Freshman spurs student empowerment at USC


Freshman year: For most students, it’s the time to make new friends, settle in and explore Los Angeles. Many might join clubs, participate in Greek Life or student government and maybe even volunteer. But there is at least one freshman that destroys the norm of being a passive 18-year-old. 

Freshman international relations major Maya Carter has built the foundation for a nationwide movement, Motivate and Empower, or more simply, M&E. As an observant USC student, Carter noticed social issues pertaining to socioeconomic status, gender inequality and an overall apathy among the student body. So she decided to become the catalyst for change.

“I was shocked to find that there was no medium for a diverse group to come together and share unique ideas with one another,” Carter said. “There was no medium for evolution of diverse thought. Complex issues like the social issues we see today can’t be solved by one way of thinking.”

Carter said she aims to create an environment that is safe for everyone — no matter one’s background — to express thoughts and identity. She is building a culture of mutual respect while breaking down stereotypes and judgment.

Carter said she has a specific vision for the M&E movement: It will bring motivational speakers to campus to inspire “Campus Conversations,” which are facilitated discussions about social issues. M&E will then take those discussion participants and provide them with the opportunity to become a mentor for L.A. public school students.

“It is my hope that these motivational speakers will inspire USC students to speak up, and it is our responsibility to provide the medium for them to be heard,” Carter said. “In the future, we are bringing in Elizabeth Hunter, Hollywood producer and writer, and she hopes to discuss with our members gender and racial inequities in the film industry. She will be the first of many motivational speakers that will inspire the campus conversations that Motivate and Empower will facilitate.”

Carter said she hopes to facilitate a positive relationship with the L.A. community through outreach mentorship programs facilitated by M&E leaders. This mentorship program caters to the passion of USC students and provides them with the medium to share their passion with the L.A. public school system.

“M&E Leaders will apply to become one-one-one mentors with students in the L.A. public school systems,” Carter said. “There is something in this mentorship program for everyone. If you like poetry, teach poetry. If you are good at math, tutor in math.”

The movement is catching wind nationwide. Though M&E has found its roots at USC, it has big plans to spread to high schools and other universities. There are already potential members in more than 16 accredited colleges, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Tufts University and Wake Forest University. With more than 300 potential members, this movement is on its way to inspiring more than just college students.

Carter said she has partnered with Alex Fairman of USC’s Joint Education Project, which allows students to combine academic coursework with experiences in the surrounding community, and has established a network with 15 nearby public schools.

The movement’s message of motivating students to empower their immediate environment is an easy one to grasp and understand — and it is just as easy to join because it is all online.

“I took the initiative to join because I realized how proactive my peers were in wanting to solve the issues on campus,” said Alexis Cotton, creative director of M&E. “So I couldn’t help but feel motivated to do the same. I used my passion to design to help the movement by branding the movement, from the logo to the website.”

Though Carter might serve as an inspiration to her peers, she said she is just as humble and grateful for the inspiration she receives from her friends.

“I am so honored to see that my vision is being accepted by so many different people, who you would not assume would have anything in common,” Carter said. “We all realize what we have in common is that we all want to be motivated. And somewhere deep within us, we want to motivate others. M&E has something for everyone, so join the movement and see what you can do for M&E and what we can do for you.”

  • Maya Carter

    Thank you for a great article Priscilla. The response has been great and I’m honored to be spoken of in this light!