or any gathering with amplified sound, in order to minimize any surprise if DPS receives a noise complaint. Students will fill out the time, location and how many people they are expecting, as well as designate party liaisons with their contact information.
Thomas said this would help prevent the type of event that occurred on May 4 since they could directly call a point of contact at the party, instead of responding immediately when they receive a complaint.
“This way everybody can win,” Thomas said. “The students can have their social events in the community, the community can expect that people are going to let them know they’re having a party, and DPS can work with them to help plan it and help keep them safe.”
Students have had mixed reactions to DPS’s new plan.
“I think this is a great step forward between DPS and the community, but I worry that communication will not be effective enough. This is a great starting point. Last May taught us that the relationship needs to improve,” Roonhee Ko, a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism, said.
Others worry less about the relationship between law enforcement and the university, and more about the practicality of such measures.
“I think that while students would be willing to register their parties online, they aren’t really going to be able to estimate the amount of people that will attend their party, so I don’t know how successful these new protocols really will be,” said Meghan Rajeev, a sophomore majoring in business administration.
Green said she has dedicated her summer to voicing her concern and helping to implement specific policies. She feels it is important that all students and community members feel safe and valued on and around the university campus.
“I think it’s hard to survive in a place where you do not feel welcomed or feel the university support you,” Green said. “I want to make sure that all the suffering that people have been through in the past or that’s been around this campus for years was not in vain.”
Green said she considers the incident last May a positive situation because it has set the university up for the possibility to create change. Other students, however, disagree.
“I think the measures themselves seem reasonable, but they shouldn’t have been brought about by that incident — that was racism, plain and simple,” said Molly Quinlan, a sophomore majoring in theater.
Green looked forward to developing an official student organization at USC to encourage students to speak up about related issues. Green said she hopes the organization will work to break down subconscious biases toward certain races, cultures and religions and develop a healthy relationship with law enforcement.
“There has been a turbulent history in this city,” Green said. “And this is a monumental moment that we have the opportunity to finally make progress because of how things unfolded.”
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