BSA, student governments present list of concerns over campus inequality, national unrest to USC administration
USC student leaders and administrators issued statements following nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd and ongoing incidents of police brutality and inequality throughout the country. The statements, released by President Carol Folt and USC’s Undergraduate and Graduate student governments, come after several students and campus organizations have called on University leadership to address ongoing concerns of racial injustice on and off campus.
“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 a letter to the community Sunday. “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.”
The Black Student Assembly has also released a letter, outlining actions it will be taking in the wake of these events. According to the letter, BSA will host community conversations for Black Trojans to discuss and organize, hold educational sessions for allies, work with the Department of Public Safety to facilitate open dialogue and increase fundraising efforts for protestors’ bail funds.
“Members of our Trojan Family are under attack and have been for years,” the letter read. “Black people across the country risk their lives every time we leave our homes.”
The letter also calls on the USC community to check in with affected students and teachers, take a stand against police brutality and racial inequality, participate in racial bias training facilitated by USG and BSA and actively promote an open environment where students feel comfortable filing reports against DPS officers who have profiled or mistreated them.
“We have decided to no longer be silent as Black people across America continue to be lynched by those sworn to serve and protect,” the letter read. “We are asking that you, our fellow Trojans, join us and use your voices as well, because to be silent is to be complicit.”
BSA Co-Director Jaya Hinton, a junior majoring in business administration, emphasized that statements from the administration and from student government were overdue. Hinton also described that BSA’s decision to release two statements — one to the Black community and one to the greater USC community — was critical for the organization.
“They are two different messages because this requires two different hands,” Hinton said. “We didn’t pressure ourselves to release a statement immediately because as Black people we are processing, and that processing, in part, means that we can’t … convey our feelings or a group’s feelings. Because whether we are speaking for ourselves or speaking for BSA, people are always going to think that we are speaking for all Black people.”
BSA’s message to Black students acknowledged the pain and grief that students are experiencing and outlined several resources students can seek in the wake of police killings and protests. Hinton said BSA members and her co-director, Calvin Carmichael, collaborated to write the statements.
“We were basically talking to each other through a Google doc because Calvin lost his voice protesting all day,” Hinton said. “It is a very different situation for us because we have to deal with our own personal emotions and attachments to it and try and find the best way to rally the non-Black community while supporting the Black community.”
The Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs is also providing resources for students at this time. CBCSA is hosting a community forum June 3 to discuss racial inequality and recent events.
“We will provide a safe space for Black Students, Staff, Faculty, and Allies to decompress and have some rich dialogue about Anti-Blackness and the many systemic issues that plague the Pan-African community in America,” an Instagram post by the center read.
USG and GSG leaders also pledged their support to Black students and Black student organizations in a letter sent to the community Monday.
“We stand in solidarity with the Black community and condemn the systemic racism that enables and perpetuates violence towards communities of color,” the letter read. “The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery were unacceptable abuses of power exhibited by the American justice system. Our hearts sink for the three of them, along with the endless list of Black Americans who fall victim to police brutality and institutionalized racism on a daily basis in this country.”
The letter was signed by USG President Truman Fritz, USG Vice President Rose Ritch, GSG President Melisa Osborne and GSG Vice President Sam Garza on behalf of both student governments. Both bodies also linked resources for students interested in showing support by donating to causes or influencing policy decisions.
“Although we are currently spread across the world, we recognize that our community directly surrounding USC is disproportionately affected by racial injustice,” the letter read. “Historically, our neighboring community has been home to subsequent protests against police brutality. For these reasons, and for the good of all those affected by the University on and off campus, we urge USC to support the surrounding community in their demonstrations and be an actor of tangible institutional change.”
These responses come one week after Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis when an officer choked him for more than eight minutes. Protests organized in Los Angeles attracted thousands and were among several protests throughout the country. Organizers have also called for justice in the nationally-recognized cases of Taylor, Arbery and Tony McDade.
A petition launched prior to the release of Folt’s letter asked USC administrators and student leaders to “acknowledge the fight against anti-Blackness” and to send a message to the community regarding the University’s role in supporting Black students. Jephtha Prempeh, a 2020 graduate, authored the petition, which has amassed almost 3,000 signatures at the time of publication.
“USC does a poor job altogether at fostering a positive and representative environment for black talent and intelligence,” the petition read. “So the institution, like almost every other in high education, is inherently complicit in the system of anti-blackness that disenfranchises Americans across the country.”
