USC’s Master Plan bites off more than it can chew

Cramped bedrooms. Rank-smelling bathrooms. Curious stains on the floor. From the time exhausted freshmen begrudgingly move their belongings into New/North, a building with no air conditioning and no elevator to boot, these “quirks” of dorm life are what undergraduate students come to expect and accept from USC housing.

By making bold strides to implement USC’s ambitious new Master Plan, Curtis Williams has acknowledged that he wants to change that.

Williams, USC vice president for campus development and facilities management and co-chair of the Master Plan team, is one of the power players working on the effort to “provide a visionary framework for the physical development of the campus and the prosperity of its surrounding community in the coming years,” according to the plan’s official website.

Sound vague and unrealistic? That’s probably because it is. While the Master Plan objectives are noble and USC Trustees have appropriated funds for construction, it seems there is not enough land in desirable locations to create rooms that will lure USC students. Problems also exist in how new student housing will affect local residents.

Launched in 2006, the 30-year proposal promises to provide a variety of more affordable USC-owned housing opportunities. Williams and his team are enthusiastic about starting construction to complete the plan’s larger objectives, which include the destruction of the University Village in order to organize the businesses USC students frequent in a new mall and social area, and provide more student housing.

It is the hope of many administrators at USC that the revamped social area located at Hoover Street and Jefferson Boulevard will provide new nightlife options for those students who would prefer not to get their kicks on fraternity row.

But the most startling statement proponents of the Master Plan have made regarding their intentions to expand USC housing is the plan to supply an additional 7,600 beds for the University Park Campus.

Initially, it seemed as if these lofty goals of the Master Plan that were approved by the USC board of trustees in June 2008 were too broad to come to fruition anytime soon. And although Master Plan construction is not set to commence until late 2010 at the earliest, USC housing has already been making large-scale changes over the last decade in hopes of building a “strengthened community and a true college town,” according to the plan’s Website.

The first of these changes that current Trojans are relishing in is the creation of the Parkside complexes, which were finished in 2007. With more spacious suite-style residences and a new dining commons area, Parkside International Residential College and Parkside Arts and Humanities Residential College are communities primarily for first-year students.

It is unfortunate that housing officials think they can appease poor freshmen stuck in the worst possible location on campus by simply providing exercise equipment and multiple flavors of pudding, but they definitely can. For now, Parkside residents are content to enjoy their rainbow-sprinkled pudding and then proceed on their 20-minute trek across campus for class in the cinema building.

The Conquest coup is the next accomplishment USC housing has made during the last decade regarding its goal to physically develop the University Park Campus. In 2009 USC acquired the Conquest apartment complexes through the Westar Associates realty company and is looking to make the luxurious and overpriced rooms at Tuscany made famous by quasi-celebrities Rob Kardashian and Lil’ Romeo available to students as off-campus USC-owned housing.

Physical expansions of the University Park Campus such as these have increased the amount of resources and comfortable living spaces undergraduate students have at their disposal. Additionally, student government groups such as the University Residential Student Community’s advocacy board have made improvements to dining and residence halls in buildings that have history at USC and were looking worse for the wear.

Last year under Maya Babla’s leadership, the advocacy board helped to expand sustainability in the dorms with a more efficient recycling program, added bicycle racks in front of student residences, worked with EVK to satisfy students’ dining demands and installed gymnasium equipment in older buildings such as Marks Hall.

Babla, a junior majoring in international relations and communications and the former head of the board, said she and other members focused on improving USC housing “so that it’s somewhere that you desire to live. Not, ‘I didn’t find a landlord in time, therefore I’m stuck in student housing.’ We never want that to be the mentality.”

Developments like those promoted by the advocacy board serve as a strong start, but there is still much more that USC Housing must tackle in order to equip students with residential communities that facilitate academic, social, physical and personal wellness.

Administrators and students alike are anxious to see if these valuable changes serve as a precursor of what is to come with the implementation of the Master Plan. Through groups such as URSC and on Facebook advocacy pages, students have expressed their desires for a cleaner campus, more affordable residences and more resources for maintaining their physical wellness.

Rachel Horn, a former resident of a first-year residential college and an undeclared sophomore, echoed these sentiments when she recalled having “a great experience living in USC housing, I just wish there were more resources in the dorms so they could feel more like homes.”

Students like Horn hope that the Master Plan will provide for all of these needs and more.

For now, USC is not doing enough to accommodate the needs of the students in a holistic way. Undergraduates pay an astronomical amount for the USC experience — $39,274 for a year’s tuition and thousands more for room and board — and deserve more than just stellar academic programs. USC is known for exceeding excellence in education, athletics and student involvement. The residential experience has been falling behind for a long time and now it is time for the Master Plan to help play catch-up.

Williams and his colleagues are especially eager for the completion of 2010’s construction, as they assert that the new shopping center and improved USC-owned housing will create safer streets, beneficial economic activity and a greener environment surrounding campus.

But many are not so optimistic. It seems as if USC Housing may have bitten off more than it can chew. Since our housing office has problems enough keeping the buildings that already exist up to adequate living standards, students have no reason to put their faith in the abundant promises to provide affordable, enjoyable housing.

And if building space for 7,600 new beds means sticking to their current mode of operation by creating 7,600 miniscule, dungeon-like dorm rooms and apartments, USC’s undergraduate population will likely counter USC Housing’s offer with a resounding “No thanks!”

Additionally, community members are concerned that the drastic increase in USC housing might oust area residents and cause even more economic strife for local realty companies. Plan executives have countered this panic by promising to work closely with private owners in the area to provide beds for students.

Overall, with the combined efforts of USC Housing and student groups on campus, the quality of life for Trojans who live on or around University Park Campus has increased drastically over the past decade. And as we round the corner into 2010 and the beginning of Master Plan construction, members of the Trojan family and the Los Angeles community are eager to see if USC’s efforts to stimulate the community’s pride in our school by providing better housing and shopping centers will succeed.

Kelsey Clark is a sophomore majoring in chemistry.