On May 31, President Carol Folt penned a note to the USC community regarding the recent police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. I don’t know what I expected when I got her Universitywide email, but approximately 400 words later I had learned nothing about how the administration would support Black Trojans. The note was officially addressed to the “Trojan Community,” but given the content of the note, it’s clear that it was written with a sympathetic non-Black audience in mind. And why shouldn’t it? Only 5% of undergraduates, 3% of faculty and 8% of graduate students identify as Black. USC continues to fall short in terms of representation.
Folt declared that she does not have “the answers” but that “we will seek them together.” It’s a nice message, but it’s one that ignores and erases the actionable demands Black community members have consistently brought to the administration well before the recent protests. This is not a departure from the University’s past rhetoric on the abstract ideal of “change.” As long as I’ve been at USC, the administration has professed a persistent, albeit vague, need and desire to change. We currently have both a President’s Culture Commission and a Working Group on University Culture.
This amounts to the gaslighting of Black Trojans. We are constantly assured that the administration understands our unique struggles, but the University is nowhere to be found when the time to directly support Black Trojans comes. In her note, Folt acknowledges that “this moment is our call to action.” She then calls for continued discussions among the USC community regarding policing, so as to encourage thoughtful debate. There is nothing to debate. Black Trojans are exhausted and demand action.
Ten concrete commitments President Folt can make to support Black Trojans:
1. Commit to admitting more Black students.
2. Commit to spending more resources on outreach to Black high schoolers and Black undergraduates considering graduate studies.
3. Commit to hiring more Black professors and putting more Black professors on tenure-track.
4. Commit to renaming the Von KleinSmid Center. Any name that doesn’t honor a racist. Bonus points if you name it after a Black person.
5. Commit to expanding the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs. In terms of resources and physical space.
6. Commit to adding students and community leaders to the USC Board of Trustees. We are sick of a Board made up overwhelmingly of white multi-millionaires, and billionaires, who vote time and again to raise our tuition. If USC is moving into the future, the Board must as well.
7. Commit to divesting from the Los Angeles Police Department.
8. Commit to ensuring non-Black students, staff and faculty undergo racial bias training.
9. Commit to paying all USC employees a living wage and ensuring contractors are being paid a living wage.
10. Commit to listening to Black students, staff, faculty and community members.
This moment is a call to action. President Folt, I implore you to act.
USC Class of 2021