The Undergraduate Student Government introduced a resolution tackling campus climate reform at its weekly meeting Tuesday night in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center. On Monday, the same resolution was presented to the Graduate Student Government, adding to the conversation about campus diversity that has gathered momentum over the past few weeks.
The members and directors of various student assemblies — among them the Latina/o Student Assembly, APASA, Women’s Student Assembly, Diversity Affairs and the USG Senate — authored the resolution. USG President Rini Sampath, also a key author, led the presentation of the resolution.
Sampath began by showing a photo of herself when she received her USC acceptance letter, using it to illustrate the difference between the experience she expected and the one she has had.
“This is a picture of me looking pretty disheveled at 17, clutching my USC acceptance letter because I was so, so stoked to get into this school,” Sampath said. “I was beyond happy. It was my dream school. And I’m sure many in this room know that feeling, of being able to get accepted into one of the best universities in the country.”
Moira Turner, director of diversity affairs, also showed a past photo of herself.
“This is my freshman year, with a couple of my friends, and I was super excited to be part of the USC campus, really starting to get my foot in the water with USG,” Turner said.
Sampath and Turner then discussed the idea of the Trojan Family, and how it is vitally embedded in USC culture.
“[The Trojan Family] has this underlying notion of inclusivity, having everyone be part of this very large family, a ‘happy family’ kind of thing,” Turner said.
Sampath elaborated on the University’s public commitment to diversity and how it relates to reality.
“The word ‘diversity’ pops out a lot in the marketing materials,” Sampath said. “We talk about having one of the most diverse student bodies, a huge international student community. But in reality, what does the word ‘diversity’ actually mean? Is it just a marketing ploy to get students into the room? What are we doing to support those diverse groups of students? Are they feeling left out? Excluded?”
The reality of the campus climate, Sampath argued, is much different from that depicted in the materials presented by the University.
“This conversation isn’t anything new — we’ve been having it for years now,” she said.
Sampath showed video of an incident in May 2013, where more than 70 LAPD officers, some in riot gear, responded to a noise complaint and shut down a student party. The result was a sit-in at Tommy Trojan led by then-student Nate Howard and other supporters. They spoke out about how students on campus were feeling, holding signs with slogans such as “I want to be a part of the Trojan Family” and “Why does the color of my skin matter?”
Sampath also talked about the “I, Too, Am USC” campaign, in which students spoke out against micro-aggressions experienced on campus. Sampath showed another image of student harassment in which students appeared to be carrying a fake gun and mocking Arab culture.
Sampath and Turner went on to express frustration at the progress made with the Awujo house, a space for programming centered on the African diaspora. The resolution to institute the House, Sampath mentioned, was passed a year ago but and has gathered little administrative support since.
Before presenting the resolution, Sampath concluded by explaining the process of advocacy at USC.
“Student input is gathered through forums and meetings, student government meets with administrators [and] then there starts to be unsustainable change because we hear no responses — there is no action on their side and an incident occurs. It is a continual loop,” Sampath said. “That’s why we need your support to create sustainable activism and get the administration to make a commitment to reform USC.”
The resolution calls for a series of actions from the University administration, including the hiring of a vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and on additional Title IX investigator, a $100 million fund to support underrepresented students and tenured faculty positions for underrepresented minorities, additional resources for cultural centers and mandatory diversity and cultural competency training for graduate students, student leaders and faculty.
USG will vote on the resolution during their meeting next Tuesday.