More than 30 Fluor Tower residents will be relocated to new temporary housing after the sixth floor flooded when a fire alarm and sprinklers were falsely set off Tuesday morning, according to D’Andre Coats, West Residential College senior staff director. Some students responded to the alarm, which was set off on the Latinx community floor of the residential college, with racist memes calling for the residents to be evicted.
Clothes or Halloween decorations hanging from the sixth-floor sprinklers caused the fire alarm and sprinklers to go off just before 3:30 a.m., flooding the floor with 15 gallons of water per minute, Coats said. Floors below the sixth floor were also damaged by flooding, and residents weren’t allowed back into the building until about 5:30 a.m.
Coats said 32 students will be relocated to New North and South residential colleges for an estimated six to eight weeks because of water damage in Fluor.
The University has not decided how or if students will be fined for the incident, but Coats said he is currently focused on gathering students’ belongings and clearing rooms for them to move back in and be functioning students.
“Whenever you have a significant amount of water that comes down, it ruins a lot of the dry wall and a lot of aspects of the structures, so we will have to do some significant demos and make sure the rooms are remodeled for our health and safety protocol,” Coats said.
Students posted memes about the incident on social media, making racist comments about the El Sol y La Luna residents that called for whoever set off the alarms and sprinklers to be evicted from the building.
One meme featured the classic “Hellmo” picture, which shows “Sesame Street” character Elmo screaming while surrounded by flames. Below the picture was written: “There are enemies among us … it appears as though tamales were made improperly in suite 608.” Another meme featured “Spongebob” character Larry the Lobster and read “You can’t make tamales at 3 a.m. and then forget to turn off the microwave.”
“They weren’t funny,” said Nataly Joseph, a freshman majoring in journalism who lives on the ninth floor of Fluor Tower. “And it spread false information because a girl in my class today was like ‘Yeah, I heard someone’s enchiladas burned.’ I was like ‘No, that’s a racial joke someone decided to make’ … It was low-hanging fruit as far as jokes go.”
Coates sent an email to the West Residential College community condemning the memes and said he would follow up with the students who made the posts. He also said that students could talk with their RAs or other building faculty if the posts made them uncomfortable.
“To the folks that the meme or the petition had a significant impact [on], know that you are a valued member of our community and that there is no room for racist rhetoric, jokes or content to exist in the environment we hope to create,” he wrote.
Andrea Diaz, the resident assistant for the floor, was angered by the memes; however, she said she wasn’t surprised that students reacted like this because she said she is all too familiar with the privileged population that comes to USC with implicit and explicit biases, whether these biases come from how they were raised or if they were ingrained systemically.
“I am not gonna normalize racist humor by brushing these memes off as not a big deal,” Diaz said. “The memes were irrelevant and inappropriate, especially when people are worried and concerned about the status of their housing.”
Diaz said she isn’t sure if the University can take any measures against the students who posted the memes but will continue to support her residents by advocating for measures and spaces that will protect them and other students of color on campus.
Other sixth floor residents declined to comment on the incident.
Andrea Diaz is the photo editor for the Daily Trojan.