In light of ongoing protests across the United States over the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, President Carol Folt addressed the USC community in a Universitywide email Sunday. Folt’s letter comes five days after the start of Minneapolis protests following the killing of Floyd by police officer Derek Chauvin and a call for Chauvin to face murder charges.
“Many of you have told me that you are feeling sad, angry, desperate and despairing as you face such grave injustices and the escalation of tensions, and you are trying to find a way forward,” Folt wrote in the letter. “It weighs heavily on all of us. But we are Trojans, united as a university dedicated to the fundamental principles of equality and inclusion, education, and discovery for the good of humanity. We can make a positive difference, as we have for more than 100 years.”
Protests organized across Los Angeles attracted thousands and were among dozens of protests across the country. Demonstrations in Downtown, Santa Monica and Long Beach have brought countywide curfews through the weekend.
“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.”
Before the letter was released, the Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment condemned the Folt administration and other student organizations for not addressing the issue or showing solidarity with the Black community on and off-campus.
A petition launched Sunday also criticized the University and campus media outlets, including the Daily Trojan and Annenberg Media, for their silence on the national protests and larger concerns regarding the Department of Public Safety’s treatment of Black students and community members on and around campus.
Folt addressed the need for community conversations with DPS Chief John Thomas on policing on campus and in the surrounding neighborhood, but did not offer further details.
“It will be challenging to confront directly issues like racism in our community, but we must,” Folt wrote. “We have started discussions with our student, faculty, staff, and alumni organizations, our civic leaders and our neighbors in the community. We recognize the need for continued conversations around policing, and our chief of the USC Department of Public Safety will be partnering with our campus and broader community to find collective answers to persistent inequities.”
Folt also addressed the disproportionate lack of access to care people of color, in particular, Black people, have had during the coronavirus pandemic because of historical barriers due to medical racism and systemic poverty. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the death rates among Black Americans are 92.3 deaths per 100,000 people. Among white Americans, the death rate is 45.2 per 100,000 people.
While affirming the University’s “call to action” to deal with racism on campus, Folt mentioned that preliminary conversations with student leaders, faculty, staff, alumni and the local neighborhood have started to push these discussions in a productive direction. She called on the community to do the same.
“We will engage you to break down silos that separate us, encourage thoughtful debate, and protect the dignity of every individual in our community,” Folt wrote. “Together, we will stand for justice and embrace a culture of respect for all.”