Students gathered to discuss issues of race, gender, and class in an informal, guided discussion and workshop called “Plug-In” at Ground Zero on Wednesday night.
The Ground Zero stage was deconstructed and the room was set up in a format that would facilitate discussion, with all students on an even surface. The event was co-sponsored by the Political Student Assembly, the Black Student Assembly, the Latino/a Student Assembly, the Queer People of Color Club and Lambda Upsilon Lambda, Fraternity Inc.
Taylor Markey, a senior double majoring in neuroscience and philosophy, helped to plan the event as a co-director of the Women’s Assembly.
“The objective of Plug-in is to bring what is normally an elevated conversation down to a level that everyone can relate to and talk about,” Markey said. “Plug-in is meant to give USC students the tools to be activists in their everyday lives in small ways, especially in language and in conversations with other USC students, to give them the ability to stand up for themselves and for other marginalized groups effectively, and not feel silenced by comments that they hear.”
The event began with an introductory workshop on collective liberation and intersectionality. Leaders began by asking what traits belong to the term “privilege.” Student responses included terms such as males, whites, able-bodied, educated, fit, conventionally attractive and citizens.
Leaders then asked what terms were associated with the word “oppressed.” Students responded with queer, black, lesbian, Muslim, incarcerated and veterans, among others. The objective of this exercise was to inform people that everyone has multiple identities and that a person can’t feel safe unless every element of one’s identity is respected.
Plug-In sought to initiate collective liberation with the USC community by discussing and accepting these different identities of students.
The first workshop was on gender. Leaders began by yelling out offensive remarks, and students worked together to come up with responses. The workshop followed this with the issues of catcalling, and what women can do in response.
The gender workshop also focused on issues relating to gender identity, and discussed the terms of gender, cisgender, transgender and preferred gender pronoun, as well as questions of sex and sexuality.
“I am cisgender and privileged: I have the ability to walk through the world and blend in without being pointed at, laughed at and stared at,” moderator Melissa Villafranco said.
The second workshop on racism was introduced by Professor Sharoni Little, associate professor in the USC Marshall School of Business. She began by discussing the terms of invisibility, visibility and hypervisibility.
“Does the construct of race get constructed with certain privileges in America?” Little asked the group.
Almost every student in the room nodded in affirmation.
Christina Davis, director for Residential Education, moderated the workshop. She asked students if they feel comfortable on campus, and if they think students of color feel safe on the USC campus. Students responded with stories of fear and hurt they’ve experienced as students of color on campus.
“I feel more safe off of campus than on campus,” said De’Ron Marques, a senior majoring in public relations. “Being a black student at USC, I fear DPS, I fear not being able to get onto campus at night. We are few and far between. I feel like I’m not welcome here.”
Students of all colors shared their experiences with the room, as listeners clapped and snapped in response.
Katrina Miller, a freshman majoring in English, recalled her experience at Welcome Week in August.
“The events were mostly white, and I didn’t see many DPS officers,” Katrina said. “But when I went to my first black event, and I saw like five USC officers, I questioned, ‘Are you serious?’ I couldn’t believe DPS always came to black events.”
The event concluded with a workshop on class, and what it means in society today.
“I hope students leave with a better understanding and a larger perspective on the issues that are racially intensified, and that are across different socioeconomic statuses on campus,” said Program Board’s Speakers Director Monica Parra.
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