President’s Corner: Let’s talk about spaces at USC’s University Park Campus

With tens of thousands of students, staff and faculty on 226 acres at the center of an urban hub, one of University Park Campus’ most contentious elements is space — spaces to learn, to study, to relax and to build community. From Doheny Library to Ground Zero Cafe, USC currently has some exceptional buildings to meet some of these needs. 

As student enrollment increases year by year and as our population becomes more diverse, there’s an ever-evolving and increasing need for more spaces to access resources, build community and study. Multiple members of the Undergraduate Student Government are working on space initiatives — three of these include transitional housing, a first-generation resource center and places to study — to address this need.

Transitional Housing

Research shows that dealing with food and housing insecurity adversely affects students’ psychological health and academic performance. Consequently, for many years, various departments have sought to support students who are struggling to meet their basic needs, particularly with food insecurity. 

In 2018, a collaborative effort by USG, Graduate Student Government, Hospitality and Student Affairs led to the creation of the Trojan Food Pantry, a centralized resource for students struggling to buy food. Since then, other students have sought to address homelessness, creating the student organization Trojan Shelter. 

Opening its doors in Koreatown to six students earlier this month, the group led an impressive volunteer and fundraising campaign to create a new space that “[promote] solutions that advance the alleviation of homelessness in Los Angeles.” 

A 2015 study at the University of Massachusetts Boston reported that 5.4% of U.S. college students experienced homelessness and 45% of participants reported housing insecurity. Additionally, 5% of University of California students, 10% of Cal State students and 20% of community college students have experienced homelessness. As homelessness rates and the cost of living in L.A. rise, and USC’s cost of attendance similarly increases, there’s no doubt that USC, a microcosm of the city, is also affected by student homelessness and housing insecurity. 

While the Trojan Shelter in Koreatown is admirable and an incredible step in the right direction, there still exists a need for more beds at a location closer to UPC. There’s no identifiable, distinct data on USC student homelessness, but it’s safe to say that we’re not immune to this issue. 

That said, to address this, the first step ahead of us is to gather USC-specific data, which USG is working on with multiple campus partners. The second is creating a transitional housing and basic needs center near UPC to better support students in need.

After all, the central mission of USC is the “cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” Access to basic needs is a clear obstacle for some students at USC to fully meet this mission. In moving forward, a clear priority for our community must be to understand the extent of this obstacle, further support initiatives like transitional housing spaces near UPC and to eliminate these barriers that adversely affect the academic and life-long success of students. 

First-Generation Resource Center

Fifteen percent of USC’s Class of 2023 are first-generation students. Overall, 25%, or around 5,000, of all USC undergraduates are first-generation college students. As USC strives to increasingly admit students of diverse backgrounds, there is a similarly increasing need for resources that support the transition to an often-unfamiliar, rigorous academic environment. 

For a number of years, many students have advocated for the creation of a first-generation student resource center similar to other resource centers currently on campus. This year, USG Senators Emily Donahue, Emily Johnson and Omar Garcia have worked with various on-campus organizations to create a proposal for the resource center, which would aim to establish a centralized, physical space for students to access resources, gain mentorship and build community. 

Additionally, it would provide programming to connect students, find community and focus on well-being. Though USC departments such as the Career Center, Financial Aid and the Dornsife school have made efforts to bridge the gap for the first-generation student community, it’s crucial for students to have an availabile centralized, physical space to find reliable mentors and advocates to support their needs.

Study Spaces

With final exams just around the corner, it’s important to discuss the lack of study spaces available on campus, particularly late-night options. 

Café 84 at King Hall is one option for late-night studying. However, the only 24-hour library space is Leavey. Many libraries on campus close by 10 p.m. on weekdays, and some close by 5 p.m. or even all day on weekends. With tens of thousands of students studying at UPC, Leavey quickly fills up, especially during academically demanding periods of the semester. 

Most students, ourselves included, can attest to not being able to find a desk at Leavey or knowing it will be full and avoiding it altogether. Then, we go searching for a spot, building to building, just to be asked to leave when the location closes early in the night.

Given this, students are often looking for quiet spaces to study on campus. During finals, many academic departments, such as the Marshall and Dornsife schools expand their hours of operation to support the students that require space to study. 

However, extending the hours of operation of some UPC libraries — locations specifically built for studying — would be the ideal solution, as it would provide large, quiet spaces for students to study. In the meantime, USG has partnered with USC Hospitality to provide an interim solution, which will be publicized soon.

Reallocating or creating space to meet students’ basic needs — whether it be for access to food and housing or as simple as community building and places to study — must be a priority for the USC community. As we end 2019 and look toward a new year, these three initiatives, among many others, will be at the center of our discussions and proposals. 

USG Vice President Mahin Tahsin contributed to this column. 

Trenton Stone is the USG President  and write about ongoing and upcoming USG initiatives. His column, “President’s Corner,” ran every other Tuesday.