With the return of college rankings and prospective student tours flooding campus, it’s officially the season for college applications. While many students hone in on academics, social life and career opportunities when considering where to pursue their higher education, campus dialogue and activism have become significant selling points to high school seniors, who are coming to campus more politically engaged than in past decades.
But here at USC, the case for a socially conscious campus falls flat. On the college prep website Niche, in response to the question “What political party do you associate yourself with?” the second highest response for USC students was “I don’t care about politics.”
These responses constitute more than online opinions or anomalies. While UC Berkeley was embroiled in Free Speech Week, USC is still struggling with incomplete speech — a lack of productive discourse that renders students apathetic at best, and misled, at worst.
We could discuss the dialogue around free speech and social justice at USC, if there even was one. Though no one is clamoring for the riot police and barricades of Berkeley, no freshman, no matter how naïve and confused, mistakes USC for a hub for activism, political discussion and social advocacy.
Though the University has branded itself as a hub of the liberal arts, no amount of riveting classroom Socratic seminars can fill the campus discourse void. Our school is defined not by what we have but rather what we lack, whether that means no campus debates between student political groups or few options in terms of literary and political magazines.
Incomplete speech begins with a lack of dialogue but often ends with stunted discussion. For example, thanks to the propagation of memes and incomplete information about USC Village available on social media, many students now characterize USC’s relationship with the local community solely in terms of gentrification.
USC Village not only expanded the bounds of our campus, but it should have also expanded the bounds of our discourse. Instead, when the gates close at 9 p.m. so too does our willingness to engage with inconvenient truths.
The social media posts and campus conversations hit some of the right notes when discussing the economic gentrification propagated by the USC Village, or the crowding out of local businesses and increasing the prices of retail for our neighbors. But missing from sweeping generalizations about the administration’s relationship with and commitment to the community was the mention of millions given to local affordable housing projects, the relocation fees given to displaced businesses, the local hiring program during and after construction and the lighter economic burden that increased on-campus housing and fewer students raising rents nearby bring to the community.
We’ve reduced our meaningful action to memes and our substantive opinions to sound bites. And in the process, the entire campus loses its ability to critically engage with our community, our world and ourselves.
And missing from these online debates and muttered accusations: a candid discussion surrounding students’ obligations to our neighbors and the role that we play in developing and interacting with the community. Maybe it’s time to start a dialogue around whyin 2016, Washington Monthly ranked USC no. 161 in service while UCLA checks in at 52 and UC San Diego, 21.
The aforementioned Niche website asks students, “What one word or phrase best describes the typical student at this school,” and for USC, “busy and active” takes the prize. But this raises the question: If we’re so much in motion, why can’t we serve others, discuss our past, present and future and reflect on our actions and impact?
It takes a village to rectify our incomplete speech. It takes a USC Village to even spark the conversation. But it’s up to us to form and shape our campus dialogue. At a university where every week is Incomplete Speech Week, it’s time for a change — and a candid conversation.
Alec Vandenberg is a sophomore majoring in public policy. His column,“It Takes a Village,” runs every other Monday.