EDITORIAL: USC community must take action to support its Black students
Content Warning: This article contains mentions about state-sanctioned violence against Black people, with references to specific traumatic and potentially triggering incidents of police brutality.
Disclaimer: None of the members of the Daily Trojan Summer 2020 Editorial Board are Black. The Daily Trojan is a predominantly white institution. We recognize the significance of this shortcoming and its role in furthering inequality at our campus. As a result, we are part of the problem and we are actively working to remedy this issue and make our newsroom and our coverage more inclusive and representative of USC’s Black student community. Additionally, we should have released a statement earlier to express our solidarity with Black students.
With this being said, the Daily Trojan Editorial Board unequivocally supports the Black Lives Matter movement and demands that USC’s administration, student government, student organizations and non-Black students take more action to support the cause.
“I can’t breathe.” This was one of George Floyd’s final statements before Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed him with an illegal chokehold for more than eight minutes as at least three more cops watched. The murder, along with the shootings of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, is one of the latest incidents of police brutality, igniting protests across the nation in cities such as Minneapolis, Louisville, Brooklyn and downtown Los Angeles.
In 1992, fires raged around USC during the L.A. riots. The University was left largely unscathed while local and Black-owned shops burned to the ground due to the riots. Although some students partook in the protests, calling for justice against the four Los Angeles Police Department officers who were acquitted of the videotaped fatal beating of Rodney King, many remained unconcerned, largely worrying about material positions that had been stolen from their gentrified apartments.
Now, as protests draw near campus again nearly three decades later, history must not repeat itself. USC administrators, students and student organizations, including the Daily Trojan, must do everything in our power to support, advocate for and protect Black people, both on and off campus.
Anti-Black racism manifests at both the global and national level, and USC is nowhere near free of this reality. The University is a bubble of privilege, ignorance and immense wealth in the South Central community, often turning its back on the neighborhood it so imposes itself on.
One example of the persistent on-campus discrimination can be seen through the behaviors of the Department of Public Safety. In February 2019, DPS officers stopped a Black man near campus for riding a bicycle without a light. They handcuffed him and asked him about any outstanding warrants, unrelated to the purpose of the traffic stop. In October 2019, more than 500 students signed a petition calling on the University to address the increased police presence and wire fencing at a Black student tailgate. This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg, as DPS, in tandem with the LAPD, routinely stops Black students on campus to check their identification and overpolices and shuts down parties hosted by Black fraternities.
But USC’s history of neglecting racism on campus and the surrounding area does not stop there. Chair of the Board of Trustees Rick Caruso’s tenure as president of the Los Angeles Police Commission in the early 2000s helped solidify LAPD’s ingrained racism, as he worked to overhaul the department’s disciplinary procedures and instate William Bratton, who backed aggressive policing tactics throughout his career as chief of police. Bratton’s tenure as the New York Police Department commissioner from 2014 to 2016 also oversaw many deaths at the hands of the police, including the murder of Eric Garner, a Black man who was killed by chokehold in 2014.
About 1 in 1,000 Black men will be killed by the police, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Black men are more than twice as likely to be killed by police over the course of their life than white men. Black women are about 1.4 times more likely to be killed by police than are white women.
Despite these statistics, little change has been made at the institutional level to preserve the livelihood of Black people. Cops murder Black civilians with impunity or, at worst, paid leave. When Black people gather to mourn and protest, they are met with additional state violence.
The Daily Trojan Editorial Board stands in solidarity with the ongoing national protests against police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. We support protesters’ demands to prosecute all cops who exercise and are complicit in the use of deadly force. These protests have thus far secured the arrest of Chauvin for third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. We believe the former charge, which carries a maximum 25-year sentence, is outrageous and unjust given the willful murder of Floyd. The other cops who indifferently stood by and watched should be charged.
In addition to addressing the state violence perpetrated against Black people across the United States, University officials must look inward and thoroughly redress their shortcomings in prosecuting racist hate crimes on campus and overpolicing by DPS and LAPD. Following nationwide protests, President Carol Folt wrote about the necessity of addressing racism at USC in a communitywide email sent Sunday.
“I don’t have the answers today, but we will continue to seek them together,” Folt wrote. “I know that we can effect change – in our community, our city, and our nation. Now, more than ever, we need to rely on each other and help each other and our neighbors through these times.”
However, statements such as these are largely performative and absent of concrete policy change. The Daily Trojan Editorial Board demands the University acknowledge how DPS and the administration have been complicit in racism against Black students. The administration must move forward with identifiable goals on how to eliminate overpolicing and address the University’s ties with racism.
We demand the University reduce funding for DPS, which received nearly $50 million during the 2018-19 school year, according to USC’s financial report. We want USC to divest from LAPD funding, including slashing budgets for various cadet programs and fellowship grants such as the USC-LAPD scholarship and cutting ties with LAPD’s involvement in on-campus policing.
