OPINION: USC must support Puerto Rican students

Art by Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

Last Thursday, New York University announced that it would waive tuition fees for students affected by Hurricane Maria, which caused mass destruction to the island of Puerto Rico in September. As a part of the university’s “Hurricane Maria Assistance Program,” students will also be relieved of their responsibilities to pay for housing, health insurance and meal plans.

NYU was the latest to join a group of major universities currently offering support to the island, whose colleges are closed due to structural damages and a lack of access to essential utilities. Also offering tuition-free semesters are Brown, Cornell and Tulane universities.   

Among this outpouring of support from universities across the country, one must question why USC has remained silent on the issue, rather than match the efforts of its community of Puerto Rican students. According to a Daily Trojan report last month, students have been leading efforts on campus and in the greater Los Angeles area to raise awareness about the needs of Puerto Ricans, contact politicians and donate money and supplies to the island. In an October email memorandum to students, Provost Michael Quick provided a list of resources available for students affected by recent tragedies, including Hurricane Maria, the Las Vegas shooting, the earthquake in Mexico and wildfires in California. However, the memo did not mention policy changes or particular efforts by the University to support those affected by these disasters.

Despite the University’s promise to take care of the Trojan Family, it seems to be neglecting a key demographic of its diverse student body. Although they do not necessarily constitute the majority of the USC community, Puerto Ricans and others affected by the hurricane deserve more than a few paragraphs in an email, but concrete policies and resources that will improve their living standards.

Students generally struggle with USC’s tuition rate — which appears to be rising with each coming year — along with the costs of other necessities, from housing to meal plans. Those affected by Hurricane Maria are already dealing with significant economic and emotional trauma, and they do not need more on their plates. Knowing that it has fundraised nearly $6 billion over the past few years, USC has the resources to reconsider how it financially supports these students. 

Of course, it is important to note the usage of the word “reconsider.” USC does not have the absolute obligation to remove all fees for every student affected by the crisis. Sure, the University should do everything it can, but within reason. That means tackling the situation case by case: If a student’s family income has been severely compromised, then they should be entitled to financial compensation for the semester. If a student demonstrates a definite ability to pay for tuition regardless of the hurricane, then perhaps the University’s money would be better spent elsewhere.

Furthermore, USC should consider reaching out to students who are no longer able to return to their universities in Puerto Rico. As part of its offer, NYU is accepting 50 English-proficient students in good academic standing for tuition-free semesters. According to a report by The New York Times, that group is a part of the 233,070 students at 58 colleges and universities on the island.

If it were to join NYU in this effort, not only would USC uphold its image as welcoming a multicultural presence, but it would also benefit from the diverse perspectives that these populations bring to the campus. No matter where they come from, Puerto Rican students help expand the viewpoints of both their peers and their professors by exposing them to different cultures and beliefs.

Given that the island is still suffering from extreme losses, USC has the moral obligation to reexamine its policies toward Puerto Ricans who have been directly affected by the hurricane — their educational futures may depend on the University’s help. Students are in desperate need of support, and the Trojan Family must welcome them with open arms.