Next semester, renew student involvement

Today marks the last issue of the Daily Trojan this semester. To most, this doesn’t mean much, but to me — as today marks the end of three columns, four semesters with the Daily Trojan and two semesters as its editorial director — it carries intense emotional consequences that somehow feels like a closure to my commitment to campus issues.

Ironically, when this prints, I won’t even be on campus — I’ll be at the White House for National College Reporter Day, learning more about the role of the Obama Administration in topical issues in higher education. So, even as today marks the end of my formal stint for now, I’ll find it hard to stop pursuing the mission which I set forth both in this column and in my editorship — to provide a vehicle for student advocacy.

At the very least, I’ve hoped to continue conversations that have taken place, are taking place and will continue to take place on campus for years to come. This means engaging with real and difficult issues — college affordability, racism on campus, sexual assault prevention, mental health awareness and environmental sustainability practices, among others. In doing so, my mission resonates with so many other Trojans attempting to do the same thing from all corners of campus. And as the semester comes to an end, it’s important for students to remember to seize the momentum of the advocacy and activism that has taken place on campus over the past year. Student organizers should use it to build an activism pipeline, and students looking to explore issues more should reach out to campus organizations to get involved — because regardless of what we might like to think, these issues aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Research points to a generation that want to be engaged — a Telefónica study found that “an impressive 62 percent of respondents believe they can make a local difference, and 40 percent think they can make a global difference.” But at the same time, it is clear to many a Trojan that USC is no UC Berkeley. Advocacy and activism are just not institutionally active on this campus the same way they are at other campuses — largely because, as I’ve discussed before, the private status of the University does not lend itself to as much transparency and accountability as other colleges. Traditional grassroots activism is less robust, so institutional pipelines for advocacy exist on a smaller scale. But that’s not to say that advocacy and activism don’t take place — because they do, visibly in the form of rallies and Undergraduate Student Government Senate meetings but also behind the scenes in conversations between students and administrators. So the onus is on students to get involved.

But that shouldn’t be a deterrent — because advocacy has no fixed prescription. It doesn’t have to be a position in USG or participation in a student rally or a column in the student newspaper. But it can be all of these things. Or it can be participating in an artistic project that uplifts marginalized communities. Or it can be contributing to an entrepreneurial organization that looks at issues in the surrounding community. Social impact, advocacy and activism are closely intertwined.

Administrators also have a stake in supporting student engagement with campus issues. They may not always be able to respond fully to student demands, but encouraging students to engage more in the policies that affect their lives fosters a sense of civic engagement that creates long-lasting leadership skills and advances greater commitments to social impact — both of which are fundamental traits of global influencers.

I’m a little scared of what it means for me to stop writing this column and stop directing the opinion section at the Daily Trojan. For one, I’ve increasingly found identity in the role I occupy, both formal and otherwise. But more fundamentally, I wonder whether I can be an advocate without it.

The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. Advocacy takes many forms, some of which I have explored and some of which I have yet to. I may be cooling off for the summer, but I hope that my work is far from over.

I am not a journalism major. But I am sincerely appreciative of the small way of contributing to my community that this publication has given me. My sage advice? Find yours.

Sonali Seth is a sophomore majoring in economics and policy, planning, development. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. “’SC, What’s Good?” ran every other Thursday.