Additionally, Folt, the Board of Trustees and other administrators are all millionaires, if not billionaires, and must put their money where their mouths are. Folt, who currently resides in a home listed at $8.6 million, and Caruso, who is a real estate billionaire, should make public donations to the protesters’ efforts.
We demand that wealthy University donors, trustees and administrators donate to various causes, such as bail funds and supplies for protesters. As an institution that supposedly prides itself on diversity, inclusion and willingness to support all students, senior administrators must take the tangible steps toward furthering this mission through monetary contributions.
The USC community, beyond the administration, must also hold itself accountable for its shortcomings and failures to stand in solidarity with Black members of the Trojan Family. Sixty-three percent of USC students come from the top 20%, and they should be donating to causes at greater rates than low-income students.
We also demand student organizations, especially those with large concentrations of power, take action as well. Undergraduate Student Government only released a comprehensive statement Monday that provided resources and proposed policy changes to decrease ignorance within our campus, despite having been quick to provide coverage and support to other causes involving the USC community in the past. The Daily Trojan contacted USG about a petition circulating among student government leaders, including USC, and USG has yet to provide a specific plan of action at time of publication.
Given the various intersectional identities of Black students, it is imperative that recognized student organizations aside from the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs actively stand in solidarity with Black students. This increased marginalization is exemplified by the murders of Black trans individuals, such as Tony McDade, and the higher rates of violence perpetrated against Black people who are disabled. On Sunday, the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment released a statement calling on USG and other organizations to speak out and stand in solidarity with Black students.
Additionally, Greek life organizations, especially those on The Row, must be held accountable for necessary change and action. While known to tout diversity standards and claim to promote inclusivity, these predominantly white institutions must acknowledge their homogeneity. Beyond releasing statements and posts of support for equality on their social media platforms as several sororities have done, including Kappa Alpha Theta and Kappa Kappa Gamma, these organizations must implement philanthropic endeavors to make more overt expressions of solidarity required by their members.
Furthermore, each organization should make active use of their diversity and inclusion committees to ensure that members are educated and empowered to engage in difficult conversations. Reposting and resharing content is the bare minimum of what can be done. Although creating pressure over social media is effective in raising awareness, actions speak louder than words. Philanthropic initiatives such as encouraging members to sign petitions, contacting officials to demand justice and emailing those in power to defund and demilitarize the police can hold these organizations accountable for their anti-Blackness. The University, and its most influential members, can only begin to assert themselves as welcoming to all through the demonstrated support of Black lives.
While we aim to hold USC and its various student organizations accountable, we recognize that we are not to be excused from criticism. We acknowledge the roles and responsibilities we hold as student journalists, as members of a student organization and media outlet. We should have released this statement at an earlier time, as the Change.org petition Carol Folt and USC MUST Acknowledge the Fight Against Antiblackness, stated.
Simply put, the Daily Trojan is complicit in the problems that we have identified. Last semester, our editorial board was hopelessly lacking in Black representation, with only one Black editor. Our Summer 2020 Editorial Board offers more of the same — not a single one of us is Black. And all it takes is a trip to our newsroom to see just how poorly Black voices are represented among our editors and staff.
The simple, disappointing truth is that we do not adequately reach out to Black student organizations on campus. Our relationships with various cultural organizations and assemblies within USG on campus is lamentable. Evidently, we have neglected as an organization to address the very issues we find so appalling, and there is no excuse for that.
In light of our failure, we will be taking concrete actions this upcoming semester to address our shortcomings, including the establishment of a diversity and inclusion director and team. The director will produce a diversity staff report tracking our hiring initiatives, hosting diversity and inclusion training workshops, building and improving our relationships with cultural organizations and reflecting on our monthly coverage to gauge concrete ways we can include more marginalized voices, either those who write with us or those we feature — particularly with regard to Black students.
We, along with the University as a whole, must show up — beyond hashtags, statements on social media and other performative acts of spreading awareness — for our Black community. We must take a stand against the racism present in all corners of this institution: DPS, LAPD, in the classroom and in our very newsroom. To see change, anti-racism conversations need to persist beyond the short span of the current news cycle. Donations must continue past national headlines because Black lives matter all the time, not only when they are brought to the forefront of the non-Black people’s consciousness by media coverage of racist hate crimes.
Here is a list of actions you can take to support Black lives.
Petition for USC administration to acknowledge campus anti-Blackness.
text JUSTICE to 668366 to demand #JusticeForFloyd
text FLOYD to 55156 to demand #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd
A collection of links with petitions, places to donate and help for protestors.
This document has links to petitions, places to donate and additional resources.
A care collective created by USC students that contains resources, service and mutual aid networks to help those from marginalized and underrepresented communities.
Students dealing with mental health concerns can contact USC Student Health centers or contact the 24/7 phone line (213) 740-9355 for professional assistance.
Daily Trojan Summer 2020 Editorial Board
A member of the Editorial Board is an active member of Kappa Kappa Gamma.
This Editorial Board was updated June 3, 2020 to reflect the Undergraduate Student Government’s release of a statement, along with President Carol Folt’s letter to the community.