LETTER TO THE EDITOR: University must embrace student activism

As student government leaders, we work with some of the most remarkable students on our campus. Together, we’ve had great successes, including advocacy work on behalf of students with disabilities, Leavey Library renovations, our mental health awareness campaign, research symposiums, concerts and more. We believe these impactful projects leave our campus better than when we came in.

Due to its inherent structure, university student governments turn over every year, which can result in the loss of institutional knowledge and a halt on momentum. This allows some goals to get swept under the rug. At times, it appears the University chooses to wait until student leaders spearheading some of the more expansive movements graduate to avoid addressing the issues.

The student community can change this by engaging with and cultivating active, energized, and thoughtful leaders who dream and think big. Bolstering opportunities for these types of students to take on leadership roles is vital to sustaining effective student activism and leadership. The younger classes can carry on the torch of many initiatives started by their more senior counterparts.

More importantly, the administration must recognize the voices of student leaders, across undergraduate and graduate, as legitimate representatives of the campus community and must be truly receptive to them. While speaking to students at meetings is a step toward progress, follow-up and action demonstrates a true commitment to the Trojan Family.

Student activism should not be feared or shut out. It must be embraced. Student activism demonstrates the ability to collaborate, analyze and think critically, all skills our faculty and staff devote their lives to instilling in us.

The word activism conjures negative imagery in some circles. In reality, activism is the action of taking a stance in order to engender change in one’s society. Simply put, activism can include actions from voicing your opinion during an in-class discussion to writing a letter to administrators asking for greener campus initiatives. Similarly, there are students at USC who believe so deeply in causes such as equity, sexual violence prevention, environmentalism, and more, that they choose to act upon their beliefs and seek change.

Some of USC’s most impactful accomplishments arose from student activism. Each of our cultural centers were established through student activism. Although there was a time when the University barred the installment of an LGBT resource center, students continued to fight. Our current LGBT Resource Center, although in need of more space and resources, makes a difference in the lives of thousands of students. This resource center would not be here today without student activism.

In the past, when students protested in the halls of an administrator’s office, they were threatened with suspension. An institution of higher education should not condemn students who challenge the status quo. It is ingrained in the mission statement of these institutions to breed minds that think critically and impact their world for the better.

We have hope for student activism because of our new provost.  Provost Quick’s no-nonsense, open and efficient leadership is admirable. His receptiveness should serve as a shining example for other administrative positions. While we appreciate the access to conversation with our provost, we need to see action from the rest of our university administration and from our Board of Trustees.

Admittedly, there are many initiatives the administration and the students have collaborated on to complete: the drop deadline, Leavey renovations, gender neutral housing and more. However, these accomplishments did not and do not happen overnight. They were the result of student activism and students advocating for change, which, at the University of Southern California in particular, takes years of persistence, and sometimes takes the culmination of a perfect storm of events to see tangible results.

One day, we envision a USC that soars to greater heights in conjunction with an active student community. However, we cannot get there until our administration becomes more receptive to student activism and willingly opens its ears to the voices of its students.

Rini Sampath

Undergraduate Student Government President

Nikita Hamilton

Graduate Student Government President