Letter to the Editor: Diversity Fund renewal will align USG values with actions

In 2015, a diverse coalition of USC students launched a movement to bring attention to urgent issues of diversity on campus, and demanded support from University administration. The students were mobilized by student protests against discrimination on college campuses nationwide, as well as USC’s own racist incidents. This movement saw students protesting full-time outside Bovard Auditorium, hosting student forum after student forum and developing a comprehensive campus climate resolution that students presented to the University administration.

Their legacy reflects the power of student voices. Eventually, these tireless student-led efforts culminated in the creation of a one-time Diversity Fund of $50,000 for the Undergraduate Student Government to spend with full autonomy, financed by the University. The purpose of this fund was to support projects and initiatives by USC students and campus organizations promoting diversity and inclusion. Last year, the fund was used to aid undocumented students’ re-application fees for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

If this is the first you’re hearing of the Diversity Fund, unfortunately, you’re likely in the majority. Since its inception, lack of awareness and mismanagement has led to the underutilization of the fund.

From funding the first steps in bringing rape kit access to campus, to erecting a permanent DREAM Center, to offering diversity training to DPS officers, to supplying basic reproductive health care products to low-income students, and so much more, there are many diverse, daily student needs that the Diversity Fund has the power to address. But without the continued security of annual renewal, awareness of the fund’s availability and responsible, balanced and compassionate oversight of the fund, it is unable to live up to its most fundamental mission.

Two weeks ago, we — both former and current USG members —  introduced a bylaw to the USG Senate that would ensure that fund is fully renewed every year, fully accessible to all and responsibly, conscientiously and representatively dispersed.

Currently, the fund is overseen solely by the USG president and vice president without a formal application process. The failure to renew the fund has created a climate of exclusivity in which those who oversee the fund are pressured to reject more projects than they accept in order to preserve the remaining amount. This, by extension, discourages the students who need it most from seeking it. Skeptics of the bylaw suggest that the Diversity Fund’s full renewal is unnecessary due to “low demand” for funding. In doing so, they make the mistake of equating lack of awareness to lack of need.

To address these flaws, our bylaw would create a diverse, representative oversight board comprising the USG treasurer, chief diversity officer and a representative from each USG cultural assembly to make decisions aboutfund allocation. The bylaw would also establish a formal application to acquire funding, publicize the fund and critically ensure that however much of it is used by the end of the year, it is fully renewed to $50,000 at the beginning of every year.

We feel strongly that budget allocation is a reflection of values — what the student government chooses to spend its financial resources on is the ultimate testament to its priorities. Apparently, it is a radical notion to some that diversity matters on the USC campus, and that USG’s financial choices should reflect that. We find it disappointing that exorbitant spending of student programing fees for retreats, catering and merchandise for USG staff are met with nowhere near the same internal pushback.

Here on our campus, among our very own student body, women, people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ+ folks, disabled people and many more members of marginalized groups struggle to access basic resources they need not only to survive, but to fully thrive as members of the Trojan Family.

As authors of the fund, we are aware of the fact that $50,000 is insufficient to fully address every identity-based issue on our campus. But we have heard the voices of our supporters from each cultural assembly, including the Black Student Assembly, Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment, International Student Assembly, Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, Latinx Student Assembly and Queer and Ally Student Assembly, among others, who recognize that responsible oversight of the Diversity Fund as a critical first step — one with vast, untapped potential.

The USG administration and many of the senators elected to serve identified diversity as a high priority on their platforms. But actions speak louder than words. And the words “diversity matters” ring hollow without support for legislation that would bring pro-diversity projects to life.

This bylaw amendment, which will be voted on Oct. 2 to allow time for public comment, grants senators the opportunity to quite literally put their money where their mouths are. We hope they’ll take it. And we hope the undergraduate student body will attend senate meetings, make their voices heard and hold their elected representatives accountable to the fulfillment of their campaign promises.

Michaela Murphy, Meagan Lane and Manda Bweveru

USG Senators

Mai Mizuno

Former USG official