On Monday, USC President C. L. Max Nikias released a letter to the student body declaring his support for undocumented students and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act, a policy established by former President Barack Obama to protect undocumented children that President Donald Trump has recently announced he will rescind.
“As president of one of the most global and diverse university communities in the world, I am deeply concerned about the adverse impact that potential DACA changes might have on our DACA and undocumented students,” Nikias wrote. “We are enriched every day by the presence and contributions of our students from all backgrounds in our classrooms, labs, residence halls, and campuses.”
USC is a prominent stakeholder in the conflict surrounding DACA. The Daily Trojan reported in 2016 that the Financial Aid Office works with as many as 46 undocumented students — though many more could attend USC without voluntarily revealing their identity. As part of the effort to support DACA recipients, USC has taken decisive action — offering financial assistance with the $495 renewal fee and extending legal assistance to USC students, employees, contract employees and famlies of USC students.
Last year, the University also took an equally decisive stance in response to Trump’s attempted travel ban on Muslim-majority countries. As an immigrant himself, Nikias has identified the issue of protecting access to higher education and equal opportunity for Americans of all backgrounds, races and ethnicities as a personal one to him.
USC directly engaging itself in political discourse is a decisive break with precedent. This is an important step for USC, which has largely stayed out of political debate in the past.
The DACA decision and the travel bans provided USC — a private institution — with good reason to step into the political fray. The University spoke up on behalf of a group of marginalized students who need powerful institutions, now more than ever, to support them, and USC acted as one of these institutions. For that, we should applaud the University.
However, this should not be a one-time grandstand. Universities are political by nature and thus, USC should use this as a first step in standing up for the political issues that affect the most vulnerable sects of the student body.
In the past, USC has remained silent on many issues of identity-based oppression affecting students, ranging from the defunding of Planned Parenthood, to racially charged police violence, to — more recently — the Department of Justice’s announcement that LGBTQ people will no longer be a protected class under Title VII, USC failed to issue statements standing with affected students.
Affordable access to contraception, pregnancy tests, STI tests, breast cancer screenings and a number of other reproductive health services allows female students to have the same educational and professional opportunities as their male peers. The threat of discrimination and even violence from our institutions weighs heavily on LGBTQ and minority members of USC’s student body, and can also limit the opportunities they will be able to pursue.
As an elite institution of higher learning, USC has an obligation to position itself at the forefront of the nation’s political dialogues, especially where the livelihoods of marginalized members of the Trojan Family are concerned. It is critical that USC raise its voice and be proactive — especially amid its crusade to solidify a legacy of global leadership — when it comes to DACA and other identity-based political issues going forward. At a time when politics and higher education have become inextricably bound and silence on politics further marginalizes Americans who lack the resources to stand up for themselves, not taking a stance on these issues is simply not an option anymore.
The policy proposals emerging from this U.S. presidential administration could stand in the way of students accessing equal education, and USC’s words bear just as much weight as its silence. The University has the responsibility of not only shaping today’s dialogue around its students’ rights, but also doing everything it can to protect its students’ rights. Without a student body of diverse backgrounds and experiences and without their unique contributions, USC’s chances of emerging as an Ivy League-tier university will deteriorate.
USC senior administration’s swift response to the threat to DACA — in which Nikias outlined resources available and described his own immigrant journey — must be a model for future responses to political decisions that can have a real impact on USC students.
But further, it is absolutely crucial to support students affected by devastating political decisions, and it is equally as important to understand that discrimination and threats to diversity do not only manifest in instances thrust under national spotlight. Challenges to diversity and equality exist everywhere in our institutions, and silence enables and strengthens them. Standing up for DACA students should be the start, not the end, of USC’s public support for marginalized communities.
Daily Trojan Fall 2017 Editorial Board