Provost Michael Quick responds to Topping protests

After a week of several Norman Topping Student Aid Fund scholars, alumni, faculty members, Undergraduate and Graduate Student Government officials taking a stand against the University’s decision to remove the fund’s program director position, Provost Michael Quick addressed the changes in an interview with the Daily Trojan.

Senior Sabrina Enriquez (right), freshman Jeremiah Robinson (center) and other Topping scholars walked to Bovard Auditorium to deliver a compilation of letters to Provost Michael Quick. Mahira Raihan | Daily Trojan

“I think [the response to the decision] really points to just how important the Topping program is [and] the value the alumni of the program and current Topping students feel about the program,” Quick said. “They feel like [the program] has changed their lives, and that’s absolutely wonderful, and now going forward, we want to have that same feeling by having even more students.”

According to Vice Provost of Undergraduate Programs Andrea Hodge, students have been meeting with her over the week to discuss the changes.

“There has been, and continues to be, a great outpouring of support from current and former students, alumni and others,” Hodge said in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “The input of the students, both in meetings and in writing, has been extremely helpful. I’m taking their suggestions under advisement.”

Though Quick praised the efforts of the Topping scholars, he declined to comment on the specifics behind the administration’s decision to eliminate program director Christina Yokoyama’s position or potential  changes in personnel and scholarship funding and distribution in the future. However, he said through future modifications to the overall structure of the Topping Fund, he plans to further support diversity and inclusion in the overall student population on campus.

“Not just undergraduate students, but graduate students … I think we haven’t done enough at the graduate student level … through the Topping Fund,” Quick said. “I think that we need more students and continue to have a program that is going to be valuable to students.”

With greater expansion in the Topping program, Quick said he hopes to increase experiential equity among students on campus.

“It’s great that students can come here, and that’s what is part of what [the Topping Fund] does, but I think another big piece of what we want to do with this University is to provide resources that allow students to have the same level of experiences as all of our students here at USC,” Quick said. “I think that’s another valuable piece that the Topping program and the money can help.”

The Topping Fund was founded in 1970 as a means for lower-income students to access a USC education.

According to Sabrina Enriquez, a senior Topping scholar studying mathematics who has been active in promoting the reversal of the elimination of Yokoyama’s position, this program is unique to the University.

“Topping was started in the 1970s by [alumni Ron McDuffie and Dan Smith], who saw that basically a very small percentage of students were coming from low-income backgrounds in nearby communities,” Enriquez said in an interview with the Daily Trojan on Jan. 5. “They saw this as a disservice to them.”

According to the Topping program’s website, as a response to the lack of diversity on campus, McDuffie and Smith issued a referendum that established a system “whereby every academic semester all students enrolled in more than one unit were assessed a nominal fee of $4.” This came to be known as the Topping Fund.

“I think at that point, [the Topping Fund] really changed the conversation about what this University stands for and what the students at this University stand for,” Quick said. “I think it’s just one of the proudest moments to date. It really is one of those seminal moments that have come a long way.”

The Topping Fund, according to Quick, contributes to the overall diversity and inclusion of students on campus, which he said stands as “the forefront of where we want to go with this University.”

Additionally, according to Enriquez, the program is also student-led and student-funded, which is unlike any other organization on campus and the only one of its kind in the country. The program is headed by the Topping Governing Board, on which several scholars and alumni are represented.

“It’s essentially this body that gets together to direct the program,” Enriquez said. “They vote on how the money is to be used, how much scholarship funds will be distributed per student and how many students they will accept. They really shape the program.”

In an attempt to maintain the student-run nature of the Topping Fund, members of the fund delivered a letter on Tuesday compiled with articles from the Daily Trojan and several other letters penned by the Topping Governing Board, scholars and faculty to the Provost’s office at USC Bovard Auditorium.

The letter was intended to inform Quick about the collective efforts of the program from the past week.

“The letter details why [Yokoyama’s] position is pivotal for the success of the Topping Student Aid Fund as well as its scholars and how terminating that position is directly attacking some of the most endangered students on the campus,” said senior David Delgado, a Topping scholar majoring in gender studies and theatre. Delgado helped with penning the letter that was delivered to the provost on Tuesday.