EDITORIAL BOARD: Recent coverage grossly misrepresented USC students’ lives

Each one of USC’s 19,000 undergraduates has a story to tell. The Daily Trojan, USC’s independent student newspaper, recently spoke with three of them — an aspiring lawyer and DREAMer, a self-made engineer from Côte d’Ivoire and a first-generation screenwriter — in the wake of the college admissions scandal.

Over the last two years, USC has been in the national spotlight, most recently with its heavy involvement in the alleged bribery scheme. This revelation failed to surprise yet hurt students, and journalists across the country have rarely hesitated to label us the “University of Spoiled Children.”

The New York Times is no different.

On April 3, The Times published an article titled “What’s Life Like as a Student at U.S.C.? Depends on the Size of Your Bank Account,” written by USC alumna and former Daily Trojan editor-in-chief Jennifer Medina. In the article, Medina incorporated interviews with four students from varying economic backgrounds to “show how difficult it is to navigate a university that tries to be a home for all.”

Medina’s superficial attempt to portray USC’s economic inequality failed to include any students who overcame some of the steepest possible challenges — hunger and homelessness, to name a few — to attend USC. And since Medina chose to quote three students from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism — the same school she attended and has guest lectured at — it’s no wonder her article barely scratched the surface of students’ realities.

The generalizations presented in this article are damaging. Making assumptions about an entire University, one with 4,000 Pell Grant recipients and students from over 130 countries, only reinforces the harmful stereotypes that isolate marginalized students in the first place.

Medina repeatedly acknowledged that USC is not unique in its economic disparities. And it’s true — according to data the Times published, when compared to its peer institutions, USC lands right in the middle. Fourteen percent of students at USC are from the top 1%, placing it 34th on a list of 65 elite public and private institutions.

If USC is not unique in this regard, why write the article in the first place?

USC’s myriad scandals have, for many, illuminated the underlying corruption that has plagued this campus for too long. But USC is also 47,500 students large, and the exorbitant wealth that made the scheme possible is only reflective of the select families who engaged in the crimes.

But that is not what Medina gleaned from her reporting. She did not incorporate any knowledge of USC today, perhaps only backing her reporting with her experiences as a Trojan over 15 years ago, and it showed.

USC is not perfect. There is class disparity, a lack of resources for marginalized students and continuous mistrust of senior administrators. But a shallow report that further imposes stereotypes that are not unique to USC keeps us from moving toward the change so many of us desire.

“And yet, as the bribery cases have made clear, the campus remains a place of pervasive wealth, where celebrity, money and status are still a part of daily life,” Medina wrote.

What daily life? What celebrities? For many USC students, “daily life” includes going to class, working a full-time job, attending extracurriculars and making time for recreation — let alone three meals a day.

What’s life like as a student at USC? This is what life is like.