Daily Trojan Editorial Board: USC Village must widen economic access

Art by Emilie Skoog | Daily Trojan

On a typical weekday afternoon, students gather at USC Village. Some sit in the piazza under umbrella-topped tables, others pass through to get to their residence hall, Trader Joe’s or Target. But how many are actually purchasing food from the shops?

Since its opening this fall, the highly anticipated USC Village has provided students with a variety of new dining options. Conveniently sandwiched between a bevy of student housing and campus, the $700-million complex has given room to new establishments such as CAVA, Sunlife Organics, The Baked Bear and Starbucks.

On the surface, USC Village seems to fit all students’ needs — new dining options, residence halls and stores — except for one road-bump: how its food can be purchased. Currently, restaurants at USC Village don’t accept dining and discretionary dollars from USC students, a strict limitation for those who want to purchase food through their dining plan or earned discretionary dollars.

Even before the same time the retail-residential complex opened its doors, complaints and commentary arose deriding the University’s steps toward gentrifying the surrounding area of  South Los Angeles, USC Village being the most glaringly obvious example. It is an uneasy parallel, then, that USC Village also seems to be a commercial enterprise set apart from the University’s students, themselves, along with local residents.

It feels like a contradiction, in the simplest of ways, that students still cannot use the currency designated as an inherent part of living and working on campus to purchase food from establishments in a new part of USC now embraced as part of its campus. This, in itself, is a pitfall and limitation that deeply affects USC’s student community. It’s also an example of a concerning trend of shortsightedness University administrators have followed in their planning and envisioning of what USC Village was meant to be for their students and surrounding community.

Although USC Village is now considered an expansion of campus, with regulated hours, gates and connecting crosswalks to the original campus, it still stands a peripheral aspect of campus in many ways. Many were misled that all shops would be open simultaneously by August, with no specification as to what “Fall 2017” meant. As of now, only 15 of the 27 shops are open for business. And of 15 possible restaurants, only five are currently operating: CAVA, Sunlife Organics, Greenleaf Gourmet Chopshop, The Baked Bear and Starbucks.

These options are not only limiting, but have also become indicative of the unaffordability of USC Village’s establishments. Take Sunlife Organics for example. On average, the cost of a smoothie or bowl is between $7 and $10. But there are items that are substantially out of budget for many students. The most expensive fruit bowl, “The Samurai Bowl,” costs a whopping $16.95, and the most expensive shake, “The Billion Dollar Meal,” costs almost $28 — not including taxes.

There are myriad dining options in and around the USC campus that are inexpensive, and it would be easy to take a walk down Figueroa Street and stop by McDonalds, Subway, Jack in the Box or any of the fast food locations. These options, for college students, may seem more appealing than an $11 salad at Cava.

But even relatively more expensive, non-fast food options at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center such as Lemonade or Verde, which might offer similar dining experiences as restaurants at USC Village, may still end up drawing more students simply because they accept dining or discretionary dollars.

Ultimately, it’s the University’s prerogative as to how they want to shape USC Village. And it would seem harsh to complain about more dining options and shops around campus as well as more space for students to spread out and relax. But this is less about having these options and more about what the options represent in terms of how the University views USC Village, which cost $700 million to build.

At a school where roughly two-thirds of students are on need-based financial aid, it is shortsighted to not have inexpensive options at USC Village, or to at least allow students to use their dining or discretionary dollars. It seems nonsensical that, if USC Village is indeed part of the USC campus, that vendors in the Village don’t let students spend credit that they either already paid for or earned like they can at vendors on campus.

Based on the restaurants and stores already opened and those that will be open, it seems like the University wants USC Village to be upscale, to cater to students who can afford higher-end options. This is not representative of the economically diverse student population, which includes many well-off students, but also has plenty of others who live paycheck-to-paycheck and could not justify spending $7 on a smoothie.

It’s too late to change the vendors at this point. But the least USC can do is allow students to use dining or discretionary dollars so that everyone — regardless of their economic situation — can enjoy the full options provided at USC Village, which, in his speech at the Village’s opening in August, President C. L. Max Nikias called “a labor of love for all of us.”

Daily Trojan Fall 2017 Editorial Board

9 replies
  1. David Garry
    David Garry says:

    “It feels like a contradiction, in the simplest of ways, that students still cannot use the currency designated as an inherent part of living and working on campus to purchase food from establishments in a new part of USC now embraced as part of its campus.” If I were an editor for DT, that sentence wouldn’t have made it past the desk. : js

  2. Mom with Greek Son
    Mom with Greek Son says:

    Once again the anonymous ladies of the DT are demanding more access to food. It does not cease to amaze me this current fascination with having unlimited access to apparently “free” food while others pay for it.

    There are places in this world not so far from this great country were food is a real issue and people are starving. My son and I work very hard to help these truly needy people get the food they need to be healthy and productive members of God’s extended family. Maybe for once you could help feed someone who truly needs it and stop only thinking of your own selfish needs.

    Ladies, please take a hard look at your bodies and see if this is really what you need (more food). I’m sure many of you could stand to lose a few pounds. Likely having a greater access to those salty and fatty foods you crave will only make things worse. This is no way to treat the body that God gave you.

    God Bless and eat less!

    • Myles Parslow
      Myles Parslow says:

      What is wrong with you? “God Bless and eat less”?

      To lapse into your vernacular, that’s no way to use the voice that God gave you. I won’t make assumption about the socioeconomic status of your household (though I could make an educated guess, “Mom with Greek Son”), but there is literally nothing wrong with expanding students’ access to food on campus. It’s not a zero-sum game – in fact, I’d venture to say that your son might have a lot to gain by chatting over a meal with some of his lower-income peers.

      Take a break from the comment sections, too: having greater access to a platform from which you can externalize your self-loathing and insecurities will only make things worse.

    • Nope
      Nope says:

      First, you are assuming women wrote this and with the intent of being able to eat more. Second, their eating habits is absolutely none of your business. Please stay to your own body and household instead of trying to restrict other people who have paid for and earned the money that they are trying to use. To make an argument just as presumptive as yours: your son probably wants size 0 women – perhaps he should start being less sloppy and be a decent human being who does not have a sense of entitlement towards women as if they were goods.

      Speaking of which, did you read the article? There is no “free” food being talked about. People paid real money for dining dollars and are paid for working on campus in discretionary.

    • Mom with Greek Son
      Mom with Greek Son says:

      Yes my son is in what many consider the top fraternity at USC. However, his life is not about partying but instead serving his Maker. He an others in his fraternity give far more back to those in need than you might imagine.

      Every summer and spring break while you are partying it up at the beach somewhere, my son and many of his friends are working in central America with some of the poorest people on God’s Earth. People who consider other’s garbage to be food and children often wear discarded plastic bags as clothing. Death from disease and malnutrition is an everyday occurrence for these people. Even with all the poverty and death around them, these people believe in the Greatness and that only thru Him will they find Salvation.

      You live in the best country in the World where food is easy to obtain (often you eat too much) and thus you forget where the bounty of food comes from. Further, you display such an anger toward me, my family and my faith for merely expressing my opinion. I don’t claim to understand why you hate so much but I will still pray for all. Even the sinners and disbelievers can be redeemed through Faith and you still have time to change your ways.

      My son and I am going to pray for both.

      God Bless!

  3. GeorgeCurious
    GeorgeCurious says:

    You failed to mention whether or not eating establishments in the original university village accepted dining and discretionary dollars. My guess is that they didn’t. Your sense of entitlement is amusing.

    • Nope
      Nope says:

      Was the original village part of the USC campus? Absolutely not. The establishments in the USC Village are new; not the older business continuing their business. Like every other establishment on campus, they could have easily been required to be a part of the USC system.

      Sense of entitlement? People paid for dining dollars the same as a dollar, were paid in discretionary dollars for working on-campus instead of real money and were told they could use it at on-campus establishments. You seem way too keen to push the entitlement narrative. You are inserting it in a story that has nothing to do with it.

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