Students and administration should take collective action

A week has passed since my story went viral. Since then, the University put out a statement encouraging others to report incidents of bias. While our University has noted this letter has led to the reporting of more incidents of bias within the past week than within the past year, it’s not enough. There’s so much more to accomplish, and we’ve known this for years now.

I understand the anger and frustration. Encouraging reporting isn’t enough. Words of apology aren’t enough. It’s difficult to find confidence in reporting procedures when we do not know the effectiveness of such systems. It’s difficult to trust in words of sympathy when deep inside, you are left to question if such words are merely apathy in disguise.

And it’s not as if my narrative is anything new: The USChangemovement was formed in 2013 as a response to how black students on this campus are treated. The RISE Student Alliance and sexual assault prevention advocates have fought against the silencing of survivors. Our cultural resource centers and cultural assemblies have routinely asked for greater resources, support and space to help the students they serve.

This is why, for some students, it’s frustrating to see my story receive so much coverage from everyone from the Los Angeles Times to Teen Vogue to the Washington Post. I get it. After all, why is my story any more valid than the stories of my peers? It’s not.

This story is not about me. Yes, I chose to speak up, but so have my peers for years now: They have spoken up through Title IX complaints, through meetings with administrators, through student government resolutions. So, to the media: My story has sold you papers, it has earned you clicks, likes and shares. There are students who do not hold the same office as me, but whose lived experiences are equally as important, if not more important, than mine. So I ask you to do this — please, report on these narratives. Your microphones, cameras and pens have a transformative power.

To the USC administration: As simple as it is to ask the student body to come up with the innovative solutions to these problems, the onus is on you to move proactively instead of reactively. We can’t wait for 700 angry students to fill a ballroom only for the administration to move on from the issue after the news cameras leave. News cycles will pass, but prejudice does not.

My colleagues at Undergraduate Student Government and I urge you to attend the forum on Wednesday entitled,“Voices of USC: The Diversity Climate on Campus,” from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in Ronald Tutor Campus Center Room 450. Administrators, including our provost, will be in attendance. This is only the continuation of a discussion that has taken place for many years.

This is a human rights issue that is not limited to one community. It is pervasive throughout our campus. We have all been, at some point in our lives, made to feel lesser than what we are. We need allies from all communities to participate if we want to make progress.

Yes, there will be those who believe speaking out brings bad publicity to our University. Yet, if we are truly committed to the betterment of USC, we must face these challenges head-on. There will be those who subscribe to a victim-blaming mindset and doubt the veracity of our testimonies, despite what convincing evidence there is (as my little sister pointed out, some people still doubt the moon landing). There will be those who attempt to trivialize our experiences or find it so bothersome to discuss these issues.

These are the opinions we can only hope to change through education and awareness. And in the meantime, we cannot forget about those who are invested in these principles. There is a certain side of history for us to choose to be on, and I know the majority of my peers will choose the right one, despite what hatred there still is in our world. We cannot let the negativity derail the cause to validate the experiences of our peers and find solutions for injustice; we must remain steadfast in our values and continue the pursuit of justice.

It’s your turn. It has always been your turn. See you on Wednesday.

Rini Sampath

USG President