USC’s decision to bring Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass to campus as the speaker for its 136th annual commencement ceremony on May 10 has been met with mixed responses from students.
Bass has a graduate degree from the Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work and has worked at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. Bass also established the Community Coalition in South Los Angeles, an organization aimed at transforming the neighborhood by improving public policy.
Some students say Bass, who represents the district that includes the University Park Campus, is too partisan to be the speaker, while others believe her ties to the USC community make her a perfect fit.
USC GOP Vice President Austin MacLeod, a senior majoring in international relations, said he believes the school should have chosen a more prominent figure, such as a politician in the executive branch.
“I think there’s something more interesting about that than a congresswoman who a lot of people have not heard of, particularly people outside of California,” MacLeod said.
MacLeod said he believes Bass is a suitable campus speaker, but not for the commencement.
“I believe that there’s more interesting people for commencement speaker, generally speaking … than a politician of any party,” MacLeod said.
Trojan Advocates for Political Progress President Alec Vandenberg said he thinks students of all political affiliations can learn a lot from Bass, who also chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I think it’s really important that we keep up this relationship with our federal officials, especially [those] who work in our own backyard,” said Vandenberg, a junior majoring in public policy. “I’m excited because Karen Bass has been a prudent supporter and champion of many of the issues I find important.”
Bass, who is currently serving in her fifth congressional term, is also chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Bass has been a strong advocate for gun control and criminal justice reforms and serves as a ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Ben Pearce, political director of USC College Democrats, said Bass and other commencement speakers should be judged by the quality of their speeches rather than their professions or political affiliations.
“If your organization believes in freedom of speech, and you are willing to defend having different voices on campus, then surely you shouldn’t object to a commencement speaker who is inherently political,” said Pearce, a sophomore majoring in public policy.
Political Student Assembly director Briana Miles, a junior majoring in law, history and culture, said she doesn’t think the party of the commencement speaker matters as long as they have a connection to the USC community.
“Either way [a speaker will] have something great to say, but I don’t think the party should be necessarily that much of a problem,” Miles said. “If a Republican represented the district, I think it would be appropriate to bring him as well.”
Alex Hatem, a fifth-year doctoral candidate in geological sciences, said she believes the University’s decision to bring Bass to campus shows the administration’s desire to “push the envelope.”
“I think a very neutral stance would be [bringing] somebody from their cohort of inner circle of board members,” Hatem said. “But to go and get a Democratic representative and black woman [is] like a stock that we’re putting in.”