Senate’s postponement of vote shows it is losing steam

On Tuesday, the Undergraduate Student Government Senate decided to postpone the vote on the Campus Climate Resolution for two weeks. This is a major disappointment.

Words can only go so far: This campus needs action. It is therefore disheartening to see the USG Senate delay the vote and extend the discussion. Trojans have been having this discussion for years, if not longer.

The resolution the Senate debated for hours last night is a non-binding call for the USC administration to make substantive policy changes, including hiring new administrators and giving scholarships to minority candidates. USG is not empowered to control University funding or policy in these areas and force through changes; instead, the best USG can do is pass a non-binding resolution recommending these policy changes.

The Senate was arguing last night about simply asking for a new policy. That discussion is many steps removed from actually changing this campus.

No wonder USC students are frustrated.

Delaying this vote for two weeks softens the voice with which USG is speaking to the administration. As a previous Daily Trojan Opinion piece pointed out, there are three ways to change behavior: carrots, sticks and sermons, and sermons are the least effective way to create change. A resolution from the USG Senate calling for change is a sermon, and a resolution delayed by another two weeks after a full month of discussion is a weak sermon.

This sermon from USG only becomes weaker as the weeks pass. As USG President Rini Sampath, who co-authored the resolution and was vocally upset with the delay, wrote in a letter to the Daily Trojan on Sept. 28, “News cycles will pass, but prejudice does not.” Indeed, no major news outlet has written about diversity on our campus for weeks. As USC international relations professors frequently say in their classes, that kind of publicity galvanizes action.

Evidence does not suggest that the administration was going to make any policy changes before this latest discriminatory incident. Vice President for Student Affairs Ainsley Carry stated in an interview with ATVN that he had been talking to black men, international students and student-athletes on campus, and that they all told him they were having trouble fitting in. Yet, the administration did not announce any plans to change anything until after the incident. Indeed, in an interview with the Washington Post, Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni said that USC “want[s] to create a dialogue,” rather than adopting the kinds of sticks-and-carrots approaches that will incite change on campus.

USC is certainly getting the dialogue the administration promised. Between the diversity forum on Sept. 30 with hundreds of students in attendance, the debate on the Senate floor Tuesday night, the administration’s rollout of the #TogetherUSC campaign Tuesday morning, Provost Michael Quick’s call on Wednesday for student input, the stories in campus news media and the posts on social media, USC is talking. But enough with the dialogue.

Shockingly, some USG senators still question the need for USG to act on this core issue. Residential Senator Giuseppe Robalino stated on the floor that students should stand up for themselves in class against professors who do not teach diverse theories in class. Robalino is missing the point of these discussions that Trojans are having once again: The system itself is inherently biased. A biased system as large as the University of Southern California has significantly more power than any individual student. The only way for student voices to be heard is to rally together and encourage duly elected representatives, like Sen. Robalino, to act on their behalf.

If Robalino believes that students should stand up for themselves instead of appealing to their representatives, then he should resign as USG Senator, because there is no reason to even have a Senate. If Robalino believes the Senate should not act on issues as fundamental as diversity and human rights on campus, then he is not qualified to do his job. Robalino should resign and save USC students the money we otherwise pay him in stipends.

Last night the Senate could not pass a non-binding resolution encouraging the administration to stop discrimination on campus. Our message grows weaker by the day.