Campus diversity initiatives lose momentum

Last year, to address incidents of discrimination on college campuses, student leaders at USC ratified the Campus Climate Resolution. The series of recommendations, introduced in October 2015, called for administrators to implement a variety of measures to promote equity and inclusion. The Resolution created greater conversations for the student body, drawing large crowds and greater student involvement at Undergraduate Student Government proceedings.

Three cheers · Students celebrate Tuesday evening in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center after the Undergraduate Student Government Senate passes the campus climate diversity resolution with an 11-1 vote. - Joseph Chen | Daily Trojan

Three cheers · Students celebrate last year in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center after the Undergraduate Student Government Senate passes the campus climate diversity resolution with an 11-1 vote. – Joseph Chen | Daily Trojan

Since then, student leaders behind the initiative feel the momentum gained throughout the semester the Resolution was instated has stalled.

“Dialogue is action, but the change we want to see result from action is produced by momentum and engagement,” said Alex Kanegawa, a senior majoring in policy planning and development, who was one of the founding members of the Campus Climate Coalition. “Our biggest fault was focusing too hard on advocacy and policy and losing the external pressure that an agitated and passionate student public provides, giving our demands weight.”

Conversations about diversity and acceptance are particularly prevalent at diverse colleges such as USC. Of the 44,000 students enrolled at USC in Fall 2016, white students make up 33.1 percent, Hispanic students make up 13 percent, black students make up 5.6 percent, Asian students make up 17.6 percent, Native American students make up less than 1 percent while the remaining six percent are students of ‘Other’ backgrounds, according to USC Facts and Figures.

According to Gisella Tan, a senior majoring in psychology and one of the authors of the resolution, these stats are met with a disparity between positive demographics and negative experiences for minority students.

Tan joined the coalition because she wanted to be a representative of the international student body. A student from Hong Kong, Tan noticed a disjunction between USC boasting of the second largest international student body in the country and the lack of resources for these students. After the Office of International Services was shuffled from building to building in the span of just a few years, Tan felt she needed to voice the concerns of international students.

“I thought I needed to provide a voice to the things that needed to be improved, specifically for international students because they were who I was representing,” Tan said. “The resolution gave us a platform to talk to administrators, especially since it didn’t get a lot of support. It gave us leverage to speak to everyone on campus.”

A year after the passing of the Resolution, Tan has identified areas in diversity in which USC needs to improve. According to Tan, to ease the transition of adjusting to a new country, a space, much like APASS, tailored to international students, needs to be created. This would facilitate mentorship and community for the people who are at a disadvantage of creating family on campus.

Undergraduate Student Government President Edwin Saucedo, though not a part of the original campus climate coalition, said that looking forward, USG has plans to keep up the momentum of the previous administration and maintain a focus on diversity issues.

“We’re looking at ways we can improve our practices,” Saucedo said. “One of the biggest things we’re focused on is identifying individuals, faculty and students to serve on another board that would create a campus climate survey … to gather data in a more holistic way.”

Saucedo said that, in addition, this new board will evaluate the five-year plans to foster diversity created by each individual USC school’s diversity liaison.

“Our council will be the first people reviewing [the diversity liaisons’] plans, creating a rubric, setting measurements for which we hold different schools accountable on how they’re going to address this topic for the next five years,” Saucedo said.

However, some underrepresented students say the current efforts aren’t doing enough to encourage an inclusive campus environment.

“I don’t feel safe on campus,” said Vanessa Diaz, a USC student of color. “Understanding how other people [at USC] see me and understanding that in their eyes, I’m not welcome here, is something that I’m constantly thinking about.”

For Ozodi Onyeabor, a senior majoring in communication and a Master’s in communication management, USC does not represent a safe space. This is especially true for her after two black USC students reported being called by racial slurs on separate occasions in the aftermath of the presidential election.

But Onyeabor feels that this level of prejudice extends beyond the University. In a country racked with conflict over issues of bias and discrimination on a daily basis, she believes that the problems USC students face reflect a nationwide pattern that could define the future of the country.

“Even though, students on campus have been harassed and walk around in fear, it’s not any better outside these gates,” Onyeabor said. “I am from Dallas/Fort Worth, TX. Growing up, I faced microaggressions and I saw the dark side of [the] South. But now, since hate is emboldened with no fear of repercussions, I’m terrified to return home for the holidays. Period.”

Correction: A previous version of this article included a longer interview with Vanessa Diaz:

“And she was disappointed to discover another truth – that diversity as reflected by numbers does not mean actual interaction between the different communities of students. According to Diaz, however, these minorities often choose not to overlap, remaining in their own homogenous bubbles. And when these groups do intersect, the result isn’t always a positive interaction.”

Once Diaz addressed inaccuracies in the aforementioned statement after publication, the interview was removed. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.