The First Generation Student Union held a solidarity rally Thursday to express their frustrations about the lack of resources available to first-generation students. The event was held at Tommy Trojan with more than 50 students and faculty in attendance.
Members of multiple organizations, including the Latinx Student Association, Black Student Association, Center for Political Future and USC College Democrats attended in support of the rally.
“The purpose of this rally is really more so empowerment and reassurance among the first-generation community, especially now more than ever in light of recent events,” said FGSU president Valentin Avila.
Throughout the rally, students chanted, “Let’s be realistic, we’re not a statistic.”
Organizers said this was in reference to how the University promotes diversity and a high acceptance rate of first-generation students, who constitute 17% of the student body, yet offers little to no resources for them.
“Especially when we’re talking about how [the USC administration] boasts about the first-gen community,” said freshman Jennifer Jimenez, the programming chair of FGSU. “They are proud of their diverse population, but what are [they] doing to serve communities of color or minority communities?”
Avila said he feels the University has improperly addressed the first-gen population and the barriers to education they face.
“There’s that disconnect among the administration and our population,” Avila said. “We are [some] of the most resilient and tenacious people out there, but I’m tired of having this used as a justification for the way they treat us.”
FGSU lead organizer Miriham Antonio said the point of the rally was to address first-generation concerns and advocate for more scholarships and a first-generation office on campus. Currently, the University offers the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund, Trojan Guardian Scholars and First-Generation Mentor Program for first-generation students.
“There is currently no physical meeting space for first-generation students,” Antonio said. “As a reminder, UCLA, Stanford and [other universities] have a first-gen office, so it’s appalling that USC, with the money that they have, have not created this.”
During the rally, Antonio and Rogers read out a letter — which was also posted on change.org — addressed to President-elect Carol Folt. As of Thursday night, there were 62 signatures on the change.org petition. The letter called for updated information about first-generation resources on the USC website, provision of affordable professional clothing and training, a textbook lending system, scholarship and program funding and translation services for first-generation parents.
The letter also called for increased transparency and accountability from the administration in working with first-generation students to better address resource concerns.
“We ask USC to create an official first-generation advisory board, in which first-generation student representatives can meet with all diversity and inclusion directors to voice the needs of first-generation students,” said FGSU treasurer Kwaku Rogers. “In the past, the concerns and needs of the first-generation community on campus have not been acknowledged or heard.”
Multiple student advocates spoke to the crowd about their unique experiences as first-generation students.
Undergraduate Student Government Sen. Omar Garcia said he will continue to advocate for the needs of those at the rally.
“I’ve realized very quickly that I was alone … statistically I’m supposed to drop out within the next two years,” said Garcia, a sophomore majoring in business administration. “Getting here is only half the battle, and I want to end the journey … with everyone here.”
Omar was the only USG Senator that spoke at the event. President Trenton Stone, Vice President Mahin Tahsin and other USG executive board members stopped by the rally intermittently, and the Black Student Assembly co-sponsored the event on behalf of USG.
Stone said external assemblies and committees within USG’s branches choose which events to co-sponsor.
“For this rally specifically, BSA co-sponsored the rally, so that falls under the larger USG umbrella, just as if any other organization co-sponsored an event,” Stone said. “Each group … will actually process and do the co-sponsorship, but they do it on behalf of USG. They act on behalf of USG, but it’s their own group and under their own discretion to do that sponsorship.”
Trista Beard, the associate director for the Norman Topping Scholarship — a scholarship specifically for local and first-generation students — said that the rally was not inspired by the recent college admissions scandal, which USC was at the forefront of. Instead, the rally was a long-running FGSU project.
Jimenez said she agreed with Beard, but that the scandal was a contributing reason for why this rally was essential to her.
”There has been multiple efforts in the past … but [the scandal] wasn’t … the main purpose,” Jimenez said. “It reminded us that [resources for first-gen students] is what we’re advocating for.”
Antonio said the rally’s timing was also necessary, as the University is undergoing extensive leadership changes.
“The rally is necessary especially now that we [have] just sworn in a new USC president and since she’s choosing the new provost,” Antonio said. “I think this is the right time to bring attention to the concerns of first-gen students who have felt like … they have been neglected by past USC leadership.”