The petition launched Sunday also criticized campus media outlets, including the Daily Trojan and Annenberg Media, for their silence on the national protests.
“South LA is 30% Black, Los Angeles is almost 10% Black, and as of this fall, USC is a mere 5.3% Black,” the petition read. “It is well known that over half the Black students of USC are generally at a distance from the rest of the Black community as dedicated athletes; our beloved football team is over 40% black coached by a staff of 26 — of whom 4 coaches are Black leadership.”
Hinton hopes that Black and non-Black members of the USC community take action out of necessity and that they want to help meaningfully change USC’s attitudes of support toward Black students.
“I don’t want you to feel obligated to do it,” Hinton said. “I want you to want to do it because it’s the right thing to do and because you have the desire to make the world a better and more fair and more just place for everyone.”
The Student Assembly for Gender Empowerment also released a statement from Executive Director Alexia Sambrano about the University and student government’s earlier silence on the issue.
“Those of us who are white or non-Black people of color have a responsibility to speak up and show up for the Black community,” Sambrano wrote. “We have all, in some ways, benefitted from the disenfranchisement and oppression of Black people. Speaking out is a bare minimum.”
USG and GSG addressed the issue of silence in their letter, apologizing for their delayed response. The letter also listed concerns such as DPS’ relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department, the mistreatment of Black students and campus policing.
Other student and cultural organizations such as the Helenes and Latinx Student Assembly, among others, apologized for their silence up until May 31 and pledged their support to the Black community.
USG and GSG are partnering with the University of Minnesota to work on collaborative responses to these issues and said that USG’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council will meet periodically over the summer. USG has also updated its website with a comprehensive list of campus support and resources, including counseling, educational letters that can help students explain the Black Lives Matter movement to family, a crisis text line and anti-racism resources.
Another concern students and student organizations have called on USC to remedy is the renaming of the Von KleinSmid Center. The building — named after USC’s fifth president, Rufus Von KleinSmid — has a controversial legacy. Von KleinSmid was a known eugenecist.
“Something so small as changing VKC, which people have been asking for for years — it’s time for them to do that,” Hinton said. “What do you gain from having a eugencist’s name on your building? How are you okay with all of your marginalized students feeling uncomfortable walking past because that’s not just Black students, that’s Jewish students, that’s LGBTQ students, that’s anyone who has been marginalized in any way.”
USG and GSG also encourage students to support a recent petition from UCLA students calling on their university’s administration to adjust their fourth quarter final exams in the wake of the pandemic and recent outrage over police brutality.
Concerns over campus and neighborhood policing also persist at USC. In 2015, actress Taraji Henson alleged her son was racially profiled during an allegedly illegal stop and search by DPS officers near campus. In April 2013, StreetsBlogLA reported on new security measures at USC intensifying the racial profiling of low-income youth of color in the neighborhood. Six years later, StreetsBlogLA reported that the handcuffing of a Black cyclist by DPS raised concerns over the department’s tactics and accountability.
BSA, USG and GSG have called on USC to reexamine its policing practices. Folt addressed some of these concerns in her letter.
“We have started discussions with our student, faculty, staff, and alumni organizations, our civic leaders and our neighbors in the community,” Folt wrote. “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.”
Hinton emphasizes that because of the pandemic, students now have the opportunity to vocalize their concerns and grab the attention of USC’s administration. She said DPS Chief John Thomas and various administrators reaching out to BSA means that students have the chance to create a dialogue.
“We are in a very unique position in the country right now where we have the world’s attention, and everyone’s at home, everyone’s watching TV, on Twitter, on Facebook because there is nowhere else to go, there’s nothing else to do,” Hinton said. “That also means we believe we have the chance to talk to the administration.”
Hinton hopes that students can rally to give to causes that impact marginalized students and facilitate a meaningful dialogue to enact change on campus.
“If we’re going to buy into this narrative of the Trojan Family — and that’s going to be donations to the school and going to football games and attending homecoming and paying all this money to go [to USC] … you can take a second to donate $50 to Black Lives Matter or a bail fund,” Hinton said. “You can put yourself in front of a police officer if you see them about to attack a Black man. You can stop when you see someone getting pulled over and make sure that they make it out OK. These are small acts you can do to support your own family.”
Shaylee Navarro contributed to this report.