Imagine if USC’s campus was happily situated in Malibu or Orange County. If USC had the option to move to one of these communities — arguably a more ideal environment than Downtown Los Angeles — many a student probably would chose, without hesitance, a new locale.
President Steven B. Sample wouldn’t. When faced with the same dilemma in the early 1990s. He chose to keep the campus where it belonged — even in the midst of Los Angeles riots. It was probably one of the best executive decisions he made.
USC’s recent designation as an “international safe community” by the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Community Safety Promotion shows that USC — and the surrounding community — thrives not only in spite of, but because of, its urban setting. The university isn’t merely the largest private employer in the city of Los Angeles, it is the catalyst for the continual economic development of Southern California.
This honor shows faculty, students and prospective applicants that USC’s urban location is an opportunity, not an obstruction, for all those affiliated with it. Sample knew this when he assumed office. And President C. L. Max Nikias must build upon this momentum with his own vision for the university’s role in civic engagement, neighborhood partnerships and widespread community outreach.
As the first university community in the world to be designated as an international safe community, USC is clearly on the move toward debunking a prevailing myth: that the campus is woefully beset by its location in the middle of a dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood. Charles Lane, associate senior vice president for Career and Protective Services at USC, said this honor “helps underscore the fact that safety in our community is a collective effort and responsibility.”
Not only are the university’s role in neighborhood improvements a necessity, but they are also an opportunity for service-minded students to grow according to the mission statement already established by USC, which states the university’s central purpose as “the development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.”
USC students have an extraordinary opportunity to put their respective skills to work through many public service options available to us within walking distance. Whether it’s conducting research at a local health clinic, assisting in fundraising efforts for a neighborhood project or raising awareness of local hunger and homelessness through a documentary or, students don’t have to reach far to find these opportunities. Although academic and professional learning is an essential component to our development, putting that learning to work through community service is another mission crucial to enriching our minds and the values of the Trojan Family.
No need to look further than our campus-held involvement fairs to see how far the university has come in community outreach. From high school mentoring groups to social justice organizations to associations providing major-related public service, USC students are leading the way. Of course, a majority of universities might have similar programs in place. But USC’s convenient location in the heart of Los Angeles is the edge we have that the others do not, which has led to the extraordinary number of achievements within our community increasing every day.
In education, USC’s partnership with the Family of Schools has been an great success. Because of this collaboration, several of these schools have been designated California Distinguished Schools.
In our neighborhood relations, USC plays a vital role in the physical quality and health of our surrounding communities. Since 1994, the well-known Good Neighbors Campaign has more than quadrupled in voluntary contributions from staff and faculty.
And in economic development, local businesses have been created — and have thrived — in large part because of our efforts with such organizations as the Marshall School’s Business Expansion Network.
Some might say that our location continues to be a major liability. A liability for whom? USC’s elevated level of service to our community has not been unrequited. In fact, by transforming the potential obstacles of our current location in Los Angeles into advantages, we have received enormous praise through private investment and national recognition — such as our recent designation as an international safe community.
As a private research university constantly in search of grants, partnerships and, most importantly, the best students in the United States, recognition such as this allows us to stand out from the rest. The university’s heavy investment in the development of our surrounding community is not in vain. It is a win-win situation.
USC is setting the standard for what it means to be a civically engaged university in the 21st century. The university is also showing by example what it means for a college and a community to work symbiotically to improve our quality of life. Although it does not mean we should stop here, all USC affiliates should be proud of the Trojan Family standing by its mission of playing “an increasingly important role in the development of the nation and the world.”
Do the university another service. Next time a friend back home blithely remarks that USC is “in the ghetto,” tell them the complete story.
Stephen Zelezny is a sophomore majoring in public relations. His column, “USC on the Move,” runs Thursdays.