Undergraduate Student Government President Trenton Stone delivered his State of USG address Tuesday, highlighting the student government’s achievements including the creation of a bylaw to increase student body representation in the organization, strengthened ties with USC administration and a new $70,000 grant for the USC Student Basic Needs Fund.
Stone addressed the dire circumstances students, faculty and staff have endured with the coronavirus pandemic, which led USC to move classes online for the rest of the semester.
“This is truly emblematic of a unique year in the history of USC and the world,” Stone said. “We come together online tonight to reflect on a year of triumph and struggle, fighting on through it all. And for this I’m humbled and grateful to have had the opportunity to represent USC’s 20,000 undergraduate students through this challenging, and yet, transformative year.”
Stone also reflected on his and Vice President Mahin Tahsin’s campaign slogan “It’s Time,” through which they looked to create new initiatives within USC with the help of student groups, trustees and senior administrators, which they said they received under President Carol Folt’s new leadership.
“‘It’s Time’ suggested our commitment to helping turn a new page at USC, to make amends for systemic misconduct,” Stone said. “To make values-based leadership the bedrock of this institution and to rebuild and reinstate trust in a community shaken by scandal.”
Stone spoke on what he said he believed to be USG’s key accomplishments: strengthening student government, expanding student support resources and building unity.
Although this in-person academic year has been shortened, USG was able to use its $2.4 million budget to host 255 events with more than 51,000 attendees and reduce administrative expenses to redirect to programming and funding branches, pointing to one of USG’s strengths, Stone said.
Stone also emphasized USG’s efforts to increase student body representation by creating the Student Assembly for Accessibility. A bylaw was also passed in early February to establish new procedures to easen the measures in place for cultural groups to become assemblies, affecting groups such as the Military Associated Student Assembly, the Native American Student Assembly and the Middle Eastern and North African Student Assembly.
Through another bylaw passed in Tuesday’s USG meeting, Stone and his team were also able to begin their restructuring initiative to reduce the USG branches into three — executive, legislative and judicial — that will provide about 20 more leadership positions. Previously, USG was composed of executive, legislative, advocacy, communications, funding and programming branches. Stone also highlighted the communication branch’s efforts to provide outreach to students.
“In all, USG’s 113 members work together to build a better USG,” Stone said. “They did so to strengthen our position as a trusted campus partner and advocate for students, building onto our foundational goal to engage and empower undergraduate students.”
Stone said that in this past year, USG has prioritized well-being and basic needs by expanding student resources including the $20,000 grant to USC Student Health for free HIV testing, expanding the Freshman Forgiveness policy to first-year transfer students and sustainability programs including compost bins and the Divest SC campaign.
Stone also announced that USG will be providing a $70,000 grant for the Student Basic Needs Fund amid the coronavirus pandemic. Funding for the grant comes after various student events, including SpringFest, were canceled.
With regard to building unity, Stone said that USG has made an effort to strengthen ties within USC by having students involved in hiring decisions for positions such as provost, athletic director and vice president of enrollment management, as well as an advisory council for President Folt and Vice President for Student Affairs Winston Crisp. Stone pointed out that the current USG administration saw the first-ever student presentation to the Board of Trustees, led by Stone, Mahin and the Graduate Student Government to discuss the transfer forgiveness program and CalFresh subsidies.
“With direct channels of communication and frequent meetings with senior administrators and trustees, the voice of students at the highest levels of university governance has never been stronger,” Stone said.
Although the student body and USG have seen various achievements, they have also faced plenty of struggle throughout the past year, Stone said. However, even with admissions scandals and campus tragedies with nine student deaths last fall, students remained resilient.
“As a student body, we have emulated what it means to fight on, to unify as a family of Trojans and to persevere together,” Stone said. “And as we renewed our hope with the start of a new decade, we have persevered through many of our most daunting challenges.
As USC community members continue to face uncertainty and anxiety with the current coronavirus crisis, Stone called on students to continue to be leaders in their communities.
“The state of USG is strong, not only because of the diverse range of backgrounds of our members, but because of their unified commitment to serve the student body and the world,” Stone said.