USC Forward — a coalition of students, South Los Angeles residents and community leaders — began demonstrating along Jefferson Boulevard Saturday to demand accountability and transparency from the University.
Organizers set up “Tent City,” a group of 10 tents representing homelessness and the impact of gentrification in the surrounding community, outside of the University Park Campus gates. Amid the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, which brought thousands of people to campus throughout the weekend, demonstrators began camping out 24/7 on Saturday. They plan to continue the demonstration throughout the week.
The coalition — a project of Service Employees International Union 721 — partnered with the Alliance of Californians for Community Evictions, Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the LA Tenants Union and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
“USC, they’re a bad actor, they’re a bad neighbor,” said SEIU 721 chief-of-staff Gilda Valdez. “They don’t want to negotiate with us. In an institution that is one of the top institutions in the world, they create leaders, for them to teach them that they have no voice in their own employment, what kind of teaching is that?”
According to Department of Public Safety Assistant Chief David Carlisle, the SEIU secured a permit from the city of Los Angeles to create “Tent City” along Jefferson Boulevard.
“We are aware that it may continue for the week,” Carlisle said. “The city of Los Angeles regulates that type of demonstration on public property, and thus far they have not created a problem for USC … We do drive by and monitor the situation, but should there become a problem, we would have LAPD’s labor relations bureau respond to arbitrate and mitigate any issues.”
Valdez said that SEIU has tried working and meeting with USC for over three years to create labor unions for University faculty; however, the school refused to budge. In a recent case involving full- and part-time non-tenure track faculty at the Roski School of Art and Design, the U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed with some of the language used in past court rulings on labor unions at universities and made it easier for employees to be considered managers who would be ineligible to unionize.
“USC defends the principle that tenured and untenured faculty are partners in shared governance,” outgoing Provost Michael Quick wrote in a statement to the Daily Trojan following the court’s decision in March. “The recent court decision affirms that principle.”
Valdez said that USC could find a way to create shared governance within a union, but it does not want to relinquish its control over faculty decisions and issues.
“This is about power and control and greed for USC, and they’re not willing to share that with their students who supposedly they’re building to be leaders in this world,” Valdez said.
The coalition delivered a letter of the organization’s demands to President-elect Carol Folt’s office. In the letter, which was obtained by the Daily Trojan, the organization called for accessibility for low-income students, affordable housing, community benefits, campus safety and labor rights for faculty, staff and students.
“It has been a very difficult few years to be a Trojan,” the letter read. “As the incoming president, you have the opportunity to change the toxic culture and narrative surrounding our school — not through superficial house cleaning of bad actors, but through genuine, foundational and transformational changes to the way this university functions as both an educational institution and essential piece of the fabric of Southern California.”
During Sunday’s demonstration, organizers held a listening session for attendees to voice their grievances with the University. Former California Senate Pro Tempore Kevin de León sat down with attendees to discuss the importance of community engagement and commitment.
“I’d be more than happy to [help],” de León said. “I’ve always been a fighter for working families, all the time.”
ACCE co-director Joe Delgado is currently staying in one of the tents along Jefferson Boulevard to protest gentrification and evictions in the surrounding area caused by developments made by the University. Residents on Flower Drive and Exposition Boulevard have faced evictions as a result of expansions in student housing.
He said that local residents are being pushed out of their homes by companies that want to create more opportunities for off-campus student housing options, so they can charge higher rates.
“The tents are a symbol of the poverty that surrounds this campus,” Delgado said. “If you go three blocks in any direction, it’s the reality that our folks live with everyday, and the truth is that every time student housing goes up in and around the area landlords around the area see that they can charge $2,000 per unit and then look to evict the working folks that live in the area.”
A member of ACCE who goes by “Karin” discussed the problem of rising rents and gentrification, which she attributes to the creation of USC Village and the rising cost of student housing in the neighborhood.
Karin, who lives in the city’s 9th Council District, said her landlord has tried to evict her four times in order to charge future tenants higher rent.
“With housing, it’s very sad the way everything is becoming,” Karin said. “As part of the 9th district, the owner of the house has tried to evict me four times … There is the risk that any minute he can do something like that and of course I would not like to end up on the street, especially like the people in Harbor Heights [and] Mid-City.”
Karin also discussed the importance of USC reaching out to students in neighboring schools and promoting equal access to affordable higher education.
“It’s very hard for [our children] to dream to come to the University when the tuition is all the way to the moon and our salaries very low,” Karin said. “And I feel like we should do something to avoid that. We have great children, and they are as smart as anyone. We just don’t have the accessibility.”
De León said USC must work with community leaders and local high school students to ensure equal access to resources.
“When it comes to access to higher education, whether it’s a public institution like the University of California, the Cal State University system, or a private nonprofit independent academic and research university, like USC, access to those who are socioeconomically marginalized is critical,” de León said. “Our kids, and kids in poor neighborhoods, are just as smart as any other kids but they don’t have the same opportunity. So it’s an opportunity gap that exists and manifests.”
Shany Ebadi, a junior majoring in political science who attended USC Forward’s press conference Saturday, said she has been working with the organization since last fall with a focus on the intersectionality of issues related to sexual assault and student safety.
“We came to emphasize the importance of intersectionality of all the issues that are affecting both students and the community,” Ebadi said. “The racism, the sexism, the classicism is all tied into one another, and as you saw with the list of demands today, they are really all connected and you can’t target them one at a time.”
Ebadi said she hopes the University will listen to the demands of the coalition and work to increase accountability among students and the community.
“They are sleeping on the streets for five nights to ensure that their message is being heard and demanding the administration to be held accountable and listen to these stories,” Ebadi said.