Last year, in step with nation-wide movements against discrimination on college campuses, several USC student leaders authored a series of recommendations to elevate the campus environment. This document, introduced in October 2015, became known as the Campus Climate Resolution.
As of Fall 2016, some of the students closely involved with the resolution believe that the school administration is not taking their concerns seriously, despite demonstrated interest from certain portions of the student body.
The measure demanded a slew of policy changes; an inclusive curriculum, established pathways to reporting discrimination, more transparency in hiring and admission practices, implementing mandatory diversity and cultural competency trainings for faculty and hiring a vice president and vice deans of diversity, equity and inclusion for each school to ensure full completion of the directives.
Alex Kanegawa, a senior majoring in policy planning and development who helped form the Campus Climate Coalition, spoke of the need for a socially conscious administration, describing the racially mired history of USC.
“USC wasn’t meant for the black folks who lived in South L.A. when the school first laid down its roots,” Kanegawa said. “It wasn’t meant for Jewish folks who were expressly denied admission for decades. It wasn’t meant for Asian and Asian American students barred by restrictive housing covenants.”
The Campus Climate movement gained traction following student-organized rallies in support of students of color at University of Missouri, who were facing racial tensions and death threats. Also spurring the resolution was a racist incident involving former Undergraduate Student Government President Rini Sampath. Last September, while Sampath was walking past a fraternity house, someone hurled a drink at her and her friends, while shouting the racial slur, “You Indian piece of sh-t.”
Sampath described the incident in a Facebook post, which went viral within days. “Some people don’t believe racism like this can happen on our campus,” she wrote. The incident received national attention from the press, such as The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and other outlets.
The initiative pioneered by Sampath and other student leaders initially ran into resistance when introduced to the USG Senate. Some senators questioned the need for inclusive measures, others refused expenditure estimates; specifically Sen. Giuseppe Robalino disapproved of the $100 million fund set aside for scholarship.
“I had the opportunity to meet my donor of my scholarship,” Robalino said in a November 2015 Senate meeting, “I shared with him the particular provision in this resolution regarding the $100 million. His response was the number was not an appropriate number and that it was too high, and this is someone who is donating millions of dollars to USC.”
After student protests, senate in-fighting and lengthy delays, the resolution was voted through. But despite passing through Senate, the USC administration is not constitutionally bound to adopt any of the recommended measures. This is where the Campus Climate Coalition has run into its second hurdle, as the Coalition believes that university administrators are being slow to enact the directives.
Provost Michael Quick created a task force, consisting of three undergraduate students, two graduate students, three faculty members, Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry and Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni. The University also established a monthly diversity forum for students to voice their experiences.
Yet, the administration did not go through with requests to establish a specific $100 million fund for scholarships. Most recently, a controversial survey was sent to select members of the student body asking about the necessity of the diversity resolution. Kanegawa criticized the wording behind the survey.
“The language of the survey is deceptive and misleading, and the data can very easily be construed to demonstrate that there are no problems the University needs to address,” Kanegawa said. The survey can essentially tell USC that it’s doing a ‘good enough’ job.”
He also spoke of the need for continued support from the student body beyond showing up to protests and widely-publicized events. For Kanegawa, the momentum of the resolution is preserved by consistent student involvement.
“There’s a lot of involvement that we just need to figure out how to tap,” Kanegawa said. “We need to figure out how to sustain long-term involvement, which means not just coming in for protests, but attending meetings, having difficult conversations and breaking the USC bubble.”