Students hold discussion with director John Singleton on ‘Higher Learning’, on-campus race relations

Students gathered to discuss the current climate of race, class and social structure in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Thursday night with USC alumnus and award-winning director John Singleton. Prior to the discussion, students screened John Singleton’s 1995 film Higher Learning, a movie focused on the personal and social progression of a group of diverse students during their first year of college.

Approximately 60 students were in the room for the event hosted by the Beta Omega Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.

Levi Powell, vice president of the Beta Omega Chapter of Kappa Psi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., said that they held the screening because the movie reflected some racially charged events that took place in the past school year.

Throughout the conversation, many participants referred to the May 4 incident when more than 79 Los Angeles Police Department officers broke up a student party where attended by mostly black and Latino students. The incident led to the social movement among students that became the USChangeMovement.

John Singleton acknowledged the similarities between the recent events on campus and the 19-year-old movie. Singleton also said the movie looked at the core issues that lead to these familiar incidents.

“What I liked about this film is that it dealt with alienation,” John Singleton. “This wasn’t a dig on USC, but it could have been any university anywhere.”

During the discussion many students spoke about their experiences with incidents of racial profiling on and around campus, not only by the LAPD but also by the Dept. of Public Safety.

USC Professor of Law Jody Armour, who moderated a forum following the May 4 incident and another panelists in the discussion, responded to students, acknowledging the ongoing concerns.

“These issues are perennial,” Armour said. “It’s a very embarrassing and uncomfortable reality. You have honest people who are being discriminators.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry was in graduate school when Higher Learning first came out and said he felt like he could relate to it.

“These issues mattered,” Carry said. “Every single issue in that movie could have been in 2014. These issues have existed for a very long time. We have to start fixing and healing by these conversations.”

Students — some who were born the year the movie was released — said they were impacted by the movie’s timeliness and reliability.

“The movie was powerful in its ability to be relatable to everybody,” Kemdah Stroud, a freshman majoring in neuroscience, “but sadly it’s very representative of my experience at USC in regards to isolation and discrimination.”

Ryan Cole, a senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism, agreed that the film reflected some of his experiences on campus but that much progress has been and is being made.

“A lot of racial prejudices and stereotypes still hinder the forward progress of the student community at this university,” Cole said. “However, I do feel that the student body is active in trying to do all they can to make things better.”

Singleton is currently working on a movie about the late rapper Tupac and activist Assata Shakur.