Provost Quick addresses racism, Charlottesville in letter to USC community

In a letter sent to the USC community Monday morning, Provost Michael Quick condemned racism and other forms of discrimination, calling USC a multicultural community of people from diverse backgrounds.

A screenshot of the letter

The letter came nine days after Aubtin Heydari, a senior majoring in screenwriting, was reportedly injured while counter-protesting a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Intense political rhetoric divides our nation, and incidents of bias and discrimination degrade our humanity,” Quick wrote in the statement. “We denounce all forms of hatred, racism, and bigotry.”

Two days before the letter from the Provost’s office was released, a statement of solidarity for Heydari began circulating on social media, reaching over 700 signatures in two days.

The petition was started by the USC Cinema and Media Studies Graduate Association. In it, the student organization affirms its support for Heydari, who was hit when a vehicle ran into him and 19 other counter-protesters, one of whom was killed.

The statement also included a reaction to USC’s lack of support for Heydari at the time, especially since other institutions had denounced hate and racism immediately after the violent attacks in Charlottesville occurred.

On Sunday, however, Elizabeth Daley, the dean of the School of Cinematic Arts, addressed the petition and said that SCA reached out to Heydari the Monday following the Charlottesville attacks.

Daley also denounced hatred and racism, and expressed her support for Heydari.

“We worked over the course of last week to ensure that all necessary accommodations by the relevant student support offices would be made upon his return. [ … ] I feel it is important to share the fact that our response in support of our student was immediate and thorough, and will continue as long as necessary,” Daley said.

Philana Payton, a Ph.D. student in cinema and media studies who helped write and circulate the petition, said that she was shocked USC did not immediately release a statement about the Charlottesville attacks.

“Our biggest concern is the fact that the University has yet to make any public denouncement of the alt-right, white supremacists, ‘unite the right’ rallies and neo-Nazis that are terrorizing cities across the country,” Payton said.

Subsequent to the petition’s publication, the post was later updated to say that Heydari had been contacted by USC administration.

Heydari said he was grateful for the support, as he recovers from his injuries at a hospital in Charlottesville.

“The fact that they put this petition together and so many people signed it really touches me in a very sincere way,” Heydari said.

Heydari also said he received an email from Lynette Merriman, associate vice provost for campus crisis support and intervention. He added that the message was time-marked as Aug. 13, a day after the Charlottesville attacks. Heydari said he only saw the email recently.

“I have been informed that you were a victim of the tragic events in Charlottesville this weekend,” the email read. “ I am so, so sorry to hear that you were injured. Please let me know if we can do anything to assist you … do not hesitate to contact me.”

Heydari declined to comment in regard to the specifics of his injuries and the occurrences in Charlottesville, but the letter to SCA from Daley said that he had a successful surgery and will be returning to campus in the coming weeks.

“All my life I have been called a terrorist because of my ethnicity,” Heydari posted on his Facebook the night of the Charlottesville attacks. “Today I was hit by one in a car. He was a white man.”

The petition ended by thanking Heydari for his contributions to equality and social justice, both in Charlottesville and at USC.

“Heydari is consistently on the frontlines advocating for transformative social justice both on and off campus,” the statement read. “We are thankful that he survived the Charlottesville terrorist attack and that he is healing. We will continue to stand in solidarity with Heydari as he prepares to return to campus.”

The letter sent out by the Provost’s office also reminded students the importance of the diversity of ideas and backgrounds.

In a place like USC where a diversity of perspectives and opinions are welcomed, and even necessary for our mission, we must find ways to respect and honor differences while also affirming our shared values and aspirations,” Quick wrote.