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