Undergraduate Student Government President Rini Sampath attended an invite-only convening of students and administrators on racial harassment in higher education on Wednesday in Chicago. The event was sponsored by the United States Department of Education.
In a Facebook post on Oct. 19, Sampath announced she had been invited by Under Secretary Ted Mitchell.
“We will also explore ways to create supportive and inclusive environments for students and the campus community,” She wrote in the post.
Sampath participated in a panel discussion focused on responding to racial harassment on campus moderated by Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Catherine E. Lhamon. Sampath stressed the importance of concerted action on the part of university administrations, without haste.
“If administrations respond too slowly, they’ll have a problem. If they respond too hastily, they’ll have a problem,” Sampath said. “It’s about finding a balance. A takeaway from that, however, was that institutions do need to respond.”
The event demonstrated that the issues of diversity students face on USC’s campus are shared nationwide. Open and honest dialogue, Sampath said, is necessary to address the fundamental diversity problem in higher education.
“It was a great opportunity because I got to see how these problems are not unique to USC. It’s happening in institutions of higher education all over the country,” Sampath said. “We, at USC, are trying to be one of the top tier institutions, and we are lacking in resources to address these problems on our campus.”
Sampath says universities across the nation should look to each other for strategies related to diversity and that USC’s administrative infrastructure is somewhat behind. Sampath specifically referenced a presentation from the first University of California, Los Angeles Vice Chancellor for Diversity Issues, Jerry Kang, who was in attendance at the convening. The position was created by UCLA this spring.
“It’s clear [UCLA] has individuals tasked to taking care of these kinds of issues and cultivating an environment where everyone has equal opportunity at their university,” Sampath said. “We have to be looking at other institutions and wondering how we can learn from them.”
Sampath is also concerned about USC’s elimination of the diversity class requirement, which she said most attendees of the conference agreed is beneficial to opening up dialogue about diversity issues.
“I want to see how we can create more educational opportunities to address problems of diversity on campus,” Sampath said. “Regardless of how we feel about that requirement, we have a responsibility to find out how we can create more culturally competent leaders.”
The administration, she added, made progress in the last few years with acknowledging issues of racial diversity and discrimination on campus. In May 2013, when black students at USC accused the Los Angeles Police Department of racial bias after a party clash, Sampath said students were disappointed with the lack of administrators present at an open forum on the issue.
“This year, we had our provost in attendance at our town hall,” Sampath said. “It’s something we appreciated as students, but we need to see more communication and concerted effort on the administration’s part.”
The town hall she referenced was called in response to an incident in late September in which Sampath experienced racial harassment outside of a fraternity house that drew national media attention. USG has since introduced a campus climate bill that addresses diversity issues on USC’s campus. A USG Senate vote on that bill was postponed last week after a heated debate.
“The campus climate resolution has been a tremendous learning experience for all students involved,” Sampath said. “I do think some of the comments we’ve received about it should be taken into account. The whole purpose of a public forum is so that students can give feedback.”
Sampath hopes to take into account feedback particularly from students with disabilities who think the resolution should cover elements of diversity beyond race and sexual orientation. Regardless, the administration must buy in.
“This is just step one. I think there’s a misconception about how a resolution functions. It’s really up to the University as to how they want to implement it,” Sampath said. “It’s not the rule of law. It’s an opportunity for us to lay a brick. We’ve made such a remarkable effort to lay that first brick.”