Students petition to remove fence
Nearly one year after a shooting on campus on Halloween, the #USChangeMovement is petitioning President C. L. Max Nikias and the university administration to take down the gates that went up last January in an effort to increase campus security.
Leaders of the movement believe the gates create a visible barrier that isolates USC from the South Los Angeles community and also serve to increase incidents of racial profiling.
“USC is a community space,” said Makiah Green, a member of the #USChangeMovement who authored the petition. “Community members who have been living here for years can’t access that space anymore. We are in someone else’s neighborhood. It’s not our neighborhood and to restrict access all of a sudden sends a very harmful and disrespectful message. Our understanding is that if the gates don’t come down within this school year, they probably never will.”
The gates were erected following the shooting last Halloween involving men not affiliated with USC. Green, a first-year master’s student in the professional writing program, said that she was troubled by the haste of administrative action, as the announcement regarding the security measures came just six days after the incident.
“The shooting was an isolated incident and because of the nature of it, that shooting could have happened anywhere and so a lot of people felt like the administration did not consider the long-term implications of the gates,” Green said. “They just did it out of fear and panic.”
Still, Dept. of Public Safety Deputy Chief David Carlisle stressed that gates and other enhanced security measures — which include closing the campus after 9 p.m. and requiring ID checks — were not necessarily a direct result of last year’s shooting.
“We at DPS are always evaluating the security measures that we have in place both on and off campus and looking for ways that we can improve our policies, procedures and technology we use to make this as safe a campus as possible,” Carlisle said. “[The shooting] just escalated that process and President Nikias wanted new measures in place to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.”
Katie Gavin, a junior majoring in music, was concerned that rather than increasing safety on campus, the gates create a barrier between people in the community and students.
Gavin added that the overall gentrification of the area surround USC is harmful to the community. In addition to USC’s Master Plan to renovate University Village, private business have also built new apartment complexes such as University Gateway and Icon Plaza. Gavin said such development causes displacement of local residents.
“USC has the potential to be — and has been — a really beneficial place for members of the community because it provides resources and there is a safe environment around here,” Gavin said. “The ideal situation is families can grow up around here, send their kids to charter schools and be able to use the resources on campus freely before or after 9 p.m., but if the plan is to continue to develop the area around here, it means USC is not interested in the family members that aren’t paying USC tuition.”
Naomi McPherson, a junior majoring in American studies and ethnicity and narrative studies, was concerned about increased racial profiling by DPS and private security officials. She said that after the shooting last Halloween, which took place at a Black Student Association event, there was an increase in racially charged conversation and negative perceptions of black students.
“I think students, if they’ve been paying attention, have noticed racial profiling and a lack of attention paid to certain students over others,” McPherson said. “I’ve seen students walk on campus and not show their ID because they were of a certain race and then other people get accosted.”
The “Take Down the USC Gates” petition by the #USChangeMovement currently has more than 290 signatures, but it has yet to garner an administrative response. Every time the petition is signed, however, Nikias and Provost Elizabeth Garrett receive emails.
“We understand the USC administration that is in power will concede nothing they aren’t forced to,” Gavin said. “But, the idea is to gather enough students who care to sign and bring attention to the idea.”
Craig Keys, associate senior vice president for civic engagement, stressed that the gates were created to provide the safety of students and community members.
“It’s not safe for the university to ignore concerns that are expressed and evident by the events that we’ve seen taking place in recent years and months on and around campus. So, for those reasons, we’ve increasingly made safety a priority and re-evaluated the resources that we committed to safety,” Keys said.
Keys said the administration has made presentations to local councils and spoken with various block clubs and residents because they want to hear from the community and improve responsiveness.
“I think it’s important in all of this to recognize that the university is making very significant efforts to balance the safety concerns with our commitment to maintaining an open campus,” he said.
Green said even if the administration does not respond to the petition, she hopes it will spark conversation among students and remind students that the community outside the USC gates is a friendly neighborhood, not a hostile one.
“I want the voices of the students to be heard and respected,” she said. “I hope it will bring about more collaboration between students, community members and senior administration.”
Correction: An Oct. 29 article “Students petition to remove fence” quoted Katie Gavin as saying “We understand the USC administration that is in power will concede nothing. They aren’t forced to, but the idea is to gather enough students who care to sign and bring attention to the issue.” The quote should have read, “We understand the USC administration that is in power will concede nothing they aren’t forced to. But, the idea is to gather enough students who care to sign and bring attention to the idea.” The article has been edited to reflect this change.
Follow Kate on Twitter @km_guarino