Last night, the Undergraduate Student Government Senate passed the Campus Climate Resolution by a resounding 11-1 margin. All the senators except Commuter Sen. Jacob Ellenhorn, who is also the president of the USC College Republicans, voted in favor of the resolution. The passage of the resolution is a good first step, but we must fight on to ensure diversity and equality at this school.
It was, however, discouraging to watch the Senate to debate this issue further. To be fair, responsible governance requires debating issues on the floor, but the senators and the authors of the resolution have met in the weeks leading up to this resolution and discussed the exact points senators like Sen. Giuseppe Robalino brought up tonight. Robalino’s rehash of issues resolved behind closed doors is not constructive and shows a divide in the student body that could discourage the University from acting quickly on the issue.
In the end, the passage of this resolution is undeniably valuable. It signals to the administration that the elected undergraduate student body is united behind the measure to create a better campus. This is a powerful voice, albeit less powerful after the Senate delayed the vote two weeks. That voice joins the resounding and immediate support for the measure from the Faculty Senate and the Graduate Student Government Senate.
However, the fight continues. Inclusivity and acceptance will not improve overnight because this resolution has cleared the USG Senate. In fact, many of the provisions in the resolution passed tonight will influence the culture of USC over the long term. In the short term, students must still rely on overworked administrators, understaffed resource centers and lackluster disciplinary policies to address discrimination on campus. Changing the climate of this campus will require both short-term enforcement to stop common harms and long-term cultural shift to create endogenous acceptance rather than enforced, exogenous tolerance. It is better to be accepted and celebrated for who you are than tolerated because the system says you must be.
This task now falls to the USC administration. For all the talk, infighting and writings about the USG Senate, the real power on campus lies with the administration. The best USG can do is pass non-binding resolutions; President C. L. Max Nikias, his administration and the Board of Trustees control the $4 billion annual budget and associated programming. The administration must realize that fixing this problem on campus will require short-term and long-term solutions.
The University’s record on change so far is mixed. On one hand, as Vice President of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry announced at the Voices of USC diversity forum, there was a drastic increase in reports of discrimination immediately after the verbal assault on USG President Rini Sampath. Increased reporting is good, especially since these were reports of incidents that already happened but went unreported, instead of new attacks that became reported as they happened. Furthermore, the University immediately reached out to Sampath and encouraged her to report the assault and allow the University to begin an investigation.
On the other hand, current University policy suggests that students need to report an incident directly before the University empowers the Title IX office to investigate. Campus investigators should be given the latitude to investigate without an official report, as reporting an attack can be intimidating and harmful to students already suffering from discrimination. This would demonstrate that the University is willing to take the steps necessary to protect students without requiring students to advocate on their own behalf. Furthermore, the University seems to have ignored these growing problems. The immediate response of the University after the incident with Sampath this fall was to send a letter stating, in effect, that USC does not have a diversity problem because we have one of the highest proportions of international students for any American university. Carry also revealed in an interview with ATVN that he has had numerous conversations with black men, student-athletes and international students on campus, who have all spoken with him about discrimination. Of course, there have been protests and news stories concerning diversity and inclusivity on this campus for years. It is deplorable that the University has taken this long to address such a fundamental issue.
A main concern is that there will be no real change coming out of this effort. Every year, Trojans talk this issue to death. Every year, nothing happens. When will the administration take a stand and make change a reality?
Soon it will be Thanksgiving break, then finals after that, winter break and possibly months before the University addresses the issue. Protest movements have gripped this campus before, from the USChange Movement to I, Too, Am USC, only to fizzle during gaps between the semesters. It will be important for the USC administration to carefully consider the issue at hand, but students should not let the University delay in hopes of killing the movement. With all the information — from talks between administrators and students, to protests, to town hall meetings, to articles in campus media, to social media posts — only an administration living under a rock could be unaware of the problems at USC. Administration, do not delay. Students, do not let them.
Students at Mizzou showed the world this week that students can create change when they do not give up and do not give in. Finding the right levers to pull on campus, namely threatening to derail football operations, worked at Mizzou. USC students need to find a similarly important issues on this campus that will force the administration to make a change.
Change needs to come to this campus. It will take the collective and continued efforts of all of us. Until all members of the Trojan family are appreciated, valued and loved for who they are, the fight is not over.