OPINION: USC Village must fulfill its obligations to the outside community

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

Saturday marked USC Village’s grand opening to the public, and in addition to the new businesses, customers and students that the 15-acre retail and residential complex has drawn, it has also sparked heated debate. Last week, The New York Times praised USC for reenergizing a “neglected” community and creating thousands of jobs in an area struggling with high poverty rates. The Times went so far as to call on other American universities to follow USC’s example.

However, in a special issue released this week called “The Making of the Modern Trojan,” we explored how business owners who had operated at the former University Village, as well as locals not affiliated with the University, have expressed frustration with USC for encroaching on and displacing members of their community once again.

The situation is nothing if not nuanced, but one thing is certain — USC’s acquisition of the University Village in 1999 is part of a damaging overarching trend. And for all of USC Village’s numerous community benefits, this trend throughout the University’s history has negatively affected the community in a number of ways.

The new USC Village was meant to be a symbol of the University’s emergence as a premier, world-class institution. But unless USC fulfills its obligations to its community and makes amends for a history paved with struggle and displacement, USC Village could become a symbol of unchecked greed and broken promises.

As USC has transformed from a commuter college into a residential university over the decades, and as its undergraduate population has surged in recent years, its need for land and resources to adequately serve students and faculty has grown exponentially. The University aims to provide a quality experience for this population, but this quality experience comes with a price — a price paid for by the neighboring community.

A 2015 State of the Neighborhood Report produced by USC found that more than 47 percent of families with children living in the University Park Campus area from 2008 to 2012 lived in poverty, which is close to double the rate of poverty of the rest of Los Angeles. The same report revealed a correlation between community displacement as a result of USC’s actions and higher poverty rates in the area. And as the local population has decreased over the years, the number of families struggling with health issues has increased. Affected families could struggle for generations to come.

In many ways, minorities in the area have been hit the hardest. In 2012, the Human Impact Partners as well as Esperanza Community Housing Corporation compiled research indicating that in the USC area, the population of Latino and black residents not affiliated with USC had decreased by 15 and 20.3 percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2010, all while growing in other parts of Los Angeles. In this same time period, the population of white residents not associated with USC grew by 6.9 percent. This suggests community displacement spurred by USC has, however unintentionally, contributed to establishing an environment hostile to people of color.

At this stage, it is crucial that USC acknowledges the toll of its maneuvering on the surrounding community while USC Village is in its early days. Only by taking responsibility for its past, and taking concrete actions to bridge divides and create a better future, can USC effectively emerge as a leading institution.

USC Village is young and it is not too late for the University to consider and learn from its past, engage with and listen to the voices of the surrounding community, and use USC Village and its resources to create positive change. One example of how USC is already attempting to do this is the development of new Village Residential Education programs in the works that will bring students into the South Central L.A. community to engage with locals. Additionally, the University should continue to fulfill its economic obligations to these members of the community by regularly hosting job fairs, job training events and adult classes.

As USC looks to build a brighter future with the surrounding community, it should connect students to the community’s youth with mentoring programs in the new residence halls. And students, faculty and publications, such as the Daily Trojan, need to keep USC accountable to these promises.

USC Village’s grand architecture, prestige and entrepreneurial spirit have the potential to mark a fine legacy that the University could take pride in for generations to come. But whether or not this is seen to is entirely up to USC. The University can choose to deliver on promises and be proactive about devoting resources to healing and supporting the community, or ignore its dark legacy and, in doing so, build upon it.

Daily Trojan Fall 2017 Editorial Board