Campus cultural centers welcome students of color to USC

Mae Gates (right), co-executive director of the Black Student Assembly, answers a discussion question. The event was organized by El Centro Chicano and the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. (Aamani Ponnekanti/Daily Trojan)

As a spring admit, Cameron du Pont didn’t expect to feel so lonely. A freshman from Maryland, du Pont found that her classmates are predominantly white and that the University’s resources for new students are insufficient. Thursday’s Black and Latinx New Student Symposium hoped to change that. The symposium, which was held in the Tutor Campus Center Ballroom, was filled with students of color trying to find their footing in their first week at USC.

“Most classrooms don’t look like this room, if you know what I mean,” said Rosalind Conerly, director of the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs.

The event, organized by CBCSA and El Centro Chicano, had over 30 new students in attendance. The majority of students were newly admitted freshmen, but transfers, new graduate students and one-semester exchange students were also represented. This is the third year the event has been held for new students in the spring semester.

The symposium highlighted the University’s resources for black and Latinx students. CBCSA and El Centro Chicano introduced their respective cultural centers and spoke about the programs they offer.

El Centro Chicano director Billy Vela said the event, formerly known as the Latino New Student Symposium, combined black and Latinx communities because “we are stronger together.”

During a panel discussion with undergraduate and graduate students, new students questioned how to navigate University resources in a way that isn’t overwhelming.

Students on the panel discussed pre-professional programs, advisement, food pantries and travel opportunities among other things. Jose Richard Aviles, president of the Latino Graduate Student Association, spoke about LGSA’s plan to create a “Dress for Success Closet,” which will provide clothing to students who don’t have the resources to dress for job interviews and professional opportunities.

Mae Gates, co-executive director of the Black Student Assembly, said it can sometimes be difficult for students of color to find resources and professional advice on campus.

“There’s a lot of opportunities on this campus that are not publicized,” said Gates, a sophomore majoring in global health. “Your first stop should always be CBCSA or El Centro.”

The panel also discussed the challenges of being a student of color on campus. A few people said they have experienced impostor syndrome — an inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or legitimately achieved. Aviles, a third-year graduate student studying social work and planning, advised the new students to be proud of their lived experiences.

“There are some folks who may know theory, but we live theory, and that is very different,” Aviles said. “I grew up riding the bus here in L.A., and I’m now working for the L.A. Department of Transportation.”

Chasia Jeffries, the signature events specialist for CBCSA, said she met the majority of her friends at the Fall 2017 Black and Latinx New Student Symposium.

“This event is really important … to meet other black and Latinx students here on campus,” said Jeffries, a sophomore majoring in law, history and culture.

The panelists and faculty members reminded the students in the audience that they belong at USC, even if it might be difficult at times.

“There’s a lot of people here that want you to succeed,” Vela said. “We belong, but it’s going to be hard — it ain’t going to be easy. There’s going to be challenges, but we have comunidad